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Monday, October 01, 2007

Chp 142. Nepali: A racial slur in India?

I can bet my treasured Arsenal jersey that one of the most googled keywords in India and Nepal yesterday was about what the RJ from Delhi commented about our
new Indian Idol Prashant Tamang, that sparked off a riot in Siliguri resulting in at least 60 wounded.

Nah, none of the prominent news sites mentioned about the exact comment. They only mentioned about the incident, and that the RJ had apologized… The reason why none of them printed the statement was obvious: Why unnecessarily pour more fuel into the racial fire already burning since time immemorial when Mankind was created with different racial features.

I finally found the statement at one of my subscribed feeds Sepia Mutiny who in turn obtained it from BPO Tiger.

Quoting from the above site, this is what Red FM RJ Nitin supposedly said:
Aaj Prashant Tamang ‘Nepali ladka from Darjeeling’ [Today Prashant Tamang, Nepali boy from Darjeeling] has become Indian Idol [laughs sarcastically] and we have a [cricket] match tonight so we need to guard our house / malls / restaurants by ourselves as there will be no Nepali people to guard these place and whole night we need to say Jagtay Raho [stay awake].” The RJ also added that all the Footpath Momo shops will remain closed as Nepali guy has become Indian Idol.
I also found this article at another feed I subscribe to, The Great Indian Mutiny, written by mutineer and founder Chacko (Jacob Joseph), where he asked the “Nepalis/Gorkhas to GROW UP” in his post Gurkha Humour, that came off as a very insensitive article to the Nepali community. The consequence was quite expected: More than 220 replies to his post so far, most of them abusing and cussing Chacko and calling him a racist pig etc.

When any community is attacked online, members of that online community react to the post usually after somebody comes across it from somewhere on the net and posts it in that particular community’s discussion forum. Happens with my Mizo community too. I did a little sleuthing of my own, and I think in this case, the main source of commenters at Chacko’s post came from this particular thread “Foul comments against Nepali community and Prashant” from The Darjeeling forum.

By this of course I don’t mean to criticize the members of that forum or anything like that, and am simply trying to point out how that particular post became so popular over-night. There can be other sources too, just as how any site “dissing” the Mizo community will see an immediate retaliation from members of,,,, etc Mizo discussion forums. In today’s cyber age, almost every community has their own online discussion forums, and yes, we all guard our community’s honor fiercely.

I am quite surprised at Chacko for that article of his. I too might have joined the bandwagon calling him insensitive and maybe a racist, had I not made an acquaintance with Chacko earlier. I came across him when I was writing my article Ethnocide: the Great Hibu Fiasco, protesting about IPS Hibu’s careless remark in his booklet/guide about us NE students “dressing provocatively and eating our smelly cultural delicacies”. Chacko commented:
Great post, we should have you on the Mutiny (that's incase you were wondering) :-)
People like Chacko do belong to the category of thinkers who fight against racism and seek a World void of any discrimination. I know he’s not a racist and stand by him, but in this particular post of his, he got careless and maybe didn’t do his homework well. He missed out on the real issue on why the Nepali community considers the RJ’s statement as an extremely derogatory slur.

Even though every community in India has their own undesirable stereotypes, the minority community (read: Indians of a mongoloid origin) will react much more harshly to such stereotypes about them compared to the rest of India, simply because of the fact that we are an extremely insecure lot, and that should never be mistaken as us not having any sense of humor.

The insecurity stems out from the fact that we are an extreme minority in India, the incessant racial abuses and slurs we face everyday, the fact that no matter how much “sense of belonging” we try to have with India, the attitude of most Indians seem to say otherwise, and last but not the least, no matter how much we assimilate with the language, culture and traditions of India, our facial features betrays all that and we are still looked upon as foreigners.

And Nepalis face the brunt of all racial abuses in India.

Mizos too have been abused a million times with the “Chinky” slur by Mainland Indians wherever we go, apart from the regular “Nepali” chants, just because of our similar racial features. And any Mizo who has been outside Mizoram for a long time will take it as an offense to be heckled a “Nepali” by Mainland Indians. This is not because of the word "Nepali" per se, but the way in which that word is uttered at us. There is a vast difference between “Hey you look like a Nepali” and “Oyee sala Nepali”. It’s all a matter of semantics.

Because in the second sentence, we all know too well what people actually infer to when they use the word “Nepali”. Somehow, people equate that with being a watchman.

Dear readers, you may not be insinuating all that when you use the word “Nepali”, probably because you are refined and brought up in a dignified manner. But if you have spent enough time on the streets or know such people who do, then you will truly know the ghastly hidden meaning of the word “Nepali”. Such insinuation is totally uncalled for.

And that’s exactly the nerve RJ Nitin touched with his seemingly “harmless” joke. Nepalis reacted in full fury because they are tired of that “Sharma” and “Bahadur” tag of being a gate-keeper or watchman. Because in India, calling somebody a gate-keeper (chowkidaar) is not just about a menial occupation. It relates to a whole lot of other factors like looking down upon him, treading over him, treating him as an inferior object, a third class citizen or even a pile of crap, and occupying the lowest rung in the social ladder. The practice of the jajmani system and the now-banned evil practice of untouchability still exist in many households even today, indiscrete as they may be. Yes, we all know too well how servants are treated in this country.

I find it ironic why Nepalis are associated with such a derogatory insult, when in fact they have one of the World’s bravest and most gallant armed forces, the famous and renowned Gurkha Regiment. How come the word “nepali” is never used to imply bravery? Especially when they play such a huge role in the defense of India…

I also find it strange and sad why people of Nepali origin in India who share a much more similarity with mainland Indians in terms of religion, language and culture, compared to most of the tribes in NE India who are a diversified lot of Christian, Buddhist and Hindu backgrounds, are treated with such disgust and animosity. It is as if the mere word “Nepali” itself has become a racial slur here in India.

All that builds up to the gross insecurity of the Nepali community, and that is one of the main reasons why they reacted in such a way to statements made by the RJ and also by Chacko. It’s not about not having any sense of humor or not growing up. It’s never about that. That sense of humor died a long time ago when the first Nepali was recruited as a gate-keeper or lured into the sex trade in India. And since then, Nepalis worldwide have been endlessly trying to break away from that stereotype.

Sikhs are crudely labeled as stupid in our Country. Yet, you and I know how clever most of them are. We have a Sikh PM, Sikh Army Chief, and Sikh leaders in the corporate world, Sikhs in the sporting world, Sikhs who have climbed up the social ladder in every walk of life and whom everybody respects. They have broken away from their stereotype moulds, and today, many Sikhs laugh at those “Santa & Banta” jokes. But just because they can take such jokes, don’t expect the Nepalis to laugh at “watchmen” jokes. There is a vast difference in their social standings here in India, just as how those “Santa & Banta” jokes would have never been funny for the Sikhs during the Anti-Sikh riot of 1984.

Even if a Sikh can take a sardar joke or a marwari can take a “kanjoosi” joke, it would be in our best interest not to take it for granted that Nepalis will take a “watchman” joke. By expecting others to behave the same way as we do is nothing but the highest form of ethnocentrism, which often crosses a line with Racism. And once we reach that point of racism, everything becomes ugly, for racism only begets racism and there’s no end to it unless one side stops.

Every culture is different from the other and the most important thing is to respect each other’s peculiarities and oddities. After all, diversity is what makes India unite and there is no unity if one does not respect such diversity.