A Bend in the River
  • Assam
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  • Confidence and Vulnerability in Metro India

    • Date: May 7, 2007; Monday  • Views: 2,232 views   • Comments:
    • Categories: Gender  

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    Many readers of this newspaper live in the capital of New Delhi and its neighboring satellite towns and cities, one of the fastest growing urban economies of Asia with glittering malls, the wealthy and powerful with their large cars and imposing houses contrasting with water and power shortages for a majority as well as the poverty of the marginalized.

    Delhi is a magnet in terms of its power to draw migrants: professionals and students, government officials, politicians as well as those who are desperate or eager to make ends meet, to survive, if not to flourish and prosper. Migrants in this city – as other major metros in the country – come from Bangladesh and Nepal, there are Burmese political refugees and many from both the Hindi-speaking and non-Hindi speaking hinterland.

    Many of those who come are young and vulnerable. Others, however, are young, competitive and capable: and as someone who has lived in this city for nearly 30 years and now also lives in the North-east, it is interesting to note how the profile of a “North-easterner” has changed here.

    People, it is often said, vote with their feet: in other words, they move, they migrate, when they find a place or an opportunity attractive. This is the story of history, of the world and it is increasingly reflected in our towns and metros, as parts of India grow while the other parts suffer, stink and shrink.

    Today, tens of thousands of students, young professionals and people in search of jobs and hope are streaming into India’s metros from the North-east, turning their back on bad education, on a lack of opportunities and a collapsing government and governance structure in many parts, where the basics minimum requirements to live a normal life are not available. One could, of course, extend the argument and say that this is a phenomenon that is not restricted to the North-east, many other parts of the country also suffer from it.

    But what is truly interesting about the Northeastern experience or presence in the major metros is that this presence is an affirmation of their interest and focus in securing their future in India – be it through education or a job. This flies in the face of everything that the badshahs of extremism and ethnic separatism in our North-east who keep tom-toming how different the region is, how desperate “their people are to get out of the system.
    Not a day goes without a statement from some organization or the other that attacks the Central or State governments of the region for some problem or grievance (real or imagined) or the other.

    This is not to say that such problems are not there: they do exist, the region has been neglected in the past. But to go on repeating that “neglected” mantra like a stuck record has not got the governments of the region anywhere – except to slide deeper into penury and problems. There are limits to which we can blame others for our condition: the North-east has not grown enough, or matured because we have sought to blame everyone else barring ourselves for the mess in which we find ourselves. True leadership lies in accepting our own shortcomings and failures, not in pointig the finger at others.

    We have done this blame game with Delhi for over 50 years. It is time surely to take responsibility for a bulk of the local problems by ourselves. The mess in state education, whether at the primary level or secondary level, is not a problem created by the Government of India. It is the fault of poor leadership at the education level in the states, both politically and in management and technical support. Education, after all, like law and order is a state subject.

    This is why the thousands who flock to the metros and other parts of the country for work and studies are asserting a strong and abiding fact – that they feel more secure and find greater opportunities in urban India than back home.

    Go to any large mall or shopping centre or restaurant in Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore: the chances that you will be attended to by a gentle speaking sales person from Nagaland or Manipur or even Assam and Mizoram are very high. The girl who comes to take your order at the coffee shop in the Hyatt is from Nagaland, another is from Manipur. The supervisor at one of the best fish restaurants in Bangalore is from Imphal. Yong men and women from the North-east are to be seen in other service industries: from BPOs (IT sector) as well as the airlines.

    There are others who work at other levels: thus, in Hyderabad, there are hundreds of young Bodos from the western part of Assam (perhaps including those who have forsworn violence and militancy) who are working as security guards. And there are the vulnerable, as referred to briefly, earlier.

    There are accounts from Assam of “A well-oiled network of touts and agents has lately taken a sizeable section of the State’s Adivasi community for a ride by enticing young girls and engaging them as domestic help in several parts of the country. Not surprisingly, these agents, who bring the girls to the so-called placement agencies and subsequently supply them as per demand, reap handsome ‘profits’ while the gullible girls often fall victim to lecherous masters.” This report in the oldest English newspaper of Assam, The Assam Tribune (a venerable institution not often given to hyperbole), says that not less than 65,000 Adivasi girls, descendants of the ancestors who were forcibly transported to work as tea labour by the British in the 19th century in horrible conditions, work in homes in the capital as “domestic held” or maids.

    An organizer of Adivasi rights in Assam says that there is growing concern about the number of young women and girls being brought to the city because they were also “subjected to various forms of atrocities” including sexual abuse. The organizer, Stephen Ekka, runs an organization called Promotion and Advancement of Justice, Harmony and Rights of Adivasis (PAJRA) in Tezpur town of Assam.

    This is an issue which needs the attention and concern of women’s groups in India, especially in Delhi. Our hope is that the National Commission for Women, which took such a forthright stand in the rape and kidnapping of tribal girls by Manipuri militants last year, would conduct a quick investigation to assess the condition of Adivasi girls from Assam in New Delhi.

    Because for every successful and confident young person from the North-east, there may be many others who are voiceless, abused and in danger of great harm.


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