Prejudice, Ignorance and Intolerance
This article was written for the March 2007 edition of Eastern Frontier
Perceptions on discrimination of North-East women in the National Capital City
New Delhi, March 2007: For a long time, people from the North-East India staying in the national capital region (NCR) have been facing numerous cases of discrimination, harassment and humiliation. Intense socio-cultural conflict and the resultant stress that impact all aspects of their lives have taken a heavy toll on them. Study shows that 50% of the cases of sexual harassment are targeted at women from the North-East. There are approximately 90,000 people from the region staying in and around Delhi. On the other hand, the bewildering affair has raised objections on the lifestyle of the North-East women in general.
In January last, two women from Manipur were molested and beaten up by 25 thugs. They were only the latest victims from the region. Y. Monika, a cyber café owner in North Delhi's Gandhi Vihar had slapped a man for misbehaving with her sister, Anjali. The main accused returned with his friends, dragged out the two sisters and allegedly molested them.
Dress to kill
Attire can express so many things about you. No doubt, culture is characterized significantly by what people are clothed in; but, it will be unfortunate if this very matter cast a shadow over the dignity of a whole community and if it is sowing dissension between groups of people already diverge owing to varied factors. To be precise, the way North-Eastern girls gear themselves has raised questions on morality and mystify whether it is the reason behind crimes against them in the capital city.
It will be sheer ignorance to blurt out that the girls with their freedom and choice to live their own life should be completely responsible for the misdemeanors. On retrospection, the clash of culture or rather the domination of one over the other has been the bone of contention since long. Six decades of chicken-neck syndrome have shackled the lives of the North-Easterners and the incrimination that people from the region are blameworthy ahs waxed more hate and resentment towards mainland India. Moreover the hackneyed conception of all the Mongoloid stocks is ludicrous, for in any crisis it is labeled as done or created by them in ignorance that there exist different societies of diverse element in the region.
The roll is endless
Last week, the Manipur Students' Association, Delhi (MSAD) provides a list which includes some of the cases they have taken up regarding the issue:
- Dhaula Kuan Rape Case, May 2005: A 19-year old Mizo girl was gang-raped by four men in a moving car after yanking her from a roadside eatery. The next day, the Vice-Principal of Kirori Mal College made a press release that the North-East girls should wear salwar-kameez to avoid any such happenings in the future.
- Chanakyapuri Incident, November 2005: A Manipuri girl was molested and mishandled in Chanakyapuri.
- Nehru Vihar case, November 2005: One girl was molested while she was returning from the market by dragging her in a deserted alley. The police refused to take timely action. When a complaint was lodged the police asked the girl to take it easy. They replied that the action will be taken when she identifies the culprits.
- Mahipalpur Incident, June 2006: A girl was molested by four persons. No police actions were taken.
- Viyaynagar Case, January 2007: The accused rape and murdered a girl from Manipur in her rented room in Vijaynagar. The girl was alleged of being immoral.
- Kingsway Camp Episode: Three women were dragged from a rickshaw and were molested in broad daylight by the examinee of Delhi police constables at the main road. No police action was taken.
- Mahipalpur Case, October 2007: One girl was molested by a tenant in Mahipalpur. The duty officer of Vasant Kunj Police Station refused to register case until the media intervened. The accused was arrested but failed the police failed to book a case under SC/ ST Prevention of Atrocity Act though the victim belong to Scheduled Tribe community.
- Vijaynagar Case, November 2007: The accused molested the girl and passed lewd comments. In this case, both the accused and the victim were tenant of a reputed Delhi Police officer.
- Gandhi Vihar Case, January 2008: Two sisters from Manipur, aged 24 and 18 respectively, were thrashed and molested by 25 rowdies in Gandhi Vihar on 5th January, 2008. The police registered the case only two days later when the media intervened.
Non-entity in mainstream consciousness
It is often regarded that the whole North-East is an open society where sex, drugs and violence are pervasive while oblivious to the physical existence. The paucity in the mainstream consciousness is the genesis of point-at-issue, hitch together with apparent racial arrogance. People from this region with their distinctive epicanthic features, behavior and dress habits are taken as "outsiders" and often categorized as barbarous, uncivil, unrefined, tribal, easy and what not. The perception of being an Indian by the mainland people never seems to include the build and frame of the North-East people and it is deplorable that ignorance can also lead to racial discrimination and sexual harassment.
Research study shows that Delhi is like an alien land with unfamiliar language and unknown socio-cultural terrain for many students. Furthermore the situation is worse for girls. Owing in large to their liberal culture in the conservative Delhi milieu, they are often seen as 'fast' or of easy virtue. This acuity exposes girls from the North-East to worst sorts of sexual harassment. Diana, a Mizo student at IP College said, "Delhi men believe that North-East girls are easily available. They look at us with only one thing in mind: sex. If we protest, they warn us to clam up because we are alone and there is no one we can turn to protection".
In this scenario it is also interesting to observe the lifestyles of folks from the North-East which comprises mostly the student community. While we complain that the mainstream people do not understand our culture, we don't either give a rap about their conservative way of life. N. Manishwar, General Secretary of the Manipur Students' Association, Delhi points out that some people have brought disgrace with their untoward characters and that usually North-Easterners do not interact enough with the local populace due to language barrier.
Is there any way out?
Last October, a manager of a call centre firm in Green Park Extensions, New Delhi made sexual advances to two young women. He stopped their salary and suspended from work when they resisted his overture. The victims had complained to the North-East Support Centre and Helpline (Contact: +91-9818-3141-46), a joint initiative of various human rights activists, social workers, students, journalists and lawyers seeking to prevent harassment and abuses meted out to NE people and tribal communities of other states. Initial investigations showed that the two women from Nagaland, aged about 23 were employed at Accurate BPO. The manager made constant sexual offers to one of them. When she refused, the manager turned to her friend. She too declined to fell in the trap and ultimately both of them were sacked from the job without any payments.
Madhu Chandra, spokesperson of the NE-SCH says, "It's been just 5 months we launched the NE Support Centre and Helpline and we have received more than a dozen reports of sexual harassment. When we tell them we are not here to replace the police, but help smoother communication with them, many of the complainants leave the case at that. That's why most of the crimes go unreported and the accused goes scot-free. This is a major hurdle we are facing".
The last in line
Eventually, the mindset of the people in Delhi towards the NE people and the lackadaisical attitude of the Delhi Police towards such issues need to be tackled. Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research and president of the Women Power Connect, said, "In the northern belt, the mindset is such that men believe they can control women physically. That's why they can't stand the freedom of sexuality that men and women in the North-East enjoy". She added, "There's no way out of this problem but for women to take charge of these issues. In this regard, we will be observing a National Shame Day across the country, hopefully coinciding with International Women's Day on March 8, to tell the people that women must be respected".
Meanwhile, the attitude of college authorities and the local police to incidences of sexual harassment is usually nonchalant. A couple of years back, just a day after the Gang-rape of an NE girl, the vice-principal of a reputed college in Delhi University announced dress code for the girl students from the region. In the press release issued by the vice-principal, it reads-"All the NE girls are sent by the militants of the region in order to seduce the mainland people so they are molested are raped. In this way, they are trying to culminate anti-Indian sentiment".
Often police stations refuse to register FIRs and provide data on sexual harassment of these girls. One policeman says, "This is the daily drama these girls play at… how many complaints should we register? Anyway, there is no smoke without a fire". Not surprisingly, many NE students in Delhi are incensed by the callous nature of the police. Sensitivity training needs to be given to the police, and not to the targets of attacks.
Alternative frame of reference
In another perspective, it is notable that discrimination of any kind is highly prevalent in present-day India cutting across region, race and culture. India ranks 114 in a list of 128 countries in the recently released Global Gender Gap report of the World Economic Forum (WEF). Particularly, Delhi is considered as the rape capital in the country and no wonder, even so many women from the North-East have fallen victim to the harsh social reality. Inequality and injustice are the order of Indian society with a diverse gap between the people in every spheres of life. Yet the vantage point is different when we deal about, for instance, the North-East on the problem of sexual harassment or racial discrimination in juxtaposition with the perpetual negligence by policy makers in the region. It is altogether a disparate matter when we analyze the situation on those of mainland and the North-East. Rakesh Pukhrambam, a Manipuri student at DU opines, "It is recurrently needed to create an atmosphere of resistance to show our consolidation. The authority cannot afford to overlook the aspirations of the people who are occasionally regarded as belonging to a human zoo".
Finally, social work interventions, concrete measures to fight discrimination and enhance socio-cultural exchange between communities of students could help alleviate the problem. Also there are law enforcement agencies to prevent crimes but they alone will not be able to solve the affliction. The local people's co-operation is also crucial in eradicating the menace. Above all, people from the North-East, who have different sensibilities, need to be told about Delhi which is largely orthodox.