Prejudice in paradise

The security officials are not any different from other people. They suffer from the same prejudices that rest of the society suffers from”, says Tiamongla, a Northeastern student from the prestigious Jawahar Lal Nehru University in the heart of the national Capital.

Tiamongla is one of the many Northeastern students studying in JNU, widely 
considered the hub of the liberal ideology and a leftist bastion. 
 
This was one of the most unlikely places where she would expect to face racial discrimination.

The issue came to light after a JNU Students Union poster, which talks about “harassment of students from the north-east by incessant ID checks and a noticeable discriminatory trend among the security guards” was circulated. 
 
The poster also made it on social media and was widely circulated inside the University premises.

On the surface, it seems like the security officials are just doing their job of stopping outsiders from entering the University premises. 
 
“They are just doing their job. I have not faced any discrimination personally. Everything is normal here”, says Sunita, hailing from Manipur.

However, Sanjoy, another student says the discriminatory attitude of the security staff is clearly noticeable. 
 
“One of my friends, a research scholar, was stopped by the officials, but others who seemed to belong to ‘more’ Indian areas were not subjected to any such check. I don’t think it’s just about security, because it was selective. It’s really humiliating for the person when he or she is being targeted because of different facial features and roots.”

The president of the JNU Students’ Union, Akbar Chaudhary, was actively involved in issuing the circulars after some students complained of this discriminatory attitude.  
 
“Some students came to us after they felt that they were selectively stopped for security checks. If something like this is happening, it’s indeed condemnable, and we are taking our steps to correct them by asking the administration to talk to the staff and make them sensitive.”

Sarfaraz, the joint secretary of the Students’ Union, says they knew of the issue, but it was forgotten after the unfortunate death of three JNU students in a road accident last week.

“After that, all of our focus turned to the other issue, and this problem somehow got sidelined.”

Discrimination towards the Northeastern community hit national news after the death of Nido Taniam in February, who was brutally beaten in broad daylight by iron rods after a minor argument with a shopkeeper in Lajpat Nagar market, and later succumbed to his injuries.

Some say Taniam’s death was just a small manifestation of the discriminatory attitude the people from Northeast face in the Capital, be it violent assertion by local goons exerting their supremacy or use of the offensive descriptive label chinki which they are subjected to on an everyday basis.

“Be it the landlords, shopkeepers or autowallahs, everyone is trying to extract more money from us as many still consider us foreigners. This still happens, even when there is sizeable population of Northeastern Indians living in Delhi. You can yourself imagine the situation in remote parts of the country”, says Sanjoy, who does not expect the situation to be better in the near future.

Dr Y Chinna Rao, professor at the Centre for the Study of Discrimination and Exclusion, JNU, says “Racial discrimination against members of the Northeastern community is a complex phenomenon consisting of several threads.”

“It’s not just individual cases, but is in fact a larger phenomenon of discrimination. Some locals feel that these people plan to colonise ‘their’ area. 
 
Moreover, these people are easy targets for racially prejudiced locals, like the autowallah or the friendly neighbourhood shopkeeper. Another reason is that society somehow doesn’t accept people who migrate only as individuals, and not as families. Locals are unable to connect to them”.

After the Nido Taniam case, the Northeastern community came together to protest and sensitise the people towards them. 

But the continuing cases of discrimination are a clear signal that the fight is a long way from being over.

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