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How Internet fashion promotes casual racism towards Northeast India

There are a lot of stigmas attached with people of Northeast India, and the sad reality is that recent trends have only fostered them in the mainland due to lack of knowledge and ignorance owing to lack of representation.

One such inference can be traced from a recent incident where Kaku Fancy Dress a Delhi based store had put up an animal (leopard) print attire as traditional Naga attire and had put it up on reputed e-commerce website such as Flipkart, Snapdeal. However, a Facebook page namely Decolonial Indigenous memes which is mostly a northeast centric page shed light upon the whole issue. In return, the actual dress of the ‘Chakhesang’ Naga community was put up to point out towards the stark misrepresentation.  This is not the first time companies have resorted to such means where racism is inert and is used by companies for their gain.

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Racism beyond the issue

The aforementioned discrimination is not restricted to lesser-known brands or companies, rather international brands such as H&M had also irked controversy in the year 2018 when they had put up an advertisement projecting a dark-skinned boy, and the tag lines were ‘Coolest monkey in the Jungle’. The company faced backlash immediately and the advertisement was removed. But the entire scenario boils down to one simple thing, how low can any organization stoop to make a profit or is it a reflection of our mental state?

India’s rigid portrayal

India is a country which is obsessed with the ‘being fair’ or manipulative representation that it has not even spared Gods. Right from our childhood, we have observed cartoon characters such as Krishna being depicted as a blue coloured boy however as his name goes the boy from Gokul was called ‘Neel Megha Shyama’ as dark as the rain-filled clouds. However, Goddess Kali who was not be portrayed as a popular cartoon figure has never been given such a manipulative touch and an episode of Tenali Rama portrayed the Goddess in her original avatar. When we look at modern-day India the obsession with looking fair has reached a pinnacle where advertisements by fairness creams such as ‘Fair and Lovely’ and ‘Fair and Handsome’ had associated success with fair skin. And the sad part was that it sold like wildfire, people gave in to such concocted ideas. But after the death of George Floyd who was killed by a policeman, the tide seems to have changed and a sort of revolution regarding anti-discrimination, racism has gained momentum worldwide. As a result, giants such as Johnson and Johnson have made an announcement to stop the sale of two fairness creams. Similarly Hindustan Unilever has announced to remove the word ‘fair’ from its brand fair and lovely. It can safely be inferred now that the tide has changed, the companies have pulled up their socks to stay in the good books of the public. But again will anything change is the actual question, there is a legal way to address such issues such as the entire misrepresentation will attract consumer laws? Are there are explicit laws to combat racist slurs such as ‘Chinky’?

Also read: Scope of invocation of the anti-defection law

Our constitution has mostly covered all aspects to protect us against all forms of violations but will it transcend to our daily existence. What is the reason that people sharing the same motherland have such biased attitude towards their brothers and sisters? Previously one can, however, say that lack of understanding can be justified up to a certain extent but at this age of internet and global connectivity there is no excuse for such irresponsible behaviour.

The vague perspective: Status quo

The problem is that people attach primitive angle with people from the Northeast. Some are still in a delusion that people of the region carry out activities such as Head Hunting in the 21st century. The problem is people do not look at the other side of the coin, the best of sportsmen, some of the best army personnel such as the Assam Rifles to name a few. The lamentable part is that people pay no heed to positivity, and usually pay a deaf ear and till date, a backward notion is attached with the people of this region.

Going forward

To mitigate the existing lacuna that which rots the society requires proper awareness. For that, chapters in History textbooks related to History and current socio-cultural lives should be included. Right from tender age children should be taught to treat their classmates with respect and avoid attaching names. Banter or good humour should not be a ground to forward casual racism and hatred because it is seen that all of this culminates or opens the floodgates for the faulty notion to follow. So it can rightly be said that parents, teachers will have to play the role of a crusader to avoid such forms of Discrimination.    

About the author: Prakreetish Sarma is currently practising as an Advocate in Gauhati High Court, completed graduation in law from National Law University and Judicial Academy Assam. He is a contributing writer in Inside Northeast. Interests are playing football, badminton, interested in cooking, discovering new places and going for trekking and into social work.  

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