Most of their stories have a lot in common with those of other migrants
In his death, an alleged murder now under investigation, Richard Loitam appears to have become a poster boy for all that is wrong with the way a cosmopolis treats migrants from north-eastern India.
While thousands like Loitam, who can afford to pay the high fees in the city's private institutions, come here to pursue their higher studies, an even larger and substantial section of the migrant population comes here in search of jobs.
Be it in the services industry, as security guards or in the beauty business — where those from the northeast are preferred — or the technology and BPO industry where thousands of engineers studying on campuses across the country are placed every year, the migrant from the northeast has made Bangalore his/her home.
No jobs back home
When The Hindu spoke to a random sampling across these sectors, about their lives, their identities and their relationship with Bangalore, their narratives were not very different from other migrants here. They spoke about the lack of employment opportunities back home: many support their families from here. They spoke of rampant cheating by touts and job agents. A few knew the Loitam case being discussed on Facebook, but many didn't.
Questions regarding safety and discrimination were often met with comparisons to Delhi.
As Gracie Sawian (27), a beautician from Shillong, said: “We are modern, so we are often perceived as easily available [promiscuous]. In our culture, boys and girls mingle freely, and some parts of Bangalore are conservative and look at us with suspicion.”
But she added that she can't even begin to say how much safer Bangalore is compared to Delhi and Allahabad, cities where she has worked. Sometimes due to these “cultural differences” house owners refuse to rent out places to them, often using food habits as an excuse, she said.
Anna, a beautician whose real name is Chinglemba, said it was frustrating when people refer to her as “the chinki” (referring to her distinct Mongoloid features). Her colleagues, from Nagaland and Sikkim, said there is “very little harmful discrimination”. However, Donna, her colleague from Dimapur, Nagaland, spoke of cases of girls brought here as cooks and domestic help, and then denied wages, even ill-treated. “We are sometimes a bit naive,” she reflected.
Charles, a Khasi, who works in a Chinese restaurant in Fraser Town, has a diploma in catering. He's among thousands who work in the services sector, particularly in oriental restaurants where they are employed to give the place an “authentic feel”.
As hilarious as he finds this, he conceded that it works to their advantage. His roommate — eight of them share a room — Doumin Diengdoh, is a security guard in a Benson Town apartment building.
“We are all from the same village so we cook and eat together. Sometimes neighbours — they're all from Bihar — tell us they don't like us cooking meat but we don't listen to them anyway,” he says. He earns Rs. 8,000 a month, more than half of which he sends home.
He added, with unmistakable pride, that his salary funds his sister's computer classes. “She will study and then come here, and work in an IT company hopefully,” he adds.
Doumin Diengdoh's dreams for his sister are based on the fact that a large number of northeast migrants are now working in BPO and IT firms here. Della, from Imphal, said many of them, being convent educated, are fluent in English.
“Our bosses also perceive us as flexible; in the sense we are ready to travel onsite or work late hours,” she says. However, after all these years, it still hurts her that “highly-educated people” ask her if she's Chinese or Japanese.