Regional remorse in mainland metros

ATIN Hongray’s sister, Ramchanphy Hongray, was allegedly raped and murdered in her rented flat in October 2009 by an IIT student in Delhi, and every fortnight or so she attends the Patiala Court hearing. She works at the QBA restaurant/bar in Connaught Place and obviously wants to forget the terrible ordeal and leave the capital for good, but she is determined to battle for justice for her younger sister.

It was because of many cases of this nature on North-east women that the Delhi North East Support Centre and helpline was born in 2005 in the aftermath of the infamous Daula Kuan rape case, in which a 20-year-old Delhi University student was gangraped by four men in a moving car. In 2005 alone there were 10 sexual harassment cases reported to the support centre and between October 2007 and July 2009, it recorded 23 cases of which 80 per cent were sexual/physical attacks. Filing cases at police stations is altogether another story as the support centre functionaries themselves have had more than their fair share of humiliation.

In response to the problems faced by the North-east populace, the Delhi police in 2007 released a booklet, “Security Tips for North-east Students/Visitors in Delhi”, with dos and don’ts, such as food habits, behaviour, dress. As much as it drew much criticism and continues to do so, the problems have multiplied.

Abuse and attack of various forms meted out to North-east women do not end in Delhi. They are haunted in other parts of India as well. As recently as in October this year, 11 girls/ women between the ages of 18 and 30 years from various North-east states were reportedly rescued from beauty parlours in Goa. According to media reports, while the girls from Mizoram were repatriated, the parents of the Nagaland girls rescued and kept in “protective homes”, surprisingly, requested the Mapusa Deputy Collector to hand them the girls and not the Nagaland police. They alledged that the girls had been falsely implicated in a “trafficking case”.

According to the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Goa, the “rescue” raid was conducted upon intimation from the police of the girls’ home state, and that, in such cases of trafficking, the victims invariably manage to escape and inform their parents/relatives who, in turn, report the matter to their respective police stations.

In an attempt to tackle such issues, the Goa police instructed owners of “beauty parlours and other private enterprises employing North-eastern girls” to obtain verification endorsed by the authorities concerned. That was how the seven girls from Manipur, working at “Rich Beauty Parlour” and who went to fill “verification forms”, were detained at Panjim police station on 11 October 2010 until the process was completed and credentials produced. On conditions of anonymity, a relative of one of the detained girls told this correspondent that the girls were subjected to queer and weird questions, such as whether “you have come from Nagaland to do the same job?”

Down south, about 15 Manipuri boys and girls were working at “Mocha – coffee and conversation”, in Nungambakkam in central Chennai. According to Suanlian, their supervisor, many youths, including girls, live in the city with neither any directions nor clues and struggle with odd jobs. Many of them land in the city, either through or with “acquaintances” or “relatives” but are left to fend for themselves. Most of them are academically weak and from remote North-east areas.
Many women from the region perforce fall prey to the lure of jobs and employment. Conflicts induce displacement and economic reasons further add to their vulnerability.

Issues apart, cases such as that of the Goa beauty parlour involve deeper dimensions. Despite the “good intentions” of “good Samaritans”, girls are caught up in a complex web of human trafficking. Which, in restrospect, indicates that “human trafficking” is being categorically cited as a means to explain the abuse and harassment of women from the North-east. The so-called “protective homes” remain suspect, given that the girls are detained for weeks. The six rescued were not released even after their parents arrived from Nagaland and reportedly requested the deputy collector for their custody. A local daily said the Nagaland police was likely to take up the matter for further investigation.

Besides having to brave attacks by so-called mainland Indians, women from the region are subjected to reactions from their own community too, more so as they are reduced to being the “object under scrutiny”. It needs to be mentioned that the now infamous Daula Kuan rape victim was said to have been “packed off” from Delhi by her community leaders.

For the young and educated, India’s metros are seen as dream destinations for higher learning as well as for employment opportunities. Many North-east women venture out to Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Goa, Chennai, Hyderabad for employment and the hope of a better life. And despite these attacks by mainland Indians, specifically men, they continue to strive to make a living amidst hardship, harassment and discrimination. They work in various mega market complexes, hospitality sectors and business outsourcing centres. Living modestly in shared rented rooms, they continue to send home that “little extra” to keep fires burning back home.

The writer is a freelance contributor
The Statesman, November 8,2010