Last year, as I was shopping in one of Delhi’s posh markets, a man came up to me and said, “Hi baby!” When I ignored him and kept walking, he snarled, “Bloody chinky”, and left.
I’ve heard those words so often, at times it almost sounds like a greeting.
Even after 17 years of living in New Delhi, I still don't belong.
I am made to feel like an outsider every time I step out of my house — whether it is in a movie theatre, a shopping mall, trying to bargain with an auto-rickshaw, looking for an apartment or even when ordering a meal at a restaurant.
When my brother-in-law was looking for a house in March, he spoke to a house owner in Lajpat Nagar over the phone.
The gentleman described the house, fixed a time for my brother-in-law to see the house the next day, and then asked where my brother-in-law is from. When he heard “Nagaland”, the landlord simply said, “Sorry, the house is already taken.”
Every northeast person I know in Delhi has faced such incidents a couple of times. When I mention to a friend an incident where I was harassed, she’ll have a similar tale to tell.
I cringe when I remember how an employee of a five-star hotel followed me as I made my way to my brother’s room during his visit from Mumbai. Every time I turned a corner, he would wait a while and then walk a few paces behind me, till I stepped inside the room.
I was fuming.
I made my way to the reception to place a formal complaint. The manager, who did not listen to my complaint very seriously at first, apologised profusely after he saw my press card.
Discrimination, as I see it, has little to do with class or education levels.
A Bengali friend told me about how she showed a photograph of her with me and another friend, a Tibetan, to her friend. “Oh, so you have chinky friends,” is how her friend reacted. It’s disappointing of course, but it also serves as a reality check.
I’ve been more fortunate than many others from my community, in that I have just as many ‘Indian’ friends as friends from the northeast, so I don’t face too many problems.
I see it as fortunate, some from my community would see it as me mingling with the “others” — most of us tend to stick close to each other, either because we see it as looking out for each other, or because our lack of Hindi and the difference in culture prevents us from mixing with locals.
Most youngsters from the northeast now have a carefree attitude and don’t bother when they are stared at or teased. But why should we be considered easy game just because we look the way we do?
Most times I fight back when I am teased, so that the same person will think twice before harassing another “chinky”.
People’s perceptions have changed, no doubt, but there still is a long way to go.
Until the situation changes, some men will consider us cheap and available, and Delhi will never be home, just a place where we work.