Being a Nepali in India: Cultural hypocrisy

An unverified rumour had it that Mahatma Gandhi, in his only visit to Darjeeling in 1925, was a bit concerned about the “laid-back” lifestyle of the Gorkhas. He supposedly told them to avoid too much drinking and gambling (card playing). This could merely be a joke self-crafted by the Gorkhas and intended for self-admonition. Real […] The post Being a Nepali in India: Cultural hypocrisy appeared first on The Sikkim Chronicle - Sikkim News.

Being a Nepali in India: Cultural hypocrisy

An unverified rumour had it that Mahatma Gandhi, in his only visit to Darjeeling in 1925, was a bit concerned about the “laid-back” lifestyle of the Gorkhas. He supposedly told them to avoid too much drinking and gambling (card playing). This could merely be a joke self-crafted by the Gorkhas and intended for self-admonition. Real or unreal, Indian Gorkhas have struggled with some of their cultural flaws – as is true of any other culture group globally. There are many flaws inbuilt in human cultures.

However, in a country like India, with its several cultural divides like Northeast (NE) versus Desi, South versus North and so on, the tendency to inordinately overemphasize the cultural flaws of the other culture is too strong to restrain. We do that to gloss over our striking cultural shortcomings. The war for cultural superiority goes on. India is a country that looks hopelessly locked into its cultural hypocrisy.

Whatever the cultural divide, contrasted against the backdrop of the so-called mainstream Indian cultural background, Indian Gorkhas stick out like a sore thumb. The same can be said about the rest of the NE Indians. But diversities within the NE itself are staggering. Often the diversities within the NE regions are antagonistic. The Nepalis in many NE states have been on the wrong side of identity conflicts. They will always be treated as outsiders in many NE states. The tricky concept of ‘Nepal roots’ will be used desperately to make them feel politically shaky.

In this article, I want to look at the Nepali cultural identity crisis at the national level (India) and that necessitates lumping Indian Nepalis with the rest of NE Indians.

A subtle narrative has been spun in India, the core message of which is that being NE Indian is not glorious. There is a spirit within the ‘self-proclaimed mainstream Indians’ which is manically inclined to dismiss NE Indianness as a perverted or inferior version of original Indian-ness. This denigrating perception of NE Indian-ness is preached using all three megaphones in India – namely politics, academia and media.

Politics: How does Indian politics promote the “othering of NE”? It is simple. By remaining deafeningly silent on some of the core NE cultural issues. This strategic silence makes the NE get effectively alienated culturally. Sometimes they break the even worse silence. In the past, some “mainstream” leaders have made obnoxious remarks about NE cuisine and their dressing sense.  

Academia: Indian academia is entirely unequivocally ‘mainstream-oriented’. Schools kids in the NE are fed almost exclusively the history of Maharana Pratap, Tipu Sultan, Jhansi Ki Rani and so on. But, just, for example, do the students in UP and Gujarat know how Sikkim became a part of India? Our science textbooks are full of illustrations that are exclusively familiar to plains people. Extrapolate such filtered academic input to the higher level and you will get a clue about where the NE exists about Indian academia.

Media: National media in all its forms are notoriously “mainstream-oriented”. Do they ever feel guilty for shamelessly overhyping things like Anushka Sharma scolding a boy who was littering or a celebrity pet dying? The media attention-starved NE has long been accustomed to the national media’s practice of remaining decidedly low-key about much more important NE events.

Bollywood, the self-proclaimed definer of the Indian cinematic arts is just as hypocritical as its name is counterfeit. The distinctive Indian heroic looks do not fit NE features, not even when Mary Kom’s story was made into a film. A Bihar-born Punjabi girl had to be brought into the lead role to assert Bollywood’s idea of a ‘single overarching Indian identity’.

The Gorkhas/Nepalis under the Bollywood lens is an underclass- Darwan class to be precise! Now Paatal Lok, a TV series produced by a Bollywood actress goes so far as to link the Nepali community with prostitution. It is nothing less than narrow-minded, primitive and frustrated racism. But the country’s media experts would like to differ. They are too artistically immersed to feel the hurt of a community. But on the pretext of creative expression, they are also furtively expressing their perception of the community’s moral standard. If it doesn’t represent the perception of Indian media, why is there not a single voice of condemnation from Indian media? It is a triumph of deep-seated racism that has thrived in Indian civilization for centuries.

This matter will soon die. We rant and rave in our corner. Certain of our Nepali elite will say, “I don’t feel profiled. We have to think big. Let us not play the victim!” Our protest from the NE is not loud enough because it is not consolidated enough. We harbour a latent ethnicity-based contempt among us, totally ignoring that the tiger that ate my neighbour may eat me one day. At the national level, such contemptuous matters sell big time.

Aesthetically, it vindicates the fair-skinned obsessed mainstream Indian mindset. Morally, it notionally proves their moral higher ground. Culturally, it affirms their cultural superiority. Diplomatically, it perhaps sends a signal to a country that is seemingly displaying an unprecedented affinity to an enemy country. Politically, it intensifies the othering of the ‘less Indian culture’. Historically, it is the wounded voice of the India that was mistreated as a lesser culture by its abusive colonial master for over two centuries. But the burgeoning burden of India’s cultural hypocrisy has been weighing ever more heavily on the NE people. This time – Indian Nepalis! Who is next?

“There is a spirit within the ‘self-proclaimed mainstream Indians’ which is manically inclined to dismiss NE Indianness as a perverted or inferior version of original Indian-ness. This denigrating perception of NE Indian-ness is preached using all three megaphones in India – namely politics, academia and media.”

By Jiwan Rai. The author can be contacted at jiwanr@gmail.com

The post Being a Nepali in India: Cultural hypocrisy appeared first on The Sikkim Chronicle - Sikkim News.