A Naga student from Delhi University wasÂ molested at a Delhi metro on the evening of May 22nd. She wasÂ sexually assaulted by a lawyer. The next morning, two members of a Northeast Union group and a female advocate wentÂ to Tis Hazari court in Delhi, representing the student. The three Northeasterners were viciously attacked by a mob of 20-30 lawyers and their associates. The men wereÂ savagely assaulted, and the woman slapped on her face by the mob of lawyers.
The mob threatened her, “We could do a lot more but we have spared you.”
Just another day in the violent streets of Delhi! Women, children, minorities never had it easy anyway. The otherwise simple and amiable Northeast folks have been seething with rage — their men and women are not accepted in ‘India’. Many may dispute this, but they know the fact.
Being mocked or called names like ‘Chinese, chow chow’ at public places is just a small part of the gamble. More often than not, being a Northeasterner in an Indian metro city means the owner of your house is repulsed by you, the so-called upholders of “Indian morals and traditions” sneer at you. The media never bothers to make any mention of the vistas beyond ‘bomb blasts in Manipur’. The collective conscience of the country or even the city folk block out any bearing of the Northeast; reflecting in their attitudes towards the latter as both groups continue to co-exist in the city, albeit in two entirely different worlds.
The indigenous regions with their unique food and dressing habits, and their unique language stay huddled together in their own groups to find the familiarity and comforts of the greener pastures they left behind.
Yet the violence of Delhi will not spare them. A shocking number of cases of landlords attacking their Northeast tenants, raping them, murdering them — students being ragged, bullied, killed; women being molested, raped, beaten, murdered; young Northeast men being assaulted and on the streets in Delhi, have made news especially within the communities — and the result? Anger, frustration, helplessness, hatred, mistrust — these feelings are bottled up (for now) inside the communities — of late, they are taking life with candle light marches, protest rallies etc. But the discontent is brewing.
“We don’t want to be a part of India — leave us now!” is a common sentiment echoed on many Northeast forums online.
While the separation of Northeast from India is a complex and long-term issue, the immediate problem at hand is the violence they face, or the prospect of violence that without a doubt, persists.
Many cities in India be it Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai etc. have made headlines for brutal crimes against women and children as also crimes against Northeast communities. However, since the incident of a herd of about 20-plus lawyers and their associates attacking three Northeasterners at a courthouse has happened within the heart of Delhi — let’s simply examine the city of Delhi in this article. However, it’s safe to say that violence does occur in many cities, and small towns in India — and it’s hard to corroborate the frequency and nature of attacks in comparison to other cities or towns.
Lakhs of Northeasterners across India, and scores in Delhi — are accepting their second homes in ‘mainland India’; a mainland India littered with crimes against women, children and minorities, alarmingly so in Delhi.
The masses of the capital rose in rebellion against the tyranny only after the ‘Nirbhaya’ rape for a little while. Now they are back to hiding their faces from the oppressors again. Or maybe they gave up too soon.
The Northeast communities haven’t given up yet. They are out there after every attack, every rape case, every molestation or murder case at the Police stations, the court houses, marching at the peaceful protest rallies seeking answers and justice. Is this because minorities in Delhi are the most affected? Hard to generalise, but it’s definitely a possibility.
While the Northeast communities in Delhi relentlessly take up the cause to protect their brethren, a word of caution for them: fighting the violence in the city is like fighting several enormous snakes on the loose. You can never be too prepared. How many more disgraceful casualties do we want at the hands of the goons? These are young and innocent lives, people who could have been your friends, a loved one, a special person you have known. Are the Northeasterners prepared to lose more lives?
Many students don’t have it any other way. Unlike many Tibetan or Nepali refugees that have options to resettle in the West, the Northeast people cannot escape. They are, in a way, refugees in their own country.
They have to enter the cities for education and job opportunities. They have families to support back home and their local economies mostly don’t allow them to have a stable and sustaining income every month.
At the root of the problem lies the opportunity. Every Northeast woman who has faced molestation/sexual harassment in the cities – will think twice if she were to bring her sister or daughter to the cities. Every Northeast man that has faced discrimination while looking for a rented apartment or for simply walking on the street with lowered eyes – will think twice before he brings his young son to the city.
So don’t leave home. Stay back in the Northeast. The culture, the land, the mountains are so rich in resources — and will be exploited sooner or later by the Government, or by corporations. Take control of the land that is still yours. Build the local economies. Build the educational institutions. Build the hospitals. Build the local enterprises in every sphere in the Northeast.
Create job opportunities. Be happy with the little successes — as of now the expenses endured in the many parts of Northeast are much lower than that in the cities. Live by the means, in the countryside that is rightfully yours, the hills that will give you a belonging that you know no other concrete jungle of the cities can replace.
That is again, a long-term plausible solution. It needs to be looked at immediately. However, scores of Northeasterners have no choice but to continue to live in Delhi or other cities beyond Northeast and have to face violence or the prospect of it every day.
Violence in Delhi is an ingrained part of its psyche. Up to the extent, as seen in the incident described above, the protectors of law without second thoughts ruthlessly thrashed three Northeast faces at the courthouse itself.
For a peaceful resistance, the Northeasterners have claimed, it is their responsibility to buckle up. They can no longer move around in isolation. Even around government offices. Keep your allies with you. Keep your resources ready.
The Government, law officials and public officials have appeared to pay heed to Northeast groups and students in the past, and soon after this fatal incident. However, a solution for protection hasn’t emerged, and isn’t going to come by soon. The survivors of many brutal crimes in Delhi will tell you that they can’t be too optimistic while waiting for justice from the Government.
Take your concerns to the right people. Taking it to the Government and expecting a solution to appear is like waiting for a broken glass to be repaired.
Approach the activists, the humanitarians, NGOs, artists, musicians, writers, journalists, researchers, feminists, the thinking class in Delhi that are, in several ways, more evolved than many of our Government servants. They will, in all probabilities not discriminate amongst you. I urge our Northeast friends to rethink their movement for freedom from racism and violence. If you want to do it, do it right.
Don’t put your lives in jeopardy. Unite together with forces that will leave you less vulnerable and more concentrated. Bring together the voices of the oppressed and make a mark where it matters. Join hands with survivors of rape, child abuse, human trafficking in Northeast and across India. Get them to endorse the fight of the Himalayan communities affirming peace and security.
Speak out against violence. Exchange and share stories. Learn from each other. Build lobby groups. Make the Government sit up and take notice.
While the struggle to reclaim the right to live a safe and secure life will be a tiresome and prolonged affair, the measures to protect yourselves have to be immediate and certain. There’s a war happening on the streets of Delhi. Women, children and minorities have to be careful. We have to protect them. Enough has been said about the psyche of the oppressors. Let’s take whatever little responsibilities we can, and make sure we don’t become another statistic in the far-fetched memories of this country.
This war in Delhi is against violence. Be it racism/feminism or any other layer that people still fail to understand — the collective movement is fighting for peace. It is fighting for a non-violent and peaceful city where women and men can be themselves and walk the streets without fear. In the last one or two years, the Northeasterners have claimed their identity across mainstream India (post repeated news of attacks on Northeasterners). It has come across very strongly, in the form of YouTube videos, advertisements and campaigns that have caught the attention of many people beyond the Northeast. It’s been an opportunity for them to celebrate and assert their identity in the mainstream landscape. However, those suffering from violence have to come under one roof and show their strength in numbers to the tainted goons that dot every other lane of Delhi.
On a parting note, I have lived for years in the Northeast and I have never failed to be charmed by the simple, unassuming, ingenuous and beautiful cultures and people. Having lived on both sides of the country, I wish ‘mainland India’ would shift their attention and start respecting the indigenous lands and people. There’s a lot to learn from them.
After all, there’s a reason why many parts of the Northeast are safer for women than most parts of India.
The war has been declared. Pick your sides. On one side are men, women, children and minorities standing in defiance. On the other side is malicious hooliganism pulling a thick poisonous fog over the city’s minds and hearts. Has the poison gotten to your heart yet?
About the author: Bhavita Rangzen Bhumo is a journalist/writer/researcher. She lived for about four years travelling, researching, and photographing the Himalayan region. She has written on many indigenous Himalayan communities. She has also written on youth, arts, theatre, culture, women etc.Â She is currently a writer with the Jaagore campaign, aimed at empowering women in India.