Face Value: Being a Nepali in India

What are Nepalis and Indians supposed to look like? Search me!

dinesh wagle

By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal
This article first appeared in today’s Kathmandu Post. Here is the PDF page It’s also available in eKantipur, and the official webpage of the Post.

I often carry my passport these days in Delhi whenever I go out. Not that a Nepali needs to have one to enter India unless the entry is by air. No one asks for a passport here, not even those Intelligence Bureau sleuths whom I bump into occasionally at gatherings and interactive programmes where they, like me, go to cover the event. They are nice and they know that I am a Nepali. The problem often comes when I interact with ordinary Indians who are preoccupied with certain perceptions about the general look of the Nepali people.

different colours, together

“But you don’t look like a Nepali,” many Indians whom I meet on the streets and talk to tell me in bewilderment.

“Is that so? What do I look like?”

“Well, you look like us,” they say. “You are an Indian.”

Others will be more specific. “So you are a Kashmiri?” they ask me when I am bearded. Some guess I am an Israeli vacationing in India. In Madhurai’s Meenakshi Temple last month, after asking me if I wanted “hashish, good quality”, a tout went on to name all the European countries he knew of so that if I could tell him where I was from, he could offer me the same in “my” language.

At the Taj Mahal two months ago, an auto driver refused to believe me despite my vigorous attempts to prove my Nepali nationality. “No, sir,” he would say, “aap Nepali nahi ho. Nepali jaise dikhte nahi ho.” (You are not a Nepali. You don’t look like a Nepali.)

Only a person with a flat nose and, I hate to use the word here but I must, “chinky” eyes, passes as a Nepali for many Indians. When they say I don’t look like a Nepali, they are looking at my long, bahunish nose and almost almond-shaped, big, deep and “awaken” eyes. They are also considering my skin colour which is relatively fair. Going by their reactions and comments, I have come to the conclusion that only those with Mongolian features are considered Nepali in India.

When I hear the same from educated Indians like journalists, software professionals, bank employees and university students, I seriously try to explain to them the diverse nature of Nepali society that lives at different altitudes, eats varieties of foods, speaks many languages and sport different looks.

I think the perception varies from place to place. Filipinos, for example, think otherwise. “My Filipino friends always asked me how come I look Chinese when Nepalis are supposed to look like Indians,” said a friend of mine who recently returned to Nepal from the Philippines where she had gone to study. Milan Rai of Khotang, 19 years old, came to Delhi two weeks ago to study Chartered Accountancy. He smiles when Indians talk about him with his Nepali friends in Hindi thinking that he doesn’t understand the language before trying to overcharge him. “Ye toh Chini hey.” (He is a Chinese.) We also have some mistaken perceptions about Indians in Nepal. Many of us think Indians with a fair skin can only be found in Bollywood movies and there are probably only two such people: Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai. (No other intentions in putting these two names together here.)

The Indian perception that “only a Mongolian can be a Nepali” might not be as problematic to India as the one that considers all Mongolians in India as Nepalis. (When I say Mongolians, I also include the bona fide citizens of Mongolia living in India apart from the millions of Indians from India’s northeast with Mongolian features.) Just as I do not like being called an Indian, many Indians with Mongolian features feel rejected when they are mistaken as Nepalis (meaning non-Indians) by the so called “mainstream” Indians. Saying, “Sorry, I am not an Indian” is vastly different from, say, screaming, “Hello, I am an Indian, just like you, a bona fide citizen of this country.” Who likes to face a situation in which they have to prove their nationality everyday to every Ram and Shyam? When I write this I am aware about similar situations faced by many Nepalis in the Tarai. I believe no Nepali should have to endure the experience of Pu Lalthanhawla.

“In India, people ask me if I am an Indian,” said Pu Lalthanhawla, chief minister of the Indian state of Mizoram, five weeks ago in Singapore when the issue of racism was being intensely debated in India while Indian students were being attacked in Australia on racial lines. “When I go to south [India], people ask me… if I am from Nepal or elsewhere. They forget that the northeast is part of India… I have told many, ‘See, I am an Indian like you’.” Then he added, “I am a victim of racism.” (Northeast India includes the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura.)

There were numerous reports in the media recently with headlines like “India Is Racist, And Happy About It” that not only proved Lalthanhawla’s statements but also brought to light the plight of Mongolian-looking Indians in cities like Delhi that is primarily dominated by the so-called mainstream Indians. “Last year, as I was shopping in one of Delhi’s posh markets, a man came up to me and said, ‘Hi baby!’,” wrote Monalisa S. Arthur, a journalist and a Mongolian woman from India’s northeast, in The Hindustan Times. “When I ignored him and kept walking, he snarled, ‘Bloody chinky’, and left.”

She described how difficult it was for people of the northeast to be accepted as Indians in Delhi. “Most times I fight back when I am teased so that the same person will think twice before harassing another ‘chinky’,” wrote Monalisa who said she wasn’t accepted in the city despite having lived there for 17 years. “Until the situation changes, some men will always consider us cheap and available; and Delhi will never be home, just a place where we work.”

PS: “Chinky” is one of the many new words that I have learned since I came to India last year. One dictionary defines it as “(ethnic slur), a person of Chinese descent”. Assamese poet and columnist Samir Tanti was quoted as saying, “Calling someone ‘chinky’ (referring to small eyes) is racial in nature. I know all northeasterners are known as chinky in Delhi and other parts of India.”

31 thoughts on “Face Value: Being a Nepali in India

  1. As an Indian, I hear you. People grow up with so many stereotypes. It is tough to let go no matter what the level of education or financial status.
    In US, I am some times mistaken for a Mexican and people start talking to me in Spanish. Although, I have to say they are more polite and apologize when I correct them.

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  2. QUOTE”Indians here are also polite to me and they are nice. The people to people relationship between Nepal and India is wonderful. If only the same happened at diplomatic, government level :)” where are you in India?????Basically you seem to be just travelling!Its not the real case though!
    check out-http://shaurabh.blogspot.com/2007/11/im-sad.html
    so what u think bout this???????

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  3. I heard this on tv about victims in a psychology programme Dr Phil show the victims identity gives them power it is an identity, that is maybe why people do not like to change or prefer complain they empower that identity then in the end you can have a chinese face but you will be nepalese even the ancestors cat emigrated from Poland.
    I always think I am not what I am it is not the face or tha languages. And I talk to dogs where dogs came from? Dogcountry I suppose.

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  4. Indians should believe that being respectful to emotions of citizens of neighbours is an invincible asset for their own prosperity. Rock on , DINWAG !!

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  5. i love being in india.. its only here that i never felt being away from home…and people here are not at all different from what we are in nepal. only different is that we have completely anti indian sentiment and they don’t have any such feeling for us. And about bad experiences… indian faces the same problem.. it is not targeted to nepali or indian… india simply rocks.. and i m enjoying my time here.

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    1. O surely, we do! Nepal is India and India is Nepal. Can anybody deny that? We both belong to the same great Indian Civilization (oh don’t worry… the word India here refers to the Civilization and not Republic of India- the country).
      Nepal may be suffering from some unfounded paranoia regarding India, but the act remains that Nepal is more closely attached in all terms to India than to any other nation. And that is quite natural, to be honest! We’re one single entity!
      The Nepali stereotype in India stems from the majority seen here. Most Nepalis in India, with specific Nepali tongues and attire (caps and all) are oriental-looking. That’s why the stereotype here. It has nothing racist in it, just a mindset of what’s commonly seen.
      There is no hatred against Nepalis in India, despite the countless murders and robberies by Nepali servants in Delhi. Even we could do to Nepalis what Aussies did to us. But we won’t! Because we consider Nepalis as our own brothers. It’s upto the Nepalis to hate us or love us! There will be some lovers like you and some haters like many anti-India paranoid Nepalis. That’s how the world is!

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      1. And what about Indian robbery in Nepal, girls being kidnapped and lured to Indians brothels and raped each day………..And you forcefully occupying our nation

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      2. Mr.Dilliwala , there is no accountability of how much rape, robberies, killing and almost every possible illegal acts Indians do in Nepal. Indians go to earn in Australia, however the figure is not the same other way around. Yes, Nepali works as servant, guard in Nepal but there are also numerous and numerous Indians working in Nepal as barber, street vendor, pani puri wala , brick factory, saree factory and numerous other menial jobs.So stop comparing India with Austratalia. Hajam nahin hota.

        Just a suggestion for any Indian , last thing you do is complain about other nationalities being lesser civilized, robbers, thieves, killer. No one and nothing beats India on this one. Not everyone are as such but can’t deny India houses the most.

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  6. hey Dinesh,
    atleast if u a carry a Nepali Passport there in India, u’ll be proved Nepali… in Nepal if u look indian , u carry a Nepali citizenship or watever u will always be termed as an Indian….. its ugly n so annoying at times..
    i expect when u back to Nepal u talk n write abt a Nepali having a Indian look and a Indian surname…
    i truly love ur articles….. u great..

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  7. My boyfriend is Nepali and lives in Sydney, Australia, as do I! Whenever he is introduced to people that don’t know him, they think that he is Mexican, south American, or some kind of European person. He has only been called Indian once. On the other hand, I am Spanish (parents came to Australia when they were young) and I constantly am called Indian. I even had a man scream at me on the bus saying “YOU’RE INDIAN, AREN’T YOU?!!!” Mind you, he was actually pretty crazy, he must have not been all there in the head so I didn’t react to what he said. But a lot of Indian guys look at me and try to talk to me in Indian when I’m no where near Indian, hehe! So it’s not just Nepalese people who are constantly mistaken for Indian, it’s other people as well🙂

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  8. isn’t prejudice and generalization every where, in nepal all indians are suppose to be bihari or marwari am’i not right ..stop complaining about such issues and learn to look at both sides of a coin

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  9. @Jyoti.. He was just explaining about hypocrisy or misunderstanding (whatever u call it) inbuilt in some Indians!! And you just proved it to be hypocrisy!! Mind you if there had never been India, there had never been 10 yr long civil-war in Nepal(India being a democratic country supported and funded Communist Maoist), 5 years of unstable political condition, less numbers of beggars in Nepal , much less headaches for us Nepalese and so forth. Half of Nepalese population are poor??? Which world are you in? Latest report says 24-26 % of Nepalese population live below poverty like and 36-37 % or so Indian population lives under poverty line that’s almost half of the world’s population living below poverty line. I’m just tired of some Indians bragging about how India is our saviour . When reality is much different. There are millions of Indians working in Nepal as well very few of them in respected jobs.

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  10. In Nepal you can see few indian companies……like Hilltake…Air take….techo trade..etc these are some indian companies in Nepal…..one of the events the Indian married Manager of Hilltake hire the nepali girls for job then he used them…..my own nephew worked their her salary was only 8000 after a days the manager call her for lunch because she was new then he said I will increase your salary 15000…..dont say to another staff…..after saying this he always called her in day and night and force her for dating and cinema..but she refused and said these things to her bf and me too…so we went their and scold him badly/////now she quit that job….please makes your sister daughter aware with indian people ..after a time I came to know he used to do these with many Nepali girls working there..again in pasupati temple I found one india guy talking with nepali beautiful girls after talking he forced her for mobile number when she said I dont have then again he asked for home number also he gaved her visiting card he was the Chairman of travels and tours…..then you know what happen that girl complain to police then that police gave him nice slap //////….you know the name of that girl..i.e. Sneha its meee…my bad experience for indian guy…hey Nepali bhai bandhu jaga yasto kuro haru nepal mahudai cha..kunai pani indian consultancy..indian company these people hire nepali girls and used them/////keep on eyes at them…may me tomorrow will be your sisters or wife…dnt make them to work in indian companies…..thankyou…

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  11. i was on a vacation 2 yrs back with my family there in india.it was quite a journey..wonderful places..Goa mmm lovely though hot! lots of fun memories..among those one was, many people including my dad’s Indian frns telling me i look like im adopted from thr westnen part of the world!!! i dont look like a nepali at all!(how heart breaking:( )

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  12. It is not only delhi or chennai where people like us are treated like this. People from Mumbai are bit matured but still its no exception. People beyond bengal in north east and beyond uttarakhand &himachal pradesh in north ; every indian think that a Nepali is always a chinky and it is their 1stidentity.

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  13. People in Nepal have concept that Indian are dark skinned Bihari or Marwadi. My frn asked how come white people in Hindi films when Indians r dark skinned? What part of India does bollywood ppl r frm? Ppl thinks India as hot as desert when it is above 40 deg.C. If dark skinned is thin, he’s bihari else fat marwadi. Two indian ethnicity we knw till now. Sorry to mention Vegetable vendor, Panipuriwala, factory labours and temple beggars r considered indians.
    Nepali thinks themselves to be resourceful and heartful. The chhetris(kshetriya) thinks they’re high caste administrator, Bahuns(brahmin) thinks they’re high class priests, mongolians thinks they’re most brave. Nepal being 81.3%hindu, mst ppl think that Nepali is considered white brown coloured hindu priestly ppls praying to Pashupatinath(lord shiva) as guardian deity. I heard B.P. Koirala got a highway in his name in Patna. We thought India knws Nepal as brahmin priestly country bcoz Koiralas are representing Nepal. But never knew they call us chinky when we dnt have chinky eyes.

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  14. We always thought India sees Koirala brahman family and Thapa or Rana Chhetri family as most common family bcoz most PMs were Thapa or Ranas like PM Bhimsen Thapa or LivingLion Amar Singh Thapa or PM Jung Bahadur Rana and Koirala like B.P. Koirala, Girija Prasad Koirala & presentday PM Sushil Koirala. For information Brahmin and Chhetri are quick to join govt. services to now have 89% Nepal’s bureaucrats of Bahunchhetri heritage. Almost all army chiefs of Nepal are Chhetris(Kshetriya) except one. Almost all Nepal PM are Aryan except one. Sorry to suppress Mongol community but it is a fact that the Nepal govt., bureaucracy and Army are Aryan dominated from times of Hindu confederation to Hindu Kingdom to Hindu Republic present day and ppl r confused what Nepali stereotypical face or feature is. Its 80% aryan and 20% mongoloid as Buddha was born in Nepal as Hindu Kshetriya but influenced Buddhism only in Mongoloid community. I feel very shocked to see Indian media calling false statement Buddha was born in India and dont accept Aryan heritage of Nepal though frequent visit of indian celebrities to Pashupatinath. Jay Nepal. May Pashupatinath bless everyone.

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  15. Admin guy Dinesh’s face is pure Nepali Bahun (Nepali Brahmin) and caste is also Nepali one. I dont know why indians are being ignorant about Nepal having dominant Aryan population of 81.3% of total and India has 80% but india is jealous that Nepal is more densely Hindu in %composition. Thats why recently they gave the tag of Mongolian to Nepal to manipulate the general people’s thought about Nepal. And everybody knows Mongolian race in Nepal is minor and are given reservation quota. Despite being introduce with Nepali PMs & Kings who are Aryan frm history till now and Bollywood personalities Manisha Koirala, Udit Narayan, indians try to ignore Nepali as aryan. Ethnic Nepali is Brahmin, Kshetri, sanyasi & dalit as it’s their mother tongue and mongolians are Nepali citizen not ethnic Nepali bcoz they speak other mother tongues than Nepali like Rai, Magar, Gurung. I dnt say the Mongoloid arent found in Nepal but the Nepalese stereotype is Aryan who is relatively fairer than southerners dakshinpanthi(india, bangla, lanka).

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    1. You must do better research!
      Khas people make up less than 28% of the population of Nepal according to the 2011 census done by the Nepal government and CIA World Factbook.
      Also the Indigenous people of Nepal are Newars, Kirats and Tharus.
      Brahmins and Chetris came to Nepal in the last 500 years from North India as they are ethnic Rajputs, who fled the Muslim invasions.
      They also speak a Indo-Aryan language of the eastern Pahari branch.
      All Indigenous languages of Nepal are from the Tibeto-Burman language family. As are all Himalayan people from Sikkim (Bhutia) to Bhutan (Ngalops and Sharchops) and North East India.
      All this information is widely available in such sources as Encyclopedia Britannica and academic studies done by Oxford University and Harvard.

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  16. What an interesting article and thanks for sharing. Honestly, I am so happy that I have seen many similarities between both neighboring countries Nepal and India since past few years ever since becoming closer to Nepalese community as I myself of Indian origin. Seriously, it is a fact that Nepal or India are both seen as the Southeast Asian continent as there are different looking Nepalese who can pass for a Tamilian South Indian to a Gujurati to a Punjabi to a Northeast Indian or Chinese or Thai and same with diversity amongst Indians!

    I recall attending a Tibetan festival once full of Tibetan origin people and heard from some how Nepalese are of Non-Mongolian and Mongolian features and I felt happy saying my fellow Indians are the same. Also, I recall meeting a beautiful Nepali girl who works at a desi food stall at a gas station in Wichita, KS, was non-Mongolian and thought she was Gujurati as the family she worked with was Gujurati lol. We had a nice conversation how literally any different looking Nepali person can pass for a different-looking Indian person. Also, one time at a meditation retreat I met two cool Aryan looking Nepali guys who have same features like me and recall a cool Dravidian, Tamil looking Nepali guy met at the Indian NGO in DelhiI where once interned. Also, I met an Aryan Nepali guy with surname Khanal in a hotel and a funny Ethiopian guy said we look like brothers even with he Nepali and I as Indian lol and the Ethiopian guy was wondering if he can pass for Nepali and Indian too and I said yes. Love the mention of Manisha Koirala and Udit Narayan in Bollywood.

    There is this one cool Vietnamese girl from our friend circle and we would tease her at times how she is Indian as she from Northeast India. Also, I tease some of my Mongolian Northeast Indian friends how me and them are Nepali rather than Indian even with different looks.

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  17. I have to tell you all that I was so naive back when I was a teenager thinking Thailand and Nepal are together or the same country lol because there was this one Thai restaurant where ton of Nepali people worked.

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  18. People in Delhi do not represent India, rather, they are a bunch of uneducated herd gathered there from the neighbouring places. They are extremely proud of themselves, but the rest of the India sees It as the rape and pollution capital. So please do not blame Indians for what people in Delhi do, Delhi simply do not represent us.

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