The capital’s latest ferment over racist attacks against those from the Northeast is beginning to boil over into a Quit Delhi movement.
NEW DELHI: Citizens from the seven Northeast states living and working in Delhi say that recent spike in violent incidents against them has compounded the racial abuse they face constantly to the extent that going back to their states now looks like a good choice.
The families of many of these youngsters living in Delhi too have been asking them to return. “While racism is nothing new, the situation seems to be getting worse with each passing day. I have been interacting with a lot of students from the Northeast and while they have been mulling returning home, it is their parents who seem to be frantically worried. So many of them have been calling their children back, asking them to leave their jobs or studies and just return home to safety,” said Tapan Doni, a resident of Arunachal Pradesh and the chairperson of the recently constituted Northeast Joint Committee that has been demanding justice for Nido Tania, the 19-year-old killed in an apparently racially motivated attack. “We are doing what we can, trying to remain cautious and alert, sticking together for we know that even the police cannot put an end to such behaviour overnight,” said Doni.
“Delhi has never really been perceived as a safe place for anybody, yet one comes here seeking a better life and hoping to overcome this fear. Recent incidents of violence against people from the North- east have, however, taken this fear to another level. Most my friends and I are very worried and are contemplating going back home,” said Rimi Awangshi. The 26-year-old, who works in a BPO firm in Gurgaon, has been living in the Kotla Mubarakpur area of South Delhi for three years now.
“Sometimes when I am waiting for my office cab late at night, locals gawk at me. And this when I am very conservatively dressed.
Some of my friends have faced worse things. They have been sneered at, men have walked up to them to check if they are prostitutes,” Awangshi said.
“The locals probably think we are not Indians because we look different. Or, they probably think that since we are all by ourselves here, without any family to take care of us, we are weak. Hence, they can get away with making remarks at us or even attacking us physically,” said Chon Konghay, 24. Konghay and her husband, both from Manipur, run a convenience store in the Kotla Mubarakpur area.
North-easterners say that considering that they “look in a particular manner and speak with an accent”, everyday living in Delhi can be a grueling experience.
“The locals believe we drink all the time, return home late at night, have casual sex, and hence landlords have a right to throw us out at their whim. The autowallahs think we are outsiders and hence can be overcharged, shopkeepers and local youngsters can abuse us.
It is a never-ending nightmare,” said Diganta Lahon, 24, from Assam. “Most of the times, we ignore such behaviour for lack of a better choice,” he said.
Delhi’s racism is not the preserve of a particular neighbourhood or area, but runs rampant across the Capital. In an attempt at securing camaraderie, safety, and out of economic compulsions, Northeasterners living in Delhi have gravitated to ghettoisation, primarily in South and North Delhi areas like Munirka, Kotla Mubarakpur, Satya Niketan, Chirag Dilli and Outram Lines. These areas are conveniently close to most of their workplaces and colleges, rentals are cheap—a single room set (with a bathroom and a kitchenette) costs between Rs 4,000 and 6,000 per month.
Extreme physical and sexual assaults are more common than the most pessimistic estimate.
“In November last year, about four local men accosted me right here in this street. It was around 1.30 am and I was returning home. They assaulted me and asked for money. I said I didn’t have any and just gave them my mobile phone. Then, just last week two of my female friends were assaulted at the end of this street. The matter was reported in the media but nothing has changed on the ground. The locals don’t fear anything and believe they can get away with such behaviour,” said Michael M, a resident of Munirka.
Talking about the kinds of comments passed on them, students in Delhi University’s North Campus said that people have come to accept their food items like momos and noodles but have not accepted the people. “ It is like you love to eat momos which are our staple diet but you hate us.
Again, you call us names that are our food items. What if we call you gobi- paratha because you eat it?” said Leeyir from Arunachal Pradesh.