Maximum City

The story of Northeasterners in Delhi will always be that of contrasts and contradictions. There will always be mixed reactions about how they fare in the Capital writes HOIHNU HAUZEL

Leaving home is what most of us from the Northeast do eventually. We leave home for many reasons but primarily it is to seek something better than what most of our home states in the Northeast can offer. Every year, more than thousands of freshers from Northeast come to Delhi aspiring to be products of Delhi University or Jawaharlal Nehru University. And many more land up not quite armed with the right degree or skill set but nonetheless, hopeful of something better and brighter than rotting away in their states. Whatever the case be, just anyone who lands up in Delhi, come with a dream. A dream that can sometimes be fatal. Just like the young girl from Ukhrul district of Manipur who died a mysterious death in her rented home in Malvya Nagar, a south Delhi colony that’s mostly populated by middle class Punjabis.

At the most when the dreams do not turn fatal, there are experiences that are enough to mar them for life. There are teeming examples of how people, mostly, young women from the Northeast, come to Delhi only to go back horrified. In 2005, a young girl from Mizoram was abducted and raped by four men in a moving car. Apparently, the victim was walking back home from Dhaula Kuan after buying food from a roadside eatery. Again in 2010, we woke up to a yet another disturbing news about another girl from the Northeast who was forcibly picked up from the Ring Road in Dhaula Kuan and raped in a moving vehicle.

Like many students, these girls lived in rented accommodations and had only their wooden doors to fend themselves from the wicked world that waits for them to falter. I do not know any of these victims personally but I do know that they came here to fulfil their dreams. I do know that they had a purpose and a reason to be in the Capital.

Of late, there are far too many incidents that are reported and unreported of harassment and violence against women from the Northeast. I have heard of young girls living on rented accommodation around Delhi University and are often at the mercy of bullying landlords, despite paying up their rents. In parlours and spas across the city where I often frequent, I have met cheerful and smiling masseurs who tell me of how their landlords take liberties to walk into their rooms at odd hours. I have met many young girls who tremble in fear and in silence when their employers let them work till late at night, beyond their duty hours, and are not even provided a transport back to their living quarters. It’s another matter that these young people need to be sensitised to assert their rights. I have heard of how young girls from the Northeast are often teased on end, when they go on rickshaw rides around North campus.

Discrimination though is a strong word to use here. And it would be wrong and an exaggeration to suggest everybody discriminates people (women) from the Northeast. There are far too many successful people from the Northeast in the Capital who are at par with just anyone from anywhere in India. Why would anyone discriminate them purely on the basis of their origin? It is time we get over this imaginary complex and move on. If one is truly good at what one is doing, there is no room or scope to be discriminated by anyone in the world. At the most, it would be closer to the truth to say that people from the Northeast (women) tend to be misjudged and misunderstood by people. That is sadly because of the few black sheep of the community. Like every community that has its share of black sheep, Northeast is no exception. There are black sheep from the Northeast that have gone astray and are hovering around in Delhi. Sadly, they are responsible for tarnishing the image of many hard working Northeast women in Delhi. Coupled with this fact, is the tendency of prejudice towards women from the Northeast.

Therefore, many times women from the Northeast become easy targets and preys. Often, for no fault of theirs. Another reason that could be the reason for being misunderstood is the fact that there is so little understanding of each other in the real sense. There is a distinct cultural barrier that exists between Delhi and distant Northeast. People from the Northeast come from a cultural background that’s more egalitarian, close knit and where there is a more open interaction between the genders. They come to Delhi not quite geared to understand the existing cultural difference. That proverbial truth “Do in Rome as the Romans do” seldom apply to some of them. When locals watch and witness their free interaction with their opposite sexes, they interpret this as cheap behaviour often embolden them to take advantage of the situation.

Also, another character about people from the Northeast is, they are open and transparent in their approach. They are trusting and take things at face value. They are often too soft or weak for people with wicked intentions. Back home, do we lock our doors when we go to visit our neighbours. We do not even lock our cars when we go to buy vegetables in the market. We carry our trusting nature and instincts to the point of being termed gullible. There is a significant Western influence in the way people from the Northeast like to dress. If they are attired in shorts or dresses, they are considered provocative. There is a need to be understood in totality by India at large. While at the same time, Northeasterners living in Delhi must have the sensibilities to effectively respond to the new environment that is now their temporary home.

Meanwhile, the story of Northeasterners in Delhi will always be that of contrasts and contradictions. There will always be mixed reactions about how they fare in the Capital. For some, it’s a heaven as they have crafted their own success stories. For some, it’s a constant struggle and they will remain strangers throughout their stay. For those who have understood the little secrets of survival, it’s a place they would not trade with anything else in the world. Not even the summer heat! And for those “outsiders” who know and understand a true Northeastener, they will love them for life!

Hoihnu Hauzel

Hoihnu Hauzel

Hoihnu Hauzel is an independent journalist based in Delhi, and hopes to promote and connect Northeast with the rest of the country and beyond through her writings and entrepreneurial venture, Northeast Odyssey (www.northeastodyssey.com). She also authored the first-ever comprehensive cookbook on the Northeast, published by Penguin India in 2004. She has been a journalist for 14 years, having worked for the Asian Age, Indian Express, Hindustan Times, Times of India andThe Telegraph. She continues to write on travel, hospitality, art and lifestyle for different publications in India.