Even as many Naga students are happy at the initiative taken by the Nagaland state government as well as the centre to provide them with transport to go back to their homes, from different parts of the country they are never free of the lurking fear of racism against them
Pics: Kekhrie Sachu; Akhu Assumi; inside the bus
By Shevlin Sebastian
Naga student Kekhrie Sachu has been doing his computer sciences course at the Bansal Institute of Engineering and Technology at Lucknow. He has been studying in the city for the past five years. From March, because of the COVID19 pandemic, he had been staying in the hostel.
Then on June 4, the North-East students were allowed to return. There was a pickup point at Star Centre, ENT in Gomti Nagar. There were around 23 students and professionals. A bus had been arranged by the Nagaland State Government. The officials had responded to a request from the Naga Students Union (UP). It was a direct journey to Nagaland, a distance of 1445 km.
Along the way, at lunchtime, in Gorakhpur, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) shocked the students by providing lunch packets. They also provided biscuits, dry fruits and bottles of water.
It took about three days of almost constant travelling. On the way, there were only washroom stops. And other CRPF units which provided food and water.
“We were amazed that the police gave us food packets,” he says. “They were warm and welcoming. We took some photos with them.”
When they reached Kohima, the group collected about Rs 3390 and gave it to the two drivers as a token of their appreciation.
Akhu Assumi is a teacher of the Krishna Public School in Azamgarh. He teaches students from Class 1-8 in English and general knowledge. Akhu is also the sports coach. The students play football and cricket. Akhu has been in the school for one years.
He also travelled back by bus.
“I was so happy when the police helped us,” he says
They are all at home. Akhu stays in the town of Dimapur, while Kekhrie lives in Kohima. He is not sure whether he will be going back in the near future.
The Delhi-based music impresario Lanu Yaden admits that in the initial stages of the pandemic, the North-East people had been stigmatised in the capital. A 25-year-old Manipuri woman was shopping in the Mukherjee Nagar area. A middle-aged man came up to her, shouted “Corona '' and spat betel juice on her T-shirt.
“Thankfully, the media picked up on the incident. It became big news,” says Lanu. “All over the country, people have shouted at the North-East people and said ‘Corona/Chinese’.”
The Home Ministry sent a circular to the Director Generals of Police, and Commissioners of Police to look into this. ‘Strict action should be taken against the perpetrators’ was the order.
Like most people from the North-East, Kekhrie has faced some stigma. When he goes to the centre of Lucknow, some people have called him ‘Chinese’ or ‘Nepali’.
“These are ignorant and uneducated people,” says Kekhrie. “They don’t know where we come from. They don’t realise we are fellow Indians. Sometimes, I would get upset. But most of the time I ignored it.”
Adds Akhu, “A few people have also called me a Chinese or Nepali. They are showing their ignorance,” he says.
Asked about the repercussions, following the India-China conflict at the border, Kekhrie says, “Things might take a turn for the worse. We are hoping, there will come a time when people will realise we are from the Northeast and not China.”
Lanu says the elders have warned all the people they should be very careful when they are travelling in public places following the developments in Ladakh. “Not many people in North India know that the Naga and Assam regiments are stationed at the Ladakh border, as I speak,” says Lanu.
Lanu is sad that most people live in a bubble. “They don’t know anything apart from their gullies and mohallas,” he says. “It is a typically narrow-minded mentality. Those who are from the South are all Madrasis and in the East, we are all Chinese.”
The situation has been aggravated because many people of the North-East go all over India in search of job opportunities. So there is tension with the locals about this.
“Anywhere in the world, when people come from outside, they have more drive, zeal, and a heightened capacity for hard work,” says Lanu. “When the locals see that the outsiders are doing better than themselves an animosity arises.”
But what most of the locals don’t understand is that many of the landlords of the houses in which the North East people and other migrants live depend on the rents for their survival.
But envy is difficult to be contained. “They see these people start their own businesses and shops and do very well,” says Lanu. “There is bound to be some degree of resentment. This happens in America, too. Mexicans cross the border, work harder than the white Americans and become successful. Sometimes, they become bosses of white people. They go up the corporate ladder and become senior executives.”
There are misconceptions of the North-East people. “We have largely adopted Western attire, including our women,” says Lanu. “However, this type of dressing has been adopted by most Indian women, especially the younger ones all across the country. Coupled with an easy friendliness, this leads to a misinterpretation by most men. The North-East people are also docile. This is taken advantage of, by the aggressive North-Indians who belong to a male-dominated chauvinistic society.”
For a long time, the North-East people had thought South India was a haven. But that was shattered recently when a few North-East boys and girls were roughed up by the locals. “It was a setback for us,” says Lanu. “We thought the South was cultured and tolerant.”
In January, Khuadun Khangham, a 22-year-old from Arunachal Pradesh, who worked as a waiter in a Bangalore pub, ‘Sotally Tober’, was beaten up severely after he left work late at night. Police feel it is a racist attack. Nobody has been arrested so far.
“Today, in India, there are too many fractures in society,” says Lanu. “To have a better understanding of the North-East people, I would request all to watch the movie called ‘Axone’ which is streaming on Netflix. It is not perfect but nevertheless, it is an eye-opener.”