Women from Northeast India get treated like sex objects, face racism, and suffer more sexual violence. Is it an urban myth or everyday experience? Love Matters asked six Northeastern women if they experience discrimination in Delhi.
I am from Jorhat and came to Delhi in 2014 to do my masters at Ambedkar University and took a small 1BHK apartment in Lajpat Nagar. It wasn’t long before the neighbours started objecting. They complained that their houses smelled of weird spices because of the odours coming from my kitchen.
True, I did love eating bamboo shoot pickle and often used bamboo shoot to cook chicken and dry fish – also known as ‘shutki’. But I never imagined that the smell could travel so far. I started keeping my windows closed while I was cooking. But still, every evening, someone or the other would come and knock on my door and ask me if I was eating dogs and pigs because it smelled so horrible!
Then the situation got even worse. One day a group of women came down with slippers in their hands threatening to beat me to death if I didn’t stop cooking. That was the most horrific moment of my life. It was my first experience with what people would tell me of racism in Delhi. In the end, I was forced to shift to a PG in Kashmere Gate, where I live with other Assamese girls. At least I feel safe now.
Erifa Ahmed, 26, is a writer from Jorhat
I do not think I’ve been able to form an opinion on this, based on coming from a specific part of the country. I have always felt angry towards people who perpetrate violence, especially if they’re men! But this is more to do with my psyche than my experience of being identified as a Northeasterner.
People say North India is innately aggressive, and I don’t understand where the aggression comes from. But, based on my experience of the places I’ve visited, I never had to experience the kind of violence that a lot of fellow North-easterners complain about.
Nirmali Phukan (22) is a Political Science student at JNU, Guwahati
I grew up in Hyderabad and came to study in Delhi. There, I met my husband and later shifted to Mumbai. So, there are significant parts of my life that I have spent in all three cities. But the number of times I was called a ‘Chinki’ in Delhi outnumbers any other place! In Mumbai, people have a completely different attitude to North-easterners. They don’t judge you to be brainless dog-eaters or measure the size of your intelligence according to your eye size, unlike Delhiites.
I feel the level of discrimination in Delhi is alarming. One feels scared, not just about rape or sexual assault, but even about being victims of irrational hate-violence on the roads just because you look mongoloid.
Anjum Thapa (32) is a homemaker originally from Tezpur
I was denied entry to the Taj Mahal because I didn’t show my visa or passport – apparently, I was assumed to be Chinese! When my husband tried to make the men see reason, they said that they could get forty men together to beat us up if we didn’t flee. I didn’t understand where this xenophobia came from. I was terrified and traumatised. I wondered how dangerous might it be for a single woman to live in UP or anywhere in North India for that matter.
Damayanti Doley (30) is an engineer from Nagaon
In the fashion industry, tales are different. Although I lived in Delhi and I studied at NIFT, I don’t think I went through so much as my other peer mates would tell me. Of course, there were a few name-callings, but nothing so traumatic that could distort the sense of my regional and racial identity.
Manisha Laishram (29) is a fashion designer from Manipur
I had three Punjabi boyfriends back to back. None of them ever skipped calling me a whore or a slut. It always seemed to be there in their tongue. By this, I don’t mean that Punjabi men are bastards, or they disrespect women, but I felt they always reduced me to a sex object. Their craze or fetish for smooth, fair Asian skin took a toll on me. I still cannot get over the amount of abuse I have been through.
Kevi Hmar (20) is a student from Mizoram