New Delhi: Even as panic seems to have gripped people from the North East in more and more cities across South India, the community in Delhi has remained calm. (Read full report here).
Though the capital has a shameful record of discrimination and harassment, especially of women, from the North East, the community has shown remarkable courage in refusing to succumb to the fear psychosis that is seeing people leave en masse from many cities.
While there is a heightened sense of alert all around, the predominant feeling under the present circumstances seems to be of no immediate threat or insecurity.
Decoding the remarkable state of calm among the capital’s north east community, AS Yaruingam, Head of the Department of African Studies, Delhi University, and an advisor to North East student Unions, says “I think the people in Delhi are more conscious and more aware. And this kind of communalism is very low compared to other states. Those who are trying to communalise the situation are unable to do it in Delhi.”
Martin Kamodang, a PhD student from JNU, agrees. He believes the sense of safety has more to do with absence of a communally charged atmosphere in Delhi and less to do with the government or the police.
“There is a stronger influence of communal elements in Pune and Hyderabad, whereas in Delhi that kind of movement is not strong. The absence of panic has nothing to do with the police or the government because the North East students have always had issues with lack of security, especially for women. If you go into small colonies, people from the north east continue to face discrimination,” says Kamodang, who is from Manipur and has lived in Delhi for the last 19 years.
On whether the North East community is better organised in Delhi and therefore more secure, he says, “We have similar network in all the cities. We have student organizations, we also have a church organization that looks after the welfare of students. Community level networks are there everywhere, in South Indian cities too. I wouldn’t say North East community in Delhi has a stronger network with government or local people than in other cities.”
While there is an overt calmness, there is no denying that the community is on the edge and in some quarters panicking too.
But fleeing is not an option, says Madhu Chandra, spokesperson for the North East Support Centre and Helpline that was launched in Delhi in 2007 “to fight racial and gender-based violence” against people from the North East living in Delhi and the NCR.
“Panic has also spread to the people in Delhi. Yet we have assured them that they will not be affected. None of them have left even though they are concerned. We don’t know who is generating these rumours. We believe that some hidden forces want to spread communal tension between minorities and different sections of the society.”
“People from the north east have seen a lot of communal violence. And so when they hear rumours, they panic, they flee. Fleeing is not a solution. The union and state governments have started taking action, which they should have done earlier,” says Chandra.
Following the Delhi model, Pune and Bangalore too have set up voluntary helplines for the north east community.
There is also a sense of frustration and helplessness for being the target of attacks and rumours. Says Mohammad Safikul Haq, president of the Manipur Students Association, “What do we have to do with the ethnic clashes in Assam? Why are they attacking students from North East? We are coming here to study. It is so unjust that they are doing these things to us.”
Asked how the students were dealing with the situation, he said: “We have to take care of ourselves. We have to be alert. The situation is worsening in other parts of India. We are trying to talk to the government and police to protect us more efficiently than before, so that we are not harmed.”
The absence of untoward incidences up until now and commitments by the government and the police to protect the community has helped them feel safer in Delhi, says Haq.
Residents in the Capital have been besieged with calls from friends and relatives back home urging them to keep a low profile.
Says Delhi University professor Yaruingam, “I received several calls yesterday on the situation in Delhi. I told them as far as Delhi is concerned we are okay. But that doesn’t mean that it will be okay forever. Anything can happen anytime. We need to be very careful.”
On what his advise to students was, he said: “Right now, I am advising students to keep calm and be very very careful because communalism is a virus that can spread very fast. Be very careful in sending SMS, uttering words. That doesn’t mean that harassment should be suppressed. Action has to be taken on the basis of facts. But there should be no rumour and there should be no panic.”