Don’t stand hate crime, expand our sense of communities | columns | Hindustan Times
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Don’t stand hate crime, expand our sense of communities

It is not unusual for people from the Northeast, Ladakh, and even Delhi’s Manju ka Tila to be asked if they are Chinese/Japanese or if they need a passport to get here. Workmates, landlords and neighbours are often intolerant towards their lifestyle preferences.

columns Updated: Oct 20, 2014 08:02 IST
shivani singh

I studied in one of Delhi’s residential schools as a day scholar and it somewhat blurred my understanding of ethnic divides.

A Sikh girl from Nagaland was as much a part of the class group as one with a Punjabi name but features resembling a few other classmates from Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. We bonded, shared our mixed tapes and diaries where we transcribed lyrics of the latest chartbusters. We were equal partners in crime when it came to breaking school rules.

None of us thought we were attempting national integration, a concept that for us was limited to preachy slogans of ‘hum sub bharatiya hain’ played out on Doordarshan. We were just happy to be together.

But cities are not closed eco-systems like boarding schools are. With hundreds of thousands of people pouring into Metros for employment, the acceptability of migrants is not determined by the trivial priorities of a schoolgirl.

According to a report prepared by a home ministry-appointed panel this July, over 2,00,000 people migrated to Delhi from the northeastern states between 2005 and 2013. Earlier, most of these migrants were students.

Now, many also come in search of jobs or relocate permanently. Shockingly, says the report, 86% of them have faced some form of racial discrimination. Apart from communication difficulties, the “Mongoloid” appearance of the migrants from Northeast also “accentuated” their problems.

It is not unusual for people from the Northeast, Ladakh, and even Delhi’s Manju ka Tila to be asked if they are Chinese/Japanese or if they need a passport to get here. Workmates, landlords and neighbours are often intolerant towards their lifestyle preferences.

The more extreme manifestation of such discrimination is hate crime that claims victims like Nido Tania who was beaten to death in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar earlier this year. Last week’s attack on two men from Nagaland in Gurgaon’s Sikanderpur was the latest in a string of similar cases.

The law and order machinery has no excuse for buying into racial stereotypes.

Measures such as a police helpline are welcome but we need more than addressing the symptoms of alienation. Frankly, can we blame the “mainland India” for not knowing enough about the rest of the country? When was the last time we got real exposure to the Northeast, except in the stock shots of men and women in tribal gear performing bamboo dance on Doordarshan and the Republic Day tableaux?

Even after several attempts to make the syllabus more inclusive, the books prescribed under the national curriculum are silent on the northeastern states. Geography lessons mention the landscape in passing.

All that a student gets to know is that Cherrapunji was once the wettest place in India and that Arunachal Pradesh is our most sparsely populated state. Nothing on their history or contemporary politics and culture find a mention even at the university level.

Except for reports on the insurgency, there is not much in print and visual media either. Yes, there are occasional reports on Assam’s rhinos and Manipur’s Mary Kom. But how often do we hear about people from the Northeast doing something other than protesting, being arrested or explaining how they deal with recurrent embargos?

Left to ourselves, we must expand our sense of communities. RWAs can start by engaging with the new migrants in the neighbourhood and understanding their concerns.

Councillors and legislators can throw open their Janta darbars to the new residents of their constituencies. With location-specific manifestos in vogue this poll season, there is no reason why issues concerning the Northeastern migrants can’t make it to the poll agenda.

Respect and appreciation follow acceptance which, in turn, is possible only when we understand each other better.

For a start, let’s get to know those who don’t look, talk or eat exactly like we do. They are just as rewarding and painful, trust me, as all other friends, colleagues or neighbours who make our lives.