Our Constitution makes us all equal, but India remains a land of all sorts of discrimination—caste, gender, religion, race. For all its melting pots and cosmopolitan bravado, New Delhi is no different. Thirteen years ago, Alana Golmei, a Ph.D. from Manipur, came to the Capital in search of a better life. Her story:
Every man and woman from the Northeast is distressed with the way they are treated in the capital city. They survive rapes, face sexual advances, brave physical assaults from locals and what have you. The worst-case scenario is for the girls who work late hours, or are employed at spas, massage parlours or other unconventional means to make a living. My first job here was with a charity organisation in Nehru Place. I would commute from Dwarka to Nehru Place in a jam-packed bus. Men took opportunity whenever there was one to pass lewd comments or touch inappropriately. They would call me names (that I would prefer not to mention here as I still find them demeaning). Some bluntly made jokes about my Mongoloid features. With poor job opportunities in Manipur and big responsibilities on my shoulders, I had come to Delhi in 2005. That was the time when there was a ban on women employment back home. Despite being a Ph.D in Sociology, I could not find a decent job. No matter how educated you were, in Manipur you would not get more than a ₹4,000-job to begin with. Like every girl from the Northeast, I stepped out in want of a better financial future. I always wanted to teach. After coming to Delhi, I started applying to colleges. Not being well-versed in Hindi was a major handicap. I would be called for interviews, but the language barrier spoiled my prospects. Harassment and racial slurs are common. I still believe that men and women from the northeastern part of the country are relatively more stylishly dressed. This is not to do with money or class; it is a cultural thing. And because we have a strong style statement, many people take us to be women of easy virtue. On the rare occasions that I approached police, I could notice them jeering and sharing jokes about me with other colleagues right in front of me, for I didn’t know Hindi. Such experiences on a daily basis could break any aspiring youth. But the need for a better life and opportunity kept me going. Two years after moving to Delhi, I met a group of boys and girls who shared their experiences of sexual abuse and racial slurs in Delhi. We decided to form a support group so that others from Northeast do not have to suffer what we did. Or at least, they have someone to approach for redressal of their issues. I soon realised the magnitude of the challenge before the group. Our support group would constantly face threats from the locals for approaching police. The local community would even resist our intervention and help. People would not give us accommodation on rent; those who did would charge us more than water and electricity bills. Indecent advances were common even at the time of negotiations for housing or work. Dealing with the police initially proved a huge challenge. They would not take our complaints seriously and more often found fault in our conduct. We often needed to pull strings to push the police take us seriously. But I find satisfaction in what I am doing now. Our foundation helps the community in distress and also assists them in the tiresome process at court or police station to get them justice. Apart from my job as a researcher, my regular day includes holding sensitization workshops with the locals and the police. Political statements are one thing but we have to make people realise that the Northeast is a part of India and we are Indians, just like them.
(Alana Golmei, 42, is a researcher and the founder of the North East Support Centre & Helpline)
More from Discrimi-Nation
—With editorial assistance from Lokmarg