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Beneath The Surface: Racism In India

By Dr. Alana Golmei

03 October, 2015
Countercurrents.org

Alana Golmei interacting with victim (from left in blue pants)

Some months ago, I received a message via WhatsApp from a lady named Mawii which stated she wanted to meet me for a talk. I felt from her message that it was important so I agreed to see her. When we finally met at JNU campus in one of the makeshift shops there, we had a nice, long talk. She carried about her a calm, quiet countenance but when she started to speak, she was very articulative about what was on her mind and what she wanted to share with me. She grew up in the Northeast Indian state of Mizoram and had come to Delhi in 2007 for higher studies. She graduated from Lady Shri Ram college, then went on to get her masters degree and studied law at Delhi University afterwards. As she began to speak, I realized that she wanted to share her story regarding the hardships that she had been facing in the capital, especially in the workplace. I was listening to a first hand narration of how discrimination takes place among people which, in the case of India, is often based on ethnicity and of course, gender, which usually piles on.

At first, she talked about how one does not really understand the many ways in which discrimination takes place unless one experiences it. Besides the more apparent ways like physical violence and such, it also happens in very intricate and deep spaces but the effects it has on the victim are no less damaging or hurtful. For some, it can turn into a daily affair, one that they battle everyday but which is otherwise invisible to everyone else around. Mawii had experienced a similar fight during the time she worked at a certain law firm. She talked about how she continually felt like an outsider because she was treated like such, and how her colleagues would look at her in a certain way, approach her in a certain way, all owing to her ethnicity. Many times she had been made to feel inferior and less capable in comparison to the so-called“mainlanders”. Despite her sincere efforts and competent contribution in the workplace while also possessing all the academic qualifications and having been quite sufficiently educated, she was brushed aside many times when it came to promotions, with the ones who were not always deserving often getting promoted instead. She told me it can certainly be hugely discouraging to be subjected to such treatment when one has worked hard and given the best one can, when one has sat in the same classrooms with the rest of them, read the same books, taught by the same teachers and received the same seal of qualification. When all these things say that you are capable and equal but the rest do not treat you as such, it becomes a different story altogether.

Mawii went on to tell me that she has been taking it all quietly as she bore a risk of losing her job if she spoke out against her firm. But she had eventually left the place as it was getting worse by the day making it impossible for her to continue working there and could now tell her story. Mawii came forward with her story because, having endured it first hand, she knew exactly how it felt to be forced to remain quiet but also how wrong it is to have to go through all of that. With retired parents and younger siblings still studying, she had been the breadwinner of the family, a huge responsibility to carry along with the burden and torture of being discriminated against. She talked about the many other women from Northeast Indiain similar situations, who work and earn for their families but are still underestimated in a lot of spaces in their lives and are deemed inferior.

While listening to her, I recalled many incidents and cases I had handled in the past– Reigamphi, a young woman from Manipur who was suspected to be raped and brutally murdered in her rented accommodation at Chirag Delhi in the year 2013. She was the only bread winner in the family, her parents being cultivators with meagre incomes back in the home state. Mary Ezungfrom Nagaland was found dead at Safdarjung enclave, her post mortem reports clearly stated that she was brutally assaulted and murdered. Julie, a young woman from Mizoram was murdered in her rented flat atMunirka, and another 19 year old girl from Assam was raped at a guest house where she was working. It has become almost a daily affair to hear of the Northeastern women being subjected to such happenings in Delhi and NCR. While other women too often go through the same in society, these women from the northeast, hundreds of miles away from home, many times face the extra burden of being left alone to fight for their cases which is a tremendous challenge in an unfriendly place.

Many young women also fall into the trap of traffickers. There have been many incidents where young girls from the region were promised jobs but were instead confined and sent to brothels as soon as they landed in the capital. In many cases, these women are the sole breadwinners of their families who dote and wait on the money they send home for their livelihood. And in trying to make ends meet, they go through sexual, mental and psychological harassment, exploitation and discrimination. Many have lost their jobs because they refused the advances of their employers who asked for sexual favours. To make things worse, many times, the law has dismissed and disregarded these cases by assuming a place of higher moral ground and assassinating the characters of these victims even in their deaths. Every day is a challenge for them. I get to hear only one percent of the story, which, going by fair standards, is a lot and whichI try my best to make sure the world hears of. The rest are suffer in silence. For some, only their corpses come home while some return with shattered dreams and face stigma in society for no fault of theirs.

Dr. Alana Golmei is General Secretary of Northeast Support Centre &Helpline which was launched in 2007 with the aim to prevent harassment, discrimination, molestation and abuses meted out to people from Northeast India living in metro cities of India. She has founded Pann Nu Foundation in 2013 at the backdrop of the rising violence against women in today’s world in the form of gender based discriminations, physical and mental abuse, etc. She can be contacted at alana.golmei@gmail.com. Her blog is https://alanagolmei.wordpress.com

 




 

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