Sinlung /
21 February 2014

Tensions Running High Among Northeasterners in Delhi

People from the northeast protested the death of Nido Taniam, a 20-year-old student who was beaten to death, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, Feb. 15.
Tsering Topgyal/Associated Press
A wave of panic ripped through the labyrinthine urban village of Munirka in south Delhi this week. The community of narrow alleys and potholed roads is home to many of the students from northeastern India who come to the capital each year to study.

It started with tweets and blogs relaying rumors that the local residents’ association had asked local landlords to evict the northeasterners, members of Tibeto-Burman language-speaking ethnic groups related to those of neighboring China and Myanmar.

Northeasterners, who tend to have East Asian looking features, are often targets of discrimination by their countrymen of Indo-European or Dravidian descent.

Munirka’s northeastern community was already on edge after a number of recent attacks on northeasterners in Delhi. In one case, Nido Taniam, a 20-year-old student from Arunachal Pradesh, was beaten to death. Police said the assault was racially motivated.

On Monday, members of the northeastern community led by Binalakshmi Nepram, a rights activist, went to the nearby police station in Vasant Vihar to request that officers prevent any evictions.
There, they met with members of the residents’ association and the police. Sandipan Talukdar, president of All India Students’ Association in Delhi, who was present at that meeting, said members of the residents’ association denied making any such eviction demand and said they had only asked that shops shut by 11 p.m. and CCTV cameras be installed.

Somnath Paruthi, the head of Vasant Vihar police station, said that he had not received any complaints of forcible evictions and would take strong action if anyone was discriminated against in this way in Munirka village.

The residents’ association agreed to print and circulate a pamphlet in the village asking people not to discriminate against northeasterners, according to Ms. Nepram. No one from the residents’ association was available for comment.

“For us this was a preventive measure,” said Ms. Nepram. “The meeting ended with a positive note,” she added.

A storm in a chai cup? Maybe. But the speed at which the rumors sped round is indicative of the strength of the distrust and underlying hostility between the two communities in this area and in the capital at large. Munirka village is largely inhabited by northeasterners and members of the Jat community from northern India.

Caroline Maninee a doctoral student in political science from Manipur in the northeast, has lived in Munirka for eight years. But she says she still feels like an oustider. “They call us Chinkis,” says Ms. Maninee.

Affordable rents make Munirka village ideal for students who account for the bulk of the northeasterners living in the area.  Jawaharlal Nehru University, where Ms. Maninee lives, is located nearby and some colleges of Delhi’s University’s south campus are about 4 miles away. Rent varies from 6000 – 10,000 rupees ($96 – 160) and four to five students usually share a house.
Residents of the area who are not from the northeast say that those who are consume alcohol, stay out late at night and pick fights. “Police never do anything,” said Kukoo, a shopkeeper and a resident who goes by one name, like many in India, and says he is scared to go out at night.
Many said they disliked the way women from the northeast dressed and accused them of being prostitutes.

“If my children look at them every day, they will become like them,” said Kamal, 32, a mother of two daughters. “If they leave the area, that will be good,” she added.
“We consume alcohol but everyone consumes alcohol,” said Brian Singson, 21, a student in Delhi University. He added that women from the northeast prefer wearing western clothes but categorizing them as prostitutes is “very unfortunate and very very untrue.”
Some landlords said they don’t rent their houses to people from the northeast. “I have four houses and not a single Manipuri lives in any of my houses,” said a longtime resident in the area. Others though preferred renting to families from the northeast rather than single people from the region.
Sunny has rented a part of his house to two northeastern families. “I have no problems with families living here,” he said. “Not everybody is bad.”
Prateek Rumba, 24, has been living in the capital for four years and comes from Darjeeling, in India’s Himalayan region, has grown used to discrimination, he says. “This happens every day.”


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