Guest Post by ANURAAG BARUAH
The recent ‘AAP’ state of affairs in the National Capital brought about by a dharna led by the Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has indeed shaken up the nation. Instead of judging and delivering a verdict on this so called ‘anarchism’, I stress upon something else here. The inherent racism prevalent in the mindset of our people actually found a shameless outlet through the antics of the new law minister of Delhi. The minister’s actions and words only reflect the mindset of the people of the concerned neighbourhood. His own words confirm that he was acting upon their complaints. This particular neighbourhood again reflects the mindset of any middle class neighbourhood in Delhi.
Delhi is almost a mini India with a plurality in terms of demography resembling the variedness of India. People from every region of India and the world populate the city, arriving every year in multitudes to become part of the greater Delhi population. Delhi always has been a difficult region, with its plethora of migrants that have accumulated over the ages. From ancient times, it has attracted hordes of settlers that have ‘coloured’ the region with plural identities and cultures, physical features and eating habits. It has a history of being hostile to every subsequent set of migrants that arrived here. Right from the ancient times subsequent invaders came upon the city. Many of them decided to settle and grow rather than loot and plunder to leave. A complex union of races has dwelled upon the city over the decades.
Delhi is easily one of the oldest cities in the world. But majority of its present inhabitants have roots in the region only about half a century old. This is perhaps the greatest irony of the ancient city. These relatively new inhabitants carry a constant air of suspicion for the newcomers who try to make the city home. Just as the traditional Urdu-speaking elitist section of Old Delhi regarded the Punjabi immigrants a set of loud, ill-mannered people, the present set of dwellers look down upon the new migrants with suspicion and disbelief.
Right from my first year days in Delhi University, I used to feel an uncanny comradeship with foreigners especially, Africans. We are somehow same, same because, we are the victims of the same racial prejudices of the so called localities of Delhi. The small difference is the fact that their skin colours draw unwanted attention while our small eyes! The big difference ofcourse, is that we from ‘northeast’ are fellow Indians while the so called ‘blacks’ are foreigners. Did this ‘difference’ make any difference? Sometimes yes, but in most cases no. The experience of a ‘northeast’ migrant in Delhi is predominantly haunted by racism. We too are aliens in this part of the country.
Any small neighborhood in Delhi has been a witness to these racial slurs and abuses. The cosmopolitan nature of the city faces a stark contrast from these intolerant racial behaviors of Delhiites. Most of these ‘racially prejudiced’ belong to the middle class who are undergoing a deep insecurity amidst the rapidly changing urban scene over the last decade. Delhi’s history with migrants who turn into permanent settlers over the years perhaps acts upon their mind.
The urge to identify with the mainstream, with the predominant can be easily seen in the behaviors of the migrants too. My days in the University made me witness this strange phenomenon. One section of fellow Assamese of supposedly caste Hindu origin having distinct similarity with the typical north Indian features- big eyes and sharp noses often showed reluctancy in identifying with fellow Assamese who have characteristic mongoloid features common to the northeastern people. This is a very interesting human behavior which reflects the inherent human urge to go with the majority, to be on the safer side. I don’t think northeasterners will make any progress asserting their Indianness in Delhi unless they are able to understand this stereotyping of the mainstream which compels a fellow Assamese to give up his own identity. While ethno nationalism may prove to be a definite counter against hegemonic nationalism, it definitely does not threaten cosmopolitanism. In the case of northeasterners in Delhi, cosmopolitanism only helps in affirming ethnic identities in a positive way.
I knew a ‘white’ African in the University who had relatively less problem roaming around in the city without being subjected to racial slurs. She was happy being a white in India, she would often tell me. ‘White foreigners’ are often treated better in Delhi according to the common belief. One of my fellow caste Hindu friends, who can easily pass off as any north Indian boy, faces no such racial slurs. So, is physical feature then the main problem?
Delhi has been a cosmopolitan city all along, its subsequent settlers often refusing to acknowledge this inherent nature of the city that has been bestowed upon it by history. From Afghans and Turks to Mughals, Delhi has embraced everyone and all. And the question lingers, who then is this ‘Delhiite’ hurling racial abuses at the new migrants? In a city where almost everyone is a migrant, or descended from migrants, how does anyone become what he defines as – a ‘localite’ of Delhi? What is the mainstream identity of Delhi that a ‘Delhiite’ finds the ‘other’ to be different from?
Anurag Baruah has done his post graduation in English Literature from Delhi University. He currently lives in Delhi.