For anybody who thinks racism exists only in the West and that Indians are always the victim, need to think again. In India, perpetrators of racism are as Indians as the victims themselves.
A city like Delhi can be troublesome for those who don't look the part.
One might expect that a country whose people face racism in other parts of the world, would be more tolerant towards diverse races, but instead, India also practices racism towards its own people.
“We are scared to go out of our house. People pass rude comments and ask us if we are Chinese or Japanese. It is frustrating because we are Indians too,” said Sushma Gurang (name changed), a resident of Delhi, with her hometown in Darjeeling.
Achou Angom (name changed), a Manipuri student in Delhi, recalled an incident that happened with a male friend of his. “He was walking on the road (in Delhi) when a guy approached him and asked if he would like to be in a physical relationship with him. The guy ran away when my friend got angry,” he said.
Image courtesy: Powerpolitics.in
The city is worse for women from the North-East. Manisha Chettri (name changed) from Darjeeling who has been studying in Delhi for the past three years had numerous incidents of harrassment to narrate. She recalled the one that scared her the most. “It was winter and it was around seven in the evening. This man was following me. He had hands inside his pants...” she said. The man then walked ahead of her and exposed his private parts. “I was so scared. Especially because I did not have an elder living with me in Delhi. For some time after that incident, I feared going out in the evenings. I would go out only during the day. But of course, now I am all right,” she said.
In an effort to reach out to the people from the North-East residing in Delhi, the Delhi Police on August 31, 2013 held an interactive session at Arunachal House in Chanakyapuri.
The meeting was conducted to brief the North-East people about the security intiatives that the Delhi police has taken for their safety, and to appoint representatives from the North-East states who will undergo a training with the Delhi police to handle grievances of the North-East people in the city.
Chandrakala Gurang (name changed) from Darjeeling who currently resides in the Vasant Kunj area of Delhi is among the appointed representatives who will soon undergo training. She said that this intiative will bring some changes because now people from the North-East will be more willing to approach somebody in authority from the North-East. “There is blatant discrimination. The auto-drivers charge us more because we look different. My friends have faced harrassment in their work place and by the landlords,” she said.
Harassment of North-East residents in Delhi is not limited to being charged higher fares by auto-rickshaw drivers, or to words such as 'chinki' or 'Bahadur' or 'Nepali'. Harassment extends to their way of living as well. Neighbours show annoyance to their eating and socializing habits.
There have been cases of the landlord not providing the North-East residents with a lease agreement, or increasing the rent without prior notice.
“A friend of mine had to pay 100 rupees to his landlord every time he brought home a guest,” said Olember Ngasepam (name changed) from Manipur. “Another friend of mine had paid security deposit to her landlord. But then the landlord demanded three months rent in advance which he never mentioned earlier. She could not afford to pay the advance after paying the security deposit. Only after she said that she would go to the police did he stop harassing her,” he said.
Robin Hibu, Joint Commissioner of Police (Delhi), said in the meeting that Delhi police is planning a training program for North-East girls at the North and South Campus of Delhi University. Women police stations have also been set up on these campuses. “1000 PCR vehicles in Delhi are there to drop stranded girls/women to their homes at night. Even if you don't get a bus home at night, Delhi police is there for you,” he said. But also adding that he doesn't suggest late-night partying at pubs and discotteques.
Yet these ensuring statements are contradicted with the actions that Delhi police takes or rather fails to take. When the police does not file an FIR in the murder case of a Manipuri girl, Reingamphy, and instead comments that violence towards women from the North-East is because of them being 'loose' women and them working in spas and bars, the North-East residents are rightly apprehensive about approaching the police.
In August this year, two north-east students were intimidated by two sub-inspectors, who later took them to Bharat Nagar police station and thrashed them. The students were allowed to leave only after they signed a statement that said that they were assaulted not by the police, but by another party.
Matthew Kamei, President of the North-East Association in Gurgaon, said in the recent meeting that working North-East women in Gurgaon are left to fend for themselves at night because employers do not have provisions to drop them home. He also said that the employers often do not issue appointment letters to North-East employees saying that if they are not college graduates, then they are not eligible to get an appointment letter.
Robin Hibu said that Delhi police is ensuring effective policing in areas such as Mukherjee Nagar, Munirka, Gandhi Vihar and Chirag Dilli where a large number of North-East students reside. To ensure immediate approachable policing, Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) have been put to use by the Delhi police.
Future plans of Delhi police include meeting and interaction with unions of auto-rickshaw, taxi, and Resident Welfare Associations to sensitize people about diversity in race, language, creed and colour across the country. Stereotypes and generalization keep the masses ignorant, and thus, make them less accomodating.
But Delhi police itself is no exception to being ignorant and insensitive towards the security concerns of North-East residents in the city. In a booklet brought out by the Delhi police in 2007, titled “Security tips for Northeast students/visitors in Delhi”, inappropriate security tips have been suggested to North-East people, and girls in specific. Some of these tips include 'bamboo shoot, Akhuni and other smelly dishes should be prepared without creating ruckus in neighbourhood; revealing dress to be avoided, and dress according to sensitivity of the local population'.
Just as charity begins at home, Delhi police should start sensitizing its own personnel before it sets out with its future plans. If it wants to be taken seriously by residents from the Northeast.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author's personal views and do not necessarily represent the views of Newsclick.