For women from northeast, Delhi remains unsafe

By Azera Rahman, IANS

New Delhi : Almost half the women sexually harassed in the Indian capital and its neighbourhood are from the northeast, says the Northeast Support Centre. Two sisters from Manipur who were molested and beaten up last weekend were only the latest victims from the region.

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Madhu Chandra, the man behind the Northeast Support Centre and Helpline, a help centre dedicated to youth from the northeast living in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR), said they were flooded with complaints related to sexual harassment.

“It’s been just three months since we launched the Northeast Support Centre and we have received more than 10 reports of sexual harassment,” Chandra told IANS.

“From what we have researched and according to media reports, we have found that nearly 50 percent of the cases of sexual harassment are targeted at women from the northeast.”

The Delhi-NCR region has nearly 85,000 people from the northeast. More than 4,000 northeastern youth take admission to various undergraduate and other courses in Delhi University every year.

Chandana Saikia from Assam who graduated from Delhi University and is now working in a public relations firm in the capital said that even after seven years of staying in this city, she didn’t feel safe or secure.

“Every other day we keep hearing of cases of molestation and sexual harassment in Delhi. Although I take all of this in my stride, my parents back at home are always worried and give me panic calls if they can’t get through my phone,” Saikia told IANS.

“But despite giving everyone an impression that nothing scares me, I am always on my guard. Even after seven years of staying in the capital, I don’t feel at home here,” she added.

Similarly, Lara Subba from Manipur, who lives with her friend in north Delhi, said she doesn’t feel secure in the capital at all and constantly feels threatened.

“The other day I and my friend were coming in a rickshaw when two men started following us, calling us ‘chinkies’ and passing lewd remarks. Scared, I started screaming at the top of my voice, which made them change their route,” Subba said.

“Just because we look different and wear more Western outfits, people think that they can take us for granted. That’s why we usually stick together, with people from our own community.”

In May 2005, a 19-year-old Delhi University student from the northeast was raped by four men in a moving car after dragging her from a roadside eatery in south Delhi’s Dhaula Kuan area. The sensational case made headlines for days.

In September last year, there was a huge outcry when three northeastern girls were molested in the Delhi University campus. Then in December, the Northeast Support Centre received a complaint from a girl from Manipur working as a receptionist in a private company in Gurgaon that her boss molested her in the office.

Similarly, a minor northeastern girl in Gurgaon is still suffering after she was molested three times in December by her house owner.

Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research and president of Women Power Connect (WPC), said this issue is more prevalent in the northern belt because of the mindset of the men.

“In the northern belt, the mindset is such that the men believe they can control women physically. That’s why they can’t stand the freedom of sexuality that men and women in the northeast enjoy,” Kumari said.

“There’s no way out of this problem but for women to take charge of these issues. In this regard, we will be observing a National Shame day across the country, hopefully coinciding with the Women’s day March 8, to tell people that women must be respected.”

D.C. Srivastava, the deputy commissioner of police, north Delhi, however, said that in the past year-and-a-half, they have registered just two cases of sexual harassment against northeastern women.

“The number of such cases is not that high,” he said.

The reason for this, according to Chandra, is that victims of sexual or any other kind of harassment hesitate to lodge an official complaint with the police.

“Staying so far away from home and not wanting to get into any complicated situation, most complainants who come to us hesitate to approach the police and lodge a first information report (FIR),” Chandra said.

“When we tell them that we are not here to replace the police, but help facilitate smoother communication with them, they leave the case at that. That’s why most of the crimes go unreported and the accused goes scot-free. This is a major hurdle that we are facing,” Chandra said.