Northeastern youth protests in Delhi: Opportunity to bridge the gap
Last week, Delhi witnessed a large turnout of youth from northeastern India - comprising eight states - to protest against the attack on the people from the region following the death of 19-year old Nido Tania, a student from Arunachal Pradesh.
Son of an Arunachal Pradesh legislator, Nido Tania succumbed to his injury Jan 30, after a fight broke out at a shop in south Delhi when Nido reacted for being mocked at his hairstyle by some local men.
Subsequently Nido was taken to the police station, where he paid a sum of Rs.10,000 as a settlement for damage of window panes. Later, according to the complaint, he was sent back to the same spot, where Nido was again mobbed by a group of about 7-8 men.
He was declared dead at AIIMS.
The recent years saw several reports of alleged physical, sexual assault and murder of young men and women from the northeast living in Delhi and other metro cities of India. In Delhi, a centre for support and helpline set up in 2005 recorded 10 sexual harassment cases in that year alone. In the period between 2007 and 2009, there were 23 cases reported to the helpline, out of which 80 percent were of sexual assault. It may be also recalled that in mid-2012 thousands of northeast youth fled Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai after they received threats via social media.
The Delhi outburst and solidarity over the death of the young Arunachalee is a tipping point of the sense of feeling alienated and discriminated in their own country. They feel these are hate crimes meted out to them for looking different, being different culturally and traditionally.
Emotions, sentiments and anger ran high as these youths feel they were treated as "non-Indians". Provocations arise mainly from mockery, as in Nido's case, or remarks, comments such as "chinky". In the case of young women, in most cases they are considered easy-going and available.
A large number of youths, with minimal, middle to higher education, throng the metro cities for better opportunities and jobs. In fact, the emerging economy of Indian cities provides employment, ranging from lower to middle level management to collar jobs in both private and public sectors/government offices. Most of them were employed in the hospitality sectors, retail sectors and Business Process Outsourcing centres.
A study by the Centre for North East Study and Policy Research, Jamia Millia Islamia, 2013, found that about 200,000 youths from the northeast reside in Delhi alone, while over 414,850 have migrated out of northeastern states into various metro cities during 2005-2010.
In the city, they encounter unfriendly public transport to house owners. Another major issue is the misunderstanding, or rather misconceptions of life styles, culture and social ethics. Due to this perception and patriarchal mindset, deeply entrenched in the Indian mainstream society, young northeast men and women were even more vulnerable, as they work in shopping malls, bars and night shift duties.
In a metro like Delhi, the majority population comprises mainly migrants. In such a situation of anonymity, where nobody knows who lives next door, it also provides fertile ground for anti-social activities.
This outpouring from youth also comes from the apathy of the security agencies, the police to be specific. The police's unwillingness to file an FIR is the first and foremost grievance. For instance, a young girl form Manipur was found dead in her room in Chirag Dilli, south Delhi, in May 2013. The Malaviya Nagar police immediately registered a case of suicide. After two consecutive days of demonstrations and intervention of then Delhi minister Kiran Walia, the police registered a case under IPC section 302 and 304.
Northeast support centre founder member Madhu Chandra once told this writer that unless the media takes up the story, there is no action by the police or political leaders.
Another area is the long-drawn judicial process in India. None of the cases related to northast people have been disposed of, except in one gang rape case in 2005 where the charge-sheet was filed after six years.
A feeling of victimization and a sense of being discriminated against also come from the historical-political background of the northeastern states.
Crossing the Brahmaputra and attempting to overcome the barriers, youth were moving out from the region today. And here, the northeast populations were caught between indifference and prejudice coupled with poor governance, administration and monitoring of state apparatus of the metro cities in India.
This recent protest is an opportunity for review, reflections in the establishments and its implementations, along with proactive interventions out of the existing mechanisms and find new ways for a humane approach such as people-to-people (northeast populace with the locals); people-to-police interactions, and, most importantly, involvement of Resident Welfare Associations.
(Ninglun Hanghal is a journalist from Manipur who works in New Delhi. The views expressed are personal. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 14-02-2014)