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Why ignorance is dangerous

April 08, 2013

Let me confess that, like you, I’m tired of all the horrible things that are happening in the world. Earlier, it was the newspapers, then television and now Twitter. Now, the bad news is not just delivered to your doorstep each morning, it’s always breaking on the television screen and visible on your phone.

So, when I came across this, my mood lifted visibly. Here was a young Mizo from the state of Mizoram in northeast India, who was willing to engage his detractors and gently tell them that ignorance was dangerous.

Kima and his friends were racially abused by a Mumbai cop and told that “Nepalis” must return to Kathmandu while hanging out at a nimbu-paani stall on the pavement.

Mumbai (Bombay) can be unfriendly to the outsider. The Shiv Sena and its offshoots have made it their business to target “outsiders” from time-to-time to show who runs the megapolis and why they are relevant.

So, this is what Kima wrote in his blog – that he wasn’t a Nepali (and he didn’t have anything against Nepalis) but had no intention of quitting Mumbai since some policeman wanted Nepalis out of Mumbai. He and his friends were victims of racial abuse.

Kima did a super job of putting down he felt:

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 (car number) 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 traumatised than some of those young Mizo girls you scared on Sunday. Let’s sit to prevent that, shall we? Peace.

And, lo and behold there was a response from a senior police officer and the tea-coffee actually did happen. And after the meeting, Kima tweeted:


Kima was satisfied that he had managed to get his point across. To a policeman who admitted that he didn’t know there were as many as seven states in the north-eastern part of India. Ignorance, clearly, was far from blissful bliss in this case.

Moral of the story: sometimes cops can be receptive. But you have to make the effort to arm them with general knowledge.

Prejudice, may I say, is not just pinned to appearance and ignorance. Its roots go much deeper.

Some years ago, I attended a breakfast press conference for senior editors with Nepal’s Prime Minister Prachanda, who was on his first visit to India after taking over the reins of his country.

To my horror, a senior editor started talking about the “trust” between Indians and Nepalis, by saying that Nepali workers in Delhi homes were even trusted with keys!

It was appalling. After a bit, the senior editor suggested that the PM of Nepal should take notes since he was part of an august gathering of top journalists.

I could bear it no longer and made it plain that I did not share the gentleman’s views.

If you don’t know better, just keep the big mouth shut.

Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.