RACIST INDIA: Migrants from Northeast in mainland India…braving   difficulties, prejudices, humiliations and oppression — they just want equal rights with all Indians!

RUPTURED HOMELANDS OF NORTHEAST INDIA The Exodus Is Not Over: Ruptured Homelands of Northeast India’ is written by Nandita Haksar’ and published by Speaking Tiger, with the softcover costing `350

By Tara Narayan

COME to think of it when governments in power fail to be governments in the real sense of the word — perform their duties by the people vis-à-vis development and progress with the people at the Centre — a corrupt cabal in power arises to perpetuate brutal crackdowns on the most vulnerable and poor. Be it in the name of religious/racist chauvinism or economic convenience!

To be different has proved to be a cardinal sin through the ages and history is witness to how a people are exploited, neglected and then driven out of their homelands. History is replete with migration stories under political, economic and social duress (remember in the old, old days, conquered people were harnessed as a slave labour force, for example, the Jews in Egypt and the African people who went to new America as slaves and the colonial world over including Goa).

Read this book titled `The Exodus Is Not Over: Migrations from the Ruptured Homelands of Northeast India’ written by one of our finest, keenest narrators, Nandita Haksar. She recounts the story of how the Northeast states of India are at the mercy of economic deprivation, insurgencies and deadly ethnic clashes, which over time have been forcing them to move away from their native homelands in search of a livelihood in mainland India’s towns and cities.

It’s estimated that something like 4,14,850 people from the Northeast region migrated to various cities such as Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Goa, Mumbai and Delhi from 2005-2010. How do mainland Indians look upon a people who’re constitutionally Indian but racially different? As cheap labour and as  outsiders to distrust and abuse…employable in lowly jobs but with curtailment of their growth to prosperity and equal rights! We know most stories of migration start out with exploitation, discrimination and social abuse, perhaps because they come from a culture alien to us and we live with the windows of our mind closed to education or civilization as a way forward.

FORCED TO RETURN: When violence broke out in Bengaleru….many migrants from the Northeast were forced to return
to their native homelands in fear

Ironically, notes Nandita Haksar, “although migration to mainland India has brought migrant workers from the Northeast (Assam, Arunachal Pradish, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Skkim, Tripura) closer to one another, it has not necessarily brought them closer to other Indians, “Many of the migrant workers I interviewed had never been invited to a local Indian home. I asked several of them why they did not try to make friends with the local Indians and they replied that they did not know how to make friends with people from outside their own community.” This sad alienation and insecurity drives migrants to `ghettoize’ themselves in specific parts of a city, be it Humayunpur in Delhi or Kalina in Mumbai.

A typical example of how mainland Indians perceive migrant communities in their town or city:  Says a Tangkhul woman who’s a member of Jagori, a woman’s organization in Delhi, “On the 11th of October around 00.30 hours, my husband, my niece,  and my son were visiting my brothers-in-law in Humayunpur, Safdarjung Enclave. On our way, four to five locals who were drinking alcohol passed lewd and racist comments (Chinky/Bahadur/Kancha etc.), which we ignored, not intending to get into an argument.  After dropping me and the children, my husband and my elder brother-in-law went to park the car outside the locality. They were verbally abused by the same group, which was ignored by my husband and my brother-in-law. This indifference apparently provoked the local goons. Fearing that the vehicle which was parked outside would be vandalized, my husband and my younger brother-in-law went back to inspect the car and saw one of the locals moving away from the vehicle. On inspection of the car, all tires (sic) were found to be deflated. Not wanting to take the matter in our own hands, my husband called the police control room (100), apprising them of the situation…”

The rest of it is familiar, a gang of goons turn up and physical violence is instigated with the police taking whose side…no need to guess! Outsiders will always be outsiders and in the wrong. The media too in its reporting of such incidents is biased, notes the author and this book is no work of fiction but offers a poignant close-up insight into the country’s mainstream attitudes and biases when it comes to migrant communities the country over.  The Northeast migrant communities are treated on par with perhaps the African communities — funny, because the fair northeast women make for ideal labour force in beauty-conscious hospitality and casino businesses (not just in Goa)!

This is a very comprehensive, researched book on Northeast migrant communities, detailing their  challenges and dilemmas in homes they try with difficulty to adopt as their new homes. Read the stories of R Mayori, Ngalarim Hongray, Yaokhalek Hongray, Livingstone Shaiza. It offers a lot of enlightenment on the large number of migrants from Nepal, Bangladesh and more recently from Myanmar into mainland India — they come face to face and have to deal with more or less similar situations and predicaments which arise because of social and cultural differences which trigger unwarranted paranoia in host states.

Nandita Haksar has a gift for storytelling and she recounts real life scenarios of various migrant persons from the Northeast she is in close touch with. Being a familiar name in advocacy (she has been a Supreme Court lawyer and a distinguished one at that, having taken up several cases from the Northeast) and a champion of human rights in mind and at heart, she guides and cannot help but take cudgels on behalf of those who deserve better. Being married to a man from the Northeast, Sebastian Hongray, this undoubtedly gives her first-hand insight into the kind of adventures and misadventures migrant people from the Northeast get into in their new lives far, far away from their native village homes.

Academics complain of inadequate data on migrant communities in India! Well, here is some

EXODUS: A fine portrait of the histories of Northeast migrants and a changing,
evolving new India…written by Nandita Haksar, she is familiar with the political
histories of the Northeast

shocking and starting data and some formidable insight courtesy a writer whom I have much respect for. I don’t think another book offers so clear a mirror of the people of the Northeast coming into mainstream India — which continues to suffer from a mindset which leaves a lot to be desired. Narrow, bigoted and utterly irrational mindsets just about sums it up.

The exodus of migrants is a continuing saga and  Nandita Haksar’s book — The Exodus is Not Over: Migrations from the Ruptured Homelands of Northeast India — should be read by Indians across the country including governmental policy makers and law-enforcement people. The book is educative and enlightening as well as a rewarding read. Anyone seeking to understand a people  driven by the most common denominators to move from their homeland — lack of primary progress and development (the kind various governments of India have only talked ad nauseum about!), impoverishment and hostile political conditions — must read this book.

Haksar’s book only describes the Northeast India exodus but around the world all kinds of exoduses continue. The exodus is not yet over and probably never will be in the near future, we may see it as a problem or a challenge to deal with humanely and with our hearts in the right place!

Exerpt from Nandita Haksar’s `The Exodus Is Not Over: Migrations from the Ruptured Homelands of Northeast India’:

YUIMILA had arrived in Goa in January 2009. She looked for a job and in March finally got one in the Nippon Beauty Parlour with the help of Ngayinmi, a young Tangkhul man who was training in hair-cutting. He told her that there were two other women, one from Karnataka and the other from Goa who were involved in `dirty massaging’, but she would not be expected to do any dirty khamkhao (massage in Tangkhul).

Since Yuimila was not going to be doing any massages, she would be paid only `3,500 a month and would be trained in pedicuring and manicuring. Once she leant the skills, she would be paid `4,000. Yuimila said the owner kept her word and she was never asked to massage clients.

Yuimila told me that a lot of people came to the parlour – men, women and even grandmothers – for facials. They charged `1,000 to `1,500 for a full body massage with coconut oil, and if it was with aromatic oil it was `3,000. She was aware that some shady things were going on, because taxis would stop by with clients asking `for extra service’ which meant dirty massages.

Yuimila had worked for barely two months when the police raid took place and both she and Ngayinmi were taken in; he was first put in the police lockup and later in jail. She was sent to the Protective Home.

EXODUSYuimila did not understand English properly and when Sebastian and I approached the NGO and offered to translate, they refused our help, even though they knew us to be human rights lawyers. Instead, they sent a young law student from the Poumai Naga tribe, who did not know Tangkhul. He spoke to Yuimila in Meitei-Ion, which she did not know well. When she complained about the conditions in the home he did not bother to record her complaints. The NGO insisted during the hearing that her father be called from Manipur, even though we told them he could hardly afford the fare.

When Wunganing heard that he had to go to Goa again to rescue his eldest daughter, he felt absolutely helpless. He had no money and it was time to plough his field. He had already borrowed `17,000 at an interest of 4% and was still trying to pay off the loan. This time, he sold his buffalo and came to Goa with that money.

I still remember him sitting in our dinning room while I  took notes. He felt so confused and so upset. He had turned to Sebastian and asked, `What is prostitution?’ he not even understand what crime his daughter was being accused of. The NGO people had insulted him and shouted at him, but he could not understand why. Now he had no money to go back and he wanted to know whether he could leave his eldest daughter in Mumbai; if she earned a little, he could pay off the loans.

Yuimila was angry. She had had to spend 25 days in the Preventive Home where the conditions were filthy. She was angry at the way the media had carried reports and she was angry with the NGO who was supposed to have  `rescued’ her. All she had wanted to do was to acquire some skills so she could earn and support her family.

The court order stated that her father had to `give a report in this regard to the nearest police station at Manipur, also to the protective home at Merces every three months that his girls are residing at Manipur’. The father asked me whether it was absolutely necessary to follow the order.

Before I could answer, Yuimila asked what the court expected her to do, sitting at home? She needed to work to repay her father’s dues. She asked what would happen if the she continued to stay in Goa and work. Would the NGO get her arrested again?

To my mind, the order was absolutely illegal. The Constitution of India gives every Indian citizen the right to move freely about the country, the right to profession and the right to live with dignity. Those were the three fundamental rights of every migrant worker. Yuimila had not been trafficked, she was a migrant worker and she needed to work to support her family. The NGO had effectively deprived an entire family of all their rights under the Constitution. But there seemed to be no way of making them accountable.

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