The 2nd seminar in the Popular Seminar Series for Research Scholars Group was focused on bringing out a constructive and reflexive conversation on the complexities of the ways in which certain ways of ‘Imagining North East’ are produced and propagated, laced with othering and ethnocentrism. The aim was to discuss how these forms of imagination need to be looked at critically and a dialogue is required to resolve the struggles faced as a result of this othering. Another important part of the seminar was to talk of the ways in which anthropological knowledge can form a base for changes to the discriminating practices and prejudices.
Summarising the Key Points:
Stereotyping and Discrimination: Lived Realities
A major part of the seminar was focused on bringing forth the narratives of and by the students and peers belonging to the different parts of Northeastern India. People shared their encounters to reinforce the fact of a systematically created set of misconceptions about the Northeastern part of the country. It was also discussed how the people associate stereotypes with physical appearances and create an atmosphere of hostility toward individuals based on ethnic differences. It was also explained how frequent are the daily struggles of people owing to a difference in and unfamiliarity of language which then extends to being harassed for the same.
Ignorance and Lack of Sensitisation
The narratives by the students and faculty members belonging to different areas of the North Eastern region also brought forth how there is a massive gap in the mainlanders’ understanding of the geographical and demographic differences and diversity in the North East. This further leads to stereotyping and lack of sensitivity towards the differences in cultural, social and religious beliefs. Many students asserted that this ignorance is also practiced rather than unintentional in many cases which makes violence against people from the North Eastern region, both physical and mental, a common occurrence. This was also expressed through the accounts from many non North Eastern students as they brought forth their own long embedded misconceptions and prejudices. It was also detailed how the burden of an alternate narrative and creating an understanding falls on people being harassed thus being additionally scarring to process and proceed with.
Pollution, Purity and Practices of Othering
The discussion paved way for an imminent connection between caste based practices of exclusion and the discrimination faced by people belonging to the North Eastern region. It was explained how caste politics and violence seeps into the narrative of ‘othering’ the people who do not fit that form of social division laced in inequalities. Many students from the North Eastern region discussed how fieldwork in areas like Delhi, Rajasthan and Gujarat led them to face discrimination based on caste idea of purity throughout their work. While some students were not allowed entry into houses, others were constantly goaded for not being aware of their social positions in the caste hierarchy. It was established how discrimination that stems from the caste based idea of ‘pollution’ constantly forced them to be marginalised and invisibilised in the field. This was important to know as it connected the discriminatory practices of the mainland India to the deeply imbedded caste dynamics of the regions.
Issues with the Education System
The students also discussed how the education system plays a role in creating or at least failing to bridge cultural barriers effectively even today. It was discussed how there is a need to revolutionise the ways in which North Eastern region of the country is represented in the education system, specially the school curriculum in mainland India. It was pointed out that beyond cursory mentions and factual briefings, the education system across the country does not factor in the importance of making people aware of the diversity and uniqueness of the different areas of North East, thus leaving young children clueless of an ever important part of the Indian community. It was agreed upon that there is an urgent need towards sensitising school education so that the historical knowledge as well as contemporary information about the area is made available to students in a way they can understand and appreciate the differences.
Media’s Role and Problems
The role of media and the issues regarding this were also important parts of discussion where the need to solidify a truer substantial representation in Indian Media forms of the North East was emphasised upon. It was expressed how there is a telling silence regarding the happenings in the North Eastern part of the country in news houses as well as a constant stereotyping and lack of proper representation in films and associated media forms. These things have detrimental effect and cause a volley of distorted ideas which are channelled as discriminatory practices, othering and harassment. The discussion also led to a firm agreement that sensitisation of media forms and a strong space to the North eastern part of the country in the daily scenario could be a harbinger of great changes in how people look at the differences in culture and social system. Thus, it was agreed upon that media houses and forms can play a significant part in spreading awareness and understanding if handled correctly and in an empathetic spirit.
The following recommendations outlined as a conclusion the discussion marked the culmination of the seminar:
- A need to bring out the importance of and the actual sense of diversity of the Northeastern region (in terms of religion, demography, language, ethnicities) is the first step in a long process of change.
- Important to stress on the brilliance of what being surrounded by diversity encompasses for people to understand that respecting differences is a reflection of freedom, autonomy and harmony.
- An urgent need to also first and foremost address our own role in preventing discrimination around us and stress on the need to create safe spaces in the department to bring out narratives of struggle that require redressal and social justice against discrimination.
- Important to instil a sense of responsibility on the students from the non-North Eastern regions to take initiative and use their privileges to be active agents to prevent as well as provide solidarity and support in raising voices against the harassment and discrimination.
- Using media as a tool of sensitisation and to spread awareness rather than as a means to exotify and distort social and cultural differences.
- Important to use school education as a sensitising phase that brings forth the idea of respecting differences and diversity instead of creating incomplete realities full of gaps and misrepresentations.
- To ensure that colleges be turned into spaces for breaking of stereotypes and cultural exchange without backlashes and with dignity.
- An urgent need to use anthropological knowledge to induce action and provoke a positive sustainable change. It was suggested in the course of the discussion that Anthropological knowledge and practice should be used, both in academic spaces and beyond to create awareness and sensitization through mediums of writing, films and other audio-visual methods.