Yesterday, I uploaded a clip from a recently released Amazon Prime Video’s series Paatal Lok, as I found one particular scene to be really against our community, I was soon joined by the thousands of people who shared my concern, and we all want the creators to either censor or completely remove that segment.
Now let me explain why.
Human perception is a very complex process, and one’s thoughts and action is greatly sculpted by what we see and hear. Whether we like it or not, if an idea is repeated again and again, it becomes a truth, hence repetition of negative ideas is what we all need to avoid. As the underlying contexts or knowledge related to that subject, seldom matter. In psychology, this is known as the illusory truth effect.
My experiences with negatively crystallised opinions
When I left my home state Sikkim to pursue higher education in Bangalore, a group of local strangers who were not even from my college, stopped me in the middle of a road and asked me the phone number of my Northeastern female classmate, telling me that one dude from their group admired her greatly, and was willing to pay whatever amount she desired in order to get laid. When I tried defending her, by explaining that she was not that kind of a girl, one had the audacity to say, and I quote “Don’t lie! We know you people will do anything for money.” And this is just one instance from one person, from one city.
I believe that was the reason why, back in 2014, when a racist statement, made by a police officer from Gurgaon, started making rounds on social media, which unequivocally pin-pointed at “Girls from Darjeeling and Nepal” with prostitution and fake complaints of rape, I was really scared, thinking about the safety of the already vulnerable female citizens from Nepal and Northeast India, who lived over there and other cities, for higher education or jobs.
I am emphasising the word Northeast because basically, we folks from the eight states and districts of Darjeeling and Kalimpong, including Nepal (and Asian countries like China, Korea, Vietnam, etc.) are perceived as one single community, by many in mainland India.
We folks from the eight states and districts of Darjeeling and Kalimpong, including Nepal (and Asian countries like China, Korea, Vietnam, etc) are perceived as one single community, by many in mainland India
As I was watching that series, suddenly a scene popped up, where a cop hurls abuse on a female suspect, using the deliberate swear “Nepali whore” (in Hindi) co-incidentally in light of a suspected prostitution charge — on such a big platform like Amazon Prime. All of my past fears re-emerged because those two words were like a demeaning catchphrase, which recapitulated what our females were already accused of, and frequently branded as. Anyone who has experienced bullies and unpleasant nicknames can understand — catchphrases are much “catchier” and sink deeper than the underlying context in which it is expressed. That’s the reason all the people who shared concern, speak one point – such targeted generalisation was not needed.
In fact, I challenge an independent survey to be conducted by any reputed organisation to survey all female Northeasterners staying away from home, you will see how many will come up with stories of sexual demoralisation
The greatest example of the illusory truth effect
This may come as a surprise to many, but a lot of studies have found Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) to be completely safe and remarkably low on toxicity. Numerous credible articles have been published about it, however, facts never matter, when a large number of people still associate ‘harmful’ with ‘MSG’ hence companies, still make sure our food packets are labelled.
Similarly, we all know that Northeastern Indian states are doing a remarkable job in controlling the spread of coronavirus, and have maintained low numbers, particularly Sikkim, with zero infections so far. Yet, it’s us, once again, who have recently earned a new nickname ‘Corona’ because even though most of us have never visited China, we also happen to be Chinese, in the eyes of masses. A Manipuri girl was spat on, and 8 people from Nagaland, without any travel history or physical symptoms, had to spend a night in a government quarantine facility, just because of their appearance. There are so many such examples of communal discrimination, so much so that the ministry of home affairs had to write to all states in order to make sure, we are protected from hate assaults.
It’s us, once again, who have recently earned a new nickname ‘Corona’ because even though most of us have never visited China, we also happen to be Chinese, in the eyes of masses
As there is so much of hatred towards us, even during these trying times, I am not overreacting when I say, those two “associated” words can be perceived as a catchphrase, if portrayed in the light of prostitution.
In fact, I challenge an independent survey to be conducted by any reputed organisation to survey all female Northeasterners staying away from home, you will see how many will come up with stories of sexual demoralisation, and how scared they are to walk outside. Even during broad daylight, be it during a pandemic or otherwise.
That’s the reason, team Paatal Lok, even if your intention was to uplift and raise social awareness about a vulnerable minority, you should have used carefully crafted words which are politically correct. We have been abused and labelled with so many nicknames, that every negative portrayal, hurts us, demeans us and gets us terrified.
Along with exceptional military professionals, we Northeasterners also have many journalists, IAS officers, actors, social activists and people who are making a significant and positive contribution in the Indian and global society. I would suggest, if we are to really break negative stereotyping – we can start by encouraging and giving artists from the Northeast, a more positive and prominent acting role the next time.
(Pralakshya Sharma is the author of The Crown Of Intelligence and is from Sikkim. She is currently based in Bangalore. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)