TODAY -

"Axone" and the Lingering Question of Racism in India

Veewon Thokchom *

 Jamia Students protesting against racism towards NE students on 28 October 2009
Jamia Students protesting against racism towards NE students on 28 October 2009 :: Pix - Ibomacha Oinam



With the release of the Bollywood movie “Axone” directed by Nicholas Kharkonger, a debate on racism has been ignited. Though the movie could not have been worse than it is when it comes to racism, it at least has sparked off a discourse on racism faced by people of colour (yellow people) in Indian metropolitan cities.

And this is the moment that we have to siege. A dialogue on not the movie in particular but racism at large; a talk on race and colour – brown and yellow.

As a starting point to this dialogue, it is essential to state that one need not have to believe in the objective existence of race to be able to enquire the social, political and cultural relevance of the “idea of race.”

The question of race needs a study to have a firm grasp on how race is socially and discursively constructed to maintain a structurally hegemonic relationship between people. Talking about race is not enforcing racial difference but it rather seeks to critique the oppressive relations that come along with relationships amongst races.

While the movie functions as the basis of the current debate on the problems of racism faced by yellow people in the Indian metropolitan cities, it is worthwhile to investigate this problem from a different vantage point.

Though it is irrefutable that every yellow person from the “Northeast” who travels to Indian mainland brown Hindu lands for education or job opportunities has faced overt racism, it would be more incorrect to say that the person has not come across “racism” at home.

Because the racism at home is the more brutal form of institutionalised legally sanctioned (AFSPA, 1958) form of population subjugation, control and disciplining. And this manifests itself in the form of military occupation that has been existing in the region for decades, whose demonstration can be physically or traumatically experienced through mass disappearances, mass fake encounter (1528 and counting recorded cases), number of massacres over the decades (Tera, RMC, Oinam, Malom etc.) and instances of rape and mass rape (Oinam incident, Manorama, Ahanjaobi, Mercy), in many cases the survivor killing herself from shame and despair (Rose Ningshen, etc.).

The point here is that, a “Northeast” yellow body becomes an object over which a hegemonic racial power is exercised throughout her life, both at home and the brown mainland society. The more hideous nature of the racism at home is its character to remain unnoticed and therefore questioned.

The abnormality that was created with the persistent militarisation decades after decades made the generation who grew up in the 1990s take refuge in places like Delhi and Bangalore only to go through another form of racism. It was in the 1990s and the 2000s that every parent who could afford started sending out their children as an escape to the imposed political climate of uncertainty, death and disappearance.

Racism is so simple yet immensely complicated to understand that we miss out a lot when we look at it through personal experiences and discard its more crucial systematic, structural, political and historical aspects. The language of racism is so complex that it can take new shapes in different times – from Negro to Nigger to ghetto to thugs to thieves in the American context.

From chinky to momo to chowmein to randi in the Brown land. This categorisation and characterisation exist as a tool of othering and marking of territory by the dominant racial group.

It was in 2012 that thirty thousand yellow people fled Indian metropolitan cities in fear of racial attack, the same time Mary Kom turnedinto a national icon overnight and returned to India after winning a bronze medal in London Olympics.

As the exodus continued for weeks, the issue of racism was taken up by the Indian media as well its academicians and the public. The peculiarity of the discourse was such the Mary Kom was constantly invoked to challenge the existence of racism in India.

Previously the same year, Richard Loitam, a Manipur boy in Bangalore was killed in a racist attack by his seniors in college. In the public outrage from the Northeast people that followed, the then Prime Minister Manmohon Singh was compelled to make a statement in the racist killing, only to deny any racial motivation in it.

As Mary Kom became the presentable “Northeast” face at the national level, a new path to integration of a troubled region was opened – sports.

A real test of the authenticity of this presentable face came in 2014, just two years after the moment of “national glory”, when a brown Bollywood actor, Priyanka Chopra, was chosen to play the role of Mary Kom in her biopic.

The insensibility of the brown actor to the question of racism became all the more vicious and visible when she claimed in an interview that she to undergo surgery on her eyes and nose to get a mongoloid facial appearance. With this, another act of denial of the existence of a race and racial injustice was achieved, though the dominant racial group who committed the erasure would hesitate to call the act racism.

In another case, if the idea of ‘not being bias’ in racism as the Axone director Nicholas Kharkonger believes holds true ethically, morally and politically, Richard Loitam, Nido Tania and Pravish Chanam would be alive today watching his movie of weakness, docility, victim shaming, brown appeasement.

If we anticipate a dystopian trend of Bollywood as a follow-up to this movie, there would come a day when the departed souls of Richard, Nido and Pravish will become a commodity to be marketed in the name of racism while actually perpetuating it.


* Veewon Thokchom wrote this article for Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on June 20 2020 .



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