Attacks on people hailing from NE in Mainland India - a personal observation

Ninglun Hanghal *

Protest in Delhi against killing of Nido Taniam (a youth from Arunachal Pradesh :: 01 February 2014
Protest in Delhi against killing of Nido Taniam in February 2014 :: Pix - Debanish Achom

I was in Manipur during mid October and as expected, I was bombarded with questions on the reasons for "frequent attacks against NE in Mainland India, especially Delhi". To make matters worse a series of incidents were reported during this week. The Bangalore incident where a student was attacked for not speaking Kannada, boys were beaten up severely in Gurgaon- NCR, a woman died allegedly after being raped.

On a lighter note, the NE population is increasing (over 2 lakhs in Delhi alone, an estimate by centre for NE studies and research, JMI in Jan, 2014 ) and thus many "happenings" that are potential news items and market for the national media as well.

On the flip side, it calls for serious pondering on why incidents keep pouring in.

The issue is multifaceted and multilayer. It is complicated and complex. And there is no direct answer either. There are many reasons and factors that led to the frequent incidents of violence and assault on the people hailing from North East region in metro cities across mainland India.

There are also varied opinions, re-actions and response. While mainland are ignorant of the geography, history and socio-culture of NE, that fortunately goes in favour of them, such as brushing the issue aside as ignorance, their immediate re-action and easy way out is to defend themselves, and thus blame the NE for inviting problems ( example behaviour, dress, drinking ) Within the North east population, opinion / observations varies between the folks back home and the populations in mainland cities. In the cities with easy communications and mobilization, "activism" is cool, besides the politically correctness in fighting injustices. Back home the opinion is that youths in the city are "lost souls" and that "behaviour and characters" are one key reason for attacks, especially in case of women.

It is also true that most victims were from Manipur, and that too from the hill districts. Unfortunately, issues are therefore reduced to a "tribal characteristics" of naivety and ignorance of the culture of the "civilised" urban city. Though of late, the issues were diplomatically handled both by state agencies as well as activist. In-fact, as much as Manipur is comparatively high in education, Manipuris were more politically aware, thus politically right noises were mostly led by people from this state. Moreover, Manipuri migrant population is also comparatively in ratio, higher than most of the other NE states. Obviously therefore more reported cases.

Migration to cities is rapidly increasing (thanks to globalisation). For instance, each community XYZ from Manipur has a Delhi based student organization, Church fellowship and welfare associations. Indeed there is not a single family house hold that doesn't have a family member in Delhi / Bangalore/ Chennai. It is true that this mass migration (and of course an universal phenomenon) is due to availability of employment in cities. On the other hand, it may be mentioned that jobs are not so easily available (economic meltdown etc). Most of the jobs are casual and informal. Thus, vulnerability for many, especially for women.

Another factor is the peer pressure. A somewhat sort of competition, that makes it fashionable for the new generation to experience a "city life". Every household and neighbourhoods in Manipur (and NE at large) the conversations, gossips, today, centred around metro cities and city life styles.

In the city, youths experience a sense of independence and freedom, whereas the day ends at 5 pm and no life beyond local neighbourhoods in NE. Moreover, the city gives them a lifestyle (in contrast to the tradition and customs) and entertainment which otherwise were seen only on the Tv screens and cinemas. Unfortunately, here comes the conflict. Additionally being different in looks, culturally and practice too, their sense of freedom and imitation of a "western lifestyles" became their vulnerability. For mainland India these were seen as an "easy prey" and for the NE it is their fundamental right to wear, eat and do, what they want/like. Though the "Delhi Lifestyles" is never a way of life in/of North East India, for mainland Indians this appears as NE culture, life and behaviour.

It may be mentioned that Indian society are deeply divided along caste and class lines. Majority of the areas in Delhi and NCR for example, inhabited by the NE populations are areas of overgrown urban slums. A young "mongoloid" English speaking woman walking freely along the Gallis and streets of Delhi draws (undesired) attractions in the highly conservative, deeply patriarchal Indian society that kills an infant before birth just for being a female. In a society where untouchability is a norm, a way of life, the north eastern population in such neighbourhood dwelling is a "cultural shock" for the mainlanders.

North east people love socialising. This socialisation comes along with entertainment music, food and drinks. NE people carry these social dos along with them wherever they are and with the increase in populations; many NE people are no longer lonely in the cities. Reportedly, the social behaviours are loud and at times many acted like they own those dark alleys and windowless buildings in the cities. The anonymity in the city Like Delhi, whose population comprise of mostly migrants, is a privilege, as well as vulnerability. No one knows who lives next door. No neighbourhood elders will come forward to calm down fighting or accidents; house owners are not bothered about the tenants as long as they get the payments.

The city is cruel. There is no sensitivity or emotions. Survival of the fittest would be the right phrase here. On the roads, at work place, every day is a constant struggle for survival. And the weak becomes the victim. This "aggression, brutality" of the cities and vulnerability of the NE is also an indirect fall out of the rapid modernity and transition from a traditional way of life to a new "life styles" that both mainland and NE are grappling with.

Politicising the issue, political correctness gives some solace for the North East population. Pressuring the State and its agency is one way of solidarity and dignified way of approach. The political situation back home too did have an influence in the re-actions by the NE population in the cities. An easily provocative and re-active NE populations the reactions and response are political and sentimental. Furthermore, Philantrophism - an unique social characteristics of the NE, became handy in solidarity and magnification of political noise in such incidents. Therefore, the media loves it. Thus, one also get to hears reports of incidents more often than necessary ( such as the Front Page news headline in Times of India dated March 24, 2014 the news says Two Manipuri caught stealing Bikes in Delhi) .

True, NE people are different from mainland India. No arguments here. But what are these "differences" and how this "differences" are handled, use (and misused? ) both by the mainlanders and the NE populations is a question to introspect. It may be added that in the midst of this, there are elements, again both within mainland and NE that conveniently take opportunity to create tension between regions, culture, and people.

This is not to delegitimize or belittle protest or fight for justice. The observation does not in any way tries to stop or de-motivate initiatives and attempts in various ways, forms and actions to bridge the gap or bring people of NE and mainland closer.

* Ninglun Hanghal wrote this article for
The writer is with The Sangai Express and can be contacted at hanghal(dot)ninglun(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on November 04, 2014.

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