Me: What are some the problems you all face outside the North East?
Asomi: I personally don’t face many problems but let me tell you what people I know generally face. First of all, we face accommodation problems. People cheat us when we try to look for accommodation. Recently a friend of mine moved from Bangalore to Chennai. We were directed to call a particular number for accommodation arrangements, we called up that number that met up with the man. He showed us around the apartment, it was quite clean and spacious. The price was also reasonable. We asked him if my friend could move in the day after tomorrow such that it will be timed in accordance with the arrival of his material from Bangalore. The guy agreed but asked us to pay an advance of Rs 50,000. We made arrangements to pay it off that following day. On receiving the payment the man said that he was certified however we were stupid enough to not have asked for evidence. The day after that , we tried to call him but his phone was switched off. When we contacted the agency they gave us the cold shoulder. The apartment already had people staying in it. We never recovered our money and my friend never had a place to stay for a week.
We go through agony in shopping malls. People stare at us and pass comments under the impression that we don’t understand them, but we do. We always learn the foul words of a language first before anything else is learnt. I went through it once at EA in the KFC line. There were two Tamil guys waiting behind me. I was wearing a long skirt and had a scarf with me. I turned around and they were asking questions like ‘Where are you from?’ I didn’t respond to him at all. That was when he poked me on the waist. I got angry and yelled “Why did you touch me? Why the hell did you do that? Where do you come from? Can you not respect women? Who do you think you are?” I was really angry and they began to apologize. I said that a sorry couldn’t fix anything and asked for their names, saying that I would file a case against them. I also threatened to call security. The people from KFC tried to pacify me but I didn’t let them. These guys had tried to poke me twice in the waist and I must let that pass? The security people caught them but I don’t know what happened to them.
Once when I went to book a SIM card, the guy there asked for my passport. I flared up asking him why Mizo people had to produce their passport as proof just to avail lawful services in their own country!! He said “No Madam, I know this is all fraud”. I produced four id cards and he was still not convinced. It was when I left the shop for the next one that he volunteered to help with the SIM card even then he insisted on the passport saying that Indians also had to surrender their passport. I turned to him and asked “Don’t you even know your India map properly? We stay out here. Why do we need a passport to be in India?”
I once got catcalls while passing by a stall during the culturals. They called me a very derogatory word in Tamil, I don’t even want to say it. I was numb with shock and anger but my friends scolded them and shooed the offenders from the college premises. It affected me so much that I didn’t sleep that night. I was agonized by that comment they passed. It was so extreme.
Me: Staring happens to all of us irrespective of ethnic and racial identity!!
Asomi: You know, when someone stares at me I think that I am beautiful enough to be stared at (laughing). That’s how we all should think. If people stare at you , you should feel that you’re giving them something worth staring at. (smiling)
Me: You know about the Nido Tania case and also the Bangalore incident. Several Northeastern people were targeted and the government had to intervene to restrict daily SMSes to twenty. Did you feel fear, insecurity? What exactly was the feeling?
Asomi: You know, I stay here in Chennai and have never had to worry about anything happening to me. Its safe and that’s why I prefer this place. It was an informed decision to move here as I received a lot of good feedback about Chennai from several Mizo students. Frankly, the racism that I face here on comparison to what I had experienced in other states is next to nothing. I felt really good as non-Northeasterners wanted to be friends with me which is so unlike the situation in Delhi. I felt so happy about the inclusiveness. I was really touched when my auditions were taken very seriously and people had a welcoming smile when they saw me. It prompted me to do my best. When I was hell bent on delivering my best I contributed to the team dynamic and we won the fashion show event.
Krithika: I might be digressing a little but didn’t you feel that it was strange that Priyanka Chopra was cast as Mary Kom?
Me: Isn’t it a rather offhand way to tell the Northeastern people “Oh, you guys have no talent at all!” It puzzles me why they didn’t choose a North Eastern actress.
Asomi: I felt that it was strange. Why was she chosen anyway? But the point is that the movie wouldn’t have been a hit if they had chosen a North Eastern girl to portray Mary Kom. How would you react if they made a Rajnikant biopic and got a North Eastern actor to play him? It would flop, right? North Eastern people shy away from biopics even if the subject is north eastern. People watching it would be like “He/She’s not even a big star, why bother watching the movie? Mary Kom might be a big star but the one portraying her is a nobody, imagine the agony.
Me: Given a choice between fitting in and standing out , what would you choose?
Asomi: I would prefer standing out. I feel that we were born to stand out. When you try to fit in you try to be somebody else, it’s not permanent. But if you get to be yourself, permanent admiration for you will come even if it’s a slow process.
Me: How do you think we can practically move towards equality?
Asomi: We have to be successful by nature. It is only when we are successful that we don’t give others a chance to discriminate us. How can we discriminate someone on top if us? If I should not be discriminated as a student, I must ace the class. It’s as simple as that. Its about proving to others that we are capable of doing the things that they also are. Even the Northeastern people have the responsibility to work hard. They all have to step up be confident as well as passionate.
Me: Do you think all the discrimination has a connection to the Gorkhaland and Bodoland agitation?
Asomi: (Laughing) You read so much and that’s how you know about the movement. I don’t think people even know about the movements. The divisive sentiment is popular only among the Karbionglong people.
Me: Do you feel that the North eastern states have united in the face of so much racism?
Asomi: Yes, especially after the Nido Tania hate crime. We all partake in small gestures that display our solidarity. For instance, all of us changed our Facebook profile pictures to that of Nido Tania with the words ‘Justice for Nido’. Nido wasn’t Mizo, he was from Arunachal Pradesh but I as a North Eastern student felt a degree of responsibility in crying out for justice on his behalf. Everyone did the same thing, displaying our solidarity as people of the North East.
Between all of us, we have a special connection. Even if I see someone who looks Northeastern, I only have to smile to connect with them. My senior from Nagaland rushed to meet me when she first saw me in college. We forged a bond instantly.
Me: I also read a small interview given to a newspaper by a Naga Mothers’ Support Group. What struck me was this line by a villager. He said “I don’t want to be known as Indian. I want to be known as Naga”.
Asomi : My friend says the same thing. I personally think that the statement is very lame.
Krithika: Out of ignorance, people don’t even know that seven Northeastern states exist. We South Indians are also called ‘Madrasi’ as people don’t even know that four states exist. What do you feel about it?
Asomi: I feel that some people haven’t learnt geography in their entire lifetime (laughing). I’m like..look at your map, okay?? There’s this thing in the corner of your map. Its called the ‘Northeast’. Do you even know it exists?
People ask me “Asomi, where are you from?” I tell them ‘Mizoram”. They’d reply saying “Eh?” and I’d repeat my answer The funny part is when they’d say “Oh, so you’re not from India?”. I answer them by saying “Yeah. I ‘m from Korea, you happy?” (laughing)
Me: What would you like to tell the country, your own country? (giggling)
Asomi: (thoughtfully but smilingly) My country..hmm. I want to tell them “Know your county. If you want to be patriotic it is important that you now your states and the people who live there. You must also understand that all Indians don’t look the same. Accept them however ‘ugly’ or beautiful they are. And I want them to know that we as North Eastern people are not inferior. We all have the right to use our God given talent.”
This interview was published on ‘Conversations’ (Blogger) on 21st May 2015. I didn’t really figure out that my interviewing talent celebrated its first anniversary 🙂