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INTERVIEW: Bringing The Fringe To The Mainstream

Man on a mission to stop discrimination against people from Northeast states

Social activist Madhu Chandra's mission is to stop crimes and racial discrimination against people of the Northeast states. Image Credit: Nilima Pathak/Gulf News

NEW DELHI, Mar 12: Social activist Madhu Chandra left his home in Manipur at the age of 16. Ever since, he has travelled through the length and breadth of the country.

His mission has been to take initiatives through advocacy, documentation and delegations to various institutions and government offices and appealing them to take preventive measures to stop crimes and racial discrimination against people of the Northeast states.

Moved by the spurt in cases of violence against the people from the Northeast, especially in the capital, Chandra is running an organization, North East Support Centre and Helpline. He led a team to conduct field interviews. It resulted in coming to a conclusion that migration from the Northeast region was happening due to socio-political instability.

Globalization had not emerged in Northeast India, in spite of rich mineral resources and potential of international trade. And employment boom had not impacted the region.

Attributing it to lack of specific attempts from the central government as well as the state governments, Chandra said they had not made attempts to develop educational infrastructure in Northeast states.

He speaks to Gulf News in an exclusive interview.

GULF NEWS: You are running an organization for people from the Northeast states. Are the issues faced by them any different from what others go through in the city?

MADHU CHANDRA: Yes, the issues we face are dissimilar to what others go through. We are targeted because we look different. It’s to do with social profiling. Even though people may not like to hear or agree with us, but it’s true that we are not considered part of the Indian society. We are treated like a defiling community, which is a reflection of the prevailing caste system in the country.

What kinds of remarks do you people often hear?

The most common is being referred to as ‘chinky’. Some even call us junglee (forest dwellers). We have been and can bear verbal abuse, but over the years our silence has led to physical assault and sexual abuse of women. Many times we are called Chinese, which means being labeled as foreigners in our own country, but that also has been grudgingly accepted. But things have gone beyond all this now.

Do you mean to say that crime against northeastern people has increased?

We have been harassed for decades, though cases of sexual harassment of girls from the northeast have been highlighted now more because it has caught the attention of the media. But it’s important to note that men from the northeast are not safe either. Every second day men suffer humiliation in public places.

Do you have any research findings to substantiate the charges that youngsters from the northeast are more prone to sexual assault and harassment?

We did a study in 2008 and found that in the first six months, 50 per cent of sexual harassment cases in Delhi were related to northeast women. The study in 2009 revealed that 86 per cent of people from the northeast living in Delhi found they were racially discriminated and harassed. Only 14 per cent said they faced no such issue. But later we found that these 14 per cent were those who had come to Delhi recently and hence had not undergone any such experience.

What does the latest study reveal?

The research entitled ‘North East India: Migration and Challenges faced in National Capital Cities’, done during the last two months, revealed that 78 per cent of people from the northeast states living in Delhi face racial discrimination, 83 per cent of the male respondents reported discrimination, as against 74 per cent of women.

The research further exposed that between 2005 and 2011, the northeast Helpline recorded 96 crimes against its people in Delhi and National Capital Region. These included 58 per cent against women (34 per cent molestation cases, 4 per cent rape cases and 2 per cent attempt to rape cases) and 26 per cent against men.

Also, there were 5 per cent murder cases, 6 per cent cases of non-payment of salary, 3 per cent cases of non-refund of rent deposit, 1 per cent missing person complaints and 1 per cent media bias complaints. It was all the more sad to discover that due to issues back home in the northeast, several hundred people have been forced to migrate to cities across the country.

What are the reasons of this migration?

Migration is a serious issue and the reasons are many. The push factors, however, are the socio-political unrest, lack of good higher educational institutions, employment and economic conditions. That’s the reason why the number of migrants from northeast states to the rest of the country has increased by 12 per cent in the last five years.

About 270,000 children from northeast states are studying in Delhi and other metros. About 48.21 per cent choose Delhi over any other city of India. And due to ethnic tension and lack of job opportunities, only 5 per cent go back home after finishing studies.

According to rough estimate, about 34,000 people migrated in 2005 and the number rose to 81,000 in 2009. And in the last 5-6 years, almost 550,000 people migrated.

Despite a 75,000 strong police force, Delhi has been witnessing innumerous cases of murder, rape and molestation. What does the city lack?

The law enforcing agencies do not have proper planning system. Rather than being pro-active, they are re-active in their approach towards crime. The idea should be to control crime and not coming into action after the crime has already taken place. Take for instance the recent case of the body of a woman found at the New Delhi railway station. The police stated that some CCTVs installed at the station were not functioning. This is exactly an indication of lack of pro-active approach.

Shouldn’t they ensure that the systems work smoothly? Our case study also accused the police of taking action only in 11 of the 96 cases against people of the northeast. On most occasions, the officers on duty either refused or delayed in registering the cases.

Private companies had been warned and the Delhi Police issued safety guidelines relating to night shift workers to be dropped at home. Are these adhered to?

Not always. Moreover, these facilities are only for women workers. Men are supposed to fend for themselves. Recently a man from the northeast, who works at a shopping mall in South Delhi, was robbed and attacked while returning. Despite approaching the store’s manager and reporting to the police, no action was taken.

What action, if any, is generally taken by your organization in such cases?

We can be the whistleblowers, but not a substitute for security men. From time to time we have suggested guidelines so that an action plan is drawn. But unless there are strict laws and stringent punishment is given to criminals, nothing will change.

A lot of people from the northeast pinned their hopes on Agatha Sangma when she became rural development minister. How much interest has she taken on the issue of safety for her people?

Sadly, nothing has changed. Initially, she did say that she was aware of the kind of discrimination and alienation people from the north-east faced, but despite the recent attacks on northeast women, she did not issue any statement.

I did meet her once and apprised her of the situation, but never thought of meeting again fearing she might say that security does not come under her jurisdiction. I also find it surprising that in spite of having a forum of MPs for northeast people; no one raises his/her voice against injustice.

From Manipur to Delhi

Madhu Chandra was born on June 1, 1966 to mother M. Thanil Devi and father M. Tollen Singh in Kakching, Manipur.

He did his early schooling in Manipur.

Graduated in Theology from International College of Cultural Studies, Hyderabad.

Did his Masters in Leadership & Management. Specialized in Organizational Culture and Behavior from Briercrest College and Seminary, Caronport, SK, Canada.

Presently pursuing Ph D in Human Trafficking from South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies, Bangalore.

Social activist and research scholar.

Regional Secretary of the All India Christian Council.

Spokesperson of the North East Support Centre and Helpline.

National Secretary of the All India Confederation of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe organizations.

*The interview was taken by Nilima Pathak, Correspondent, Gulf News

(Courtesy: Gulf News)

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