The day before yesterday, I attended my first Mizo Church Service in Mumbai this year because it was Palm Sunday.
Every Sunday, 3:30pm, the BMCF (Bombay Mizo Christian Fellowship) conducts a Church service in our local language at All Saint’s Church, Malabar hills, next to Hanging Garden.
I am not much of a Church goer as I usually work on Sundays too, but last Sunday being a special day for us Christians, I took a haircut in the morning, shaved, wore my formals and took a cab to town.
I had a memorable time – sang gospel songs, heard a couple of good testimonials and met up with old friends after the Church service. Everything went as expected. Until the unexpected happened. Something that totally shocked me and put me in a sour mood the rest of the day.
So whenever our Church service gets over, we usually walk towards the taxi stand in front of Hanging Garden, where we chat for a short while over a glass of nimbu paani, and then say goodbye to each other. As most of us are busy with our own work (or academics) and Mumbai is such a large city, that is the only time we get to catch up with our Mizo friends in Mumbai.
Day before yesterday, at the nimbu paani stall, a Police van suddenly stopped in front of some younger Mizos standing on the pavement (there were many other people on the pavement eating sev puri and aloo chaat from the roadside vendors), and the uniformed police van driver angrily shouted at them. I was talking with a friend when that happened, and all I could hear were the words 'Nepali' and 'Kathmandu'. Then the driver chuckled and drove off.
As the police van drove away, I asked those Mizos who were standing close to the police van about what the cop said. A young Mizo girl, probably in her first year in college, shivered and said, "I think he said hey Nepalis, go back to Kathmandu!" while another guy standing beside her said, "No I think the cop asked if we are going to Kathmandu?"
I took down the license plate number of the police van immediately – MH 01 BA 1089.
First of all, being called a 'Nepali' is something people from the Northeast are so tired of hearing. I have nothing against Nepalis, but when we are not recognised by our own fellow countrymen in spite of the number of times we protest, something is definitely not right here. Secondly, most of the times when people call us 'Nepalis', it is done so not out of ignorance but out of sheer distaste for people from the Northeast(read: those of us from the NE with Mongoloid features, because not all Northeasterners have this feature, and likewise, not all Nepalis have this feature either). That word is unfortunately uttered in a very mocking and insulting tone...
But the most important point here is that, that man was a cop. A person who was supposed to protect us minorities when we face such abuses and racial slurs, somebody we could run to in times of trouble. And yet, he was the main perpetrator.
I've heard so many stories about how people from the Northeast didn't want to approach the police because the cops would usually turn them away, and sometimes they would even get mocked at inside the Police Stations by the cops themselves when they try to file a complaint about other people who had robbed them or harassed them. You remember how there was a mass exodus of north eastern people from Bangalore recently, in spite of the cops saying they’ll protect them, right? That’s how much most people from the Northeast trust cops.
I’ve never believed cops could be that bad because the few times that I was actually inside a Police Station was when I had to file an FIR for losing my phone, which was mandatory back then if I wanted a duplicate sim card from my service provider. The cop who took my statement didn’t abuse me. He didn’t even acknowledge me. He just signed my paper with his seal and sheepishly said, 'Next'.
But the Hanging Garden incident definitely left a dent on my faith in the police. And that puts me in a quandary because I don’t know what to do now – Shall I file a complaint at a Police Station or shall I just ignore it knowing nothing will ever happen? And then wait for the cop to have an outburst on some other poor Northeasterner maybe tomorrow or day after tomorrow?
Thinking about it for some time, I now know exactly what I must do. Let’s do away with all the anger and hurt and pain. Let’s reconcile. Let’s do it the Norwegian way.
So here is me, Kima, cordially inviting the police officer who was driving MH 01 BA 1089 on 24 March, 2013 around six in the evening near Hanging Garden for a cup of tea or coffee. The drinks are on me. Location, preferably around Bandra, you name the date and time. If communication is going to be a problem, I can always bring one of my Maharastrian friends along as a translator.
We’ll discuss about this issue, about why you might hate Nepalis or people from the Northeast in general, or maybe about how all this was just a big misunderstanding and we misheard what you actually shouted (but yes, we definitely heard 'Nepali' and 'Kathmandu', so no matter what the context was, it wasn't right). I’d love to tell you about the beautiful Northeast and its beautiful people, and how there are so many of us INDIANS with Mongoloid features and we are not Nepalis.
Of course we may all have different problems back home but here in Mumbai, most of us are law abiding citizens who pay our taxes regularly and try not to be a nuisance to the public. Yes, we are all aware of how different we look, the contrast in our cultures and traditions, the things that we like and don’t. You think it is easy for most of us to live here, work here, study here, everyday among a group of people so different from us? And yet, most of us have no other choice but to struggle and stay in this city for want of better education or better job opportunities or even because we have to support our families back home.
So dear police officer driving MH 01 BA 1089, you weren't making things any easier for us with that outburst. Let’s sit down and have delicious tea or coffee together and talk about all the misconceptions you may have about us. Let’s clear all the stereotypes and hypes about us. Because if we don’t, you will never know the truth about us and continue with your blind hate and bigotry against us, and a poor fellow from the North East will be your next victim again. That person may even be more traumatized than some of those young Mizo girls you scared on Sunday. Let’s sit to prevent that, shall we? Peace.
I know this invitation may not even reach the eyes of your fifty-third cousin because I am just a small speck in a universe of bigger things, but at least this speck is willing to give it a try. And knowing I tried will at least make me sleep better tonight as I wasn't able to the past two nights.
Kima is from Mizoram, brought up in Tamil Nadu, and has been blogging since 2004. He goes by the name 'Mizohican' in the online world, and most of his posts are about the Northeast and his experiences across India. He has been working at Webchutney, a digital agency, in Mumbai till recently and now is with a gaming start up. You can follow him on Twitter here.
Update: The Mumbai Police have responded to Kima's letter. You can read their reply here.