I am a little over 20 years old, and I am a Nepalan. For those of you who are not familiar with this term, it is used by Delhiites to refer to any girl with Mongoloid features, irrespective of which part of the world she comes from. The term is said to be the feminine form of 'Nepali', which refers to an inhabitant of Nepal, but people in Delhi tend to use it freely with anyone who looks different from them and is not a Madrasi (anyone from the south, or dark-complexioned in general). Well, I am definitely not a Madrasi, or a Madrasan to be precise, so I must be a Nepalan, as I often hear people call me everywhere, be it in the lewd conversations on a crowded bus, an amused exclamation in the marketplace, in hushed whispers on a college campus, or in drunken jokes in night clubs and pubs.
I am the quintessential Nepalan as the Delhiite knows her. I could be from anywhere. It doesn't seem to make a difference. I have friends from Ladakh, Ghadwal, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma, Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal, Sikkim, Darjeeling, Calimpong, Tripura, Nagaland, Meghalaya, etc., but when we are in Delhi, our identities merge into that of a single Nepalan. Many don't even know which of the places mentioned above are cities, which states and which separate countries. Everyone from rickshaw pullers from Bihar, to shopkeepers from Rajasthan has asked us about our nationality, or at least asked us where we're from, and when when we tell them, they have a confused look upon their face. So why bother at all? I just tell them I'm a Nepalan.
This kind of stereotyping everyone who looks different from them is not limited only to the name given to us. It actually reflects a mindset of the people. For them, we are outsiders, we don't belong here. Even when we walk up to property dealers and landlords to rent houses, they look at us with either a strange expression that could range from amusement to curious perplexion to plain ridicule. They think that all we do is drugs and alcohol and party and live a life of loose morals. I have been refused accommodaion in many places simply because of the way I look. I have been asked for my ID on numerous occasions simply because of the way I look. I have been approached indecently by men of all ages and professions only because of how I look. Yes, I am that Nepalan that they see on the street everyday and stare at as if they've never seen a woman in their lives; I'm that object that unchains all those loose morals that prevent them from doing this to their own kind, because their society prevents them from doing so, because if they do it to a Punjabi girl, her father will chop their balls off with his Kirpan, and if they do it to a Haryanvi girl, they might get stoned to death with their own balls, but if they do it to the Nepalan, no one really cares, and this is how we get to see them, all stripped of their morals and pseudo-cultured mannerisms, their barenaked souls ogling at us with their tongues far out and your eyes popping out even farther. Yes, it is because I am out of my comfort zone, out of the safety of my village, my hometown, my father and uncles and brothers are back home, while I am here, trying to complete my education, make a living, build a career, run a business, or even simply whiling away time, wondering what to do with life.
I live in a 2 BHK apartment, which I have to share with other people from back home, as accommodation here is a bit expensive, and although we stick to ourselves and do things without getting in the way of the locals, we are often prodded about what we are upto, why we are up late at night, why boys come to visit us, why we smoke or drink alcohol, etc. Every now and then we hear about our women getting groped, molested, raped, and a lot of times we are too scared to even report it to the police, as many cops are often hand-in-glove with the locals and the landlords, and would sometimes even refuse to register complaints citing several absurd reasons. I often wonder what the average Delhiite thinks of me. I know that not all of them are alike. I have met some well-mannered, educated people from here as well, who actually look at me as a human being and not like a chicken that has accidentally run our of her pen and must be had for dinner! I know of people who I've had brilliant conversations with, who I can speak and roam around freely with, without any apprehensions, but these people are few and far between. I wonder what the majority thinks of me as I walk past them on the street. From schoolboys to middle-aged men with their hands rubbing their bellies, their fingers running into the spaces between the buttons on their shirts, to old men twirling their moustaches. I wish I could sit down with some of them and have a conversation about me, about where I'm from, about what my life is like, about how beautiful the place where I come from is, to learn about their culture, to have a healthy exchange of ideas and lifestyles, but I am often scared, by the stare that seems to look through me as if I were a non-entity without any rights or liberties, as if I shouldn't be here.
Then why would anyone blame me for not considering myself completely Indian, when I sometimes accidently refer to the locals as 'Indians' as if I weren't Indian myself. My people understand what I mean; It does not mean that I don't have an allegiance to this wonderful nation that we are proud to be a part of, but it is just that we don't quite feel that we are completely accepted as one of them by the people who live at the heart of it. I make an attempt to learn the language, to adapt to the culture and the lifestyle, but I don't see the reciprocal happening. We mostly come from the borders of the nation and often don't find much mention in geography and social science textbooks while we grow up. We know that many mainland Indians haven't heard about us, because maybe ours was the chapter they could afford to leave out when they didn't have time to study everything in the social science course, but maybe they could make an effort when they see some of us in person. I don't expect them to carve a path for us to walk on, or to make adjustments in their lifestyles to suit mine, but one could at least try and understand me, try to find out what I am made of, what I am upto, what my dreams and desires are, who my favourite bollywood hero is, what my favourite bollywood song is, whether I like Shahrukh more or Salman, what my favourite Saas-Bahu serial is. All we ask for is some respect, and if there is curiosity, which is understandable, then at least rid it of all those unnecessary, uncomfortable and demeaning add-ons that ride along with it. All I ask for is my identity and my culture to be protected. loved, preserved and cherished, and not blurred into a single term - the Nepalan!