A helpline for northeastern Indians dogged by harassment

Northeastern Indian migrants who flock to the country's cities to escape fighting and seek economic opportunities are the target of discrimination and harassment.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

When she first came to India’s capital years ago, Singmila Shimrah remembers being called “Chinky” and a “dog eater.”

Such slurs and stereotypes are familiar to natives of India’s troubled northeast states – including Ms. Shimrah’s native Manipur – which border Bhutan, Tibet, and Burma (Myanmar). But so, too, community leaders say, is serious harassment.

Political unrest stemming from insurgencies fighting Indian rule as well as a lack of economic and educational opportunities have sent droves of migrants to big Indian cities over the past decade. Many work in the retail and hospitality sectors. Most migrants don’t speak Hindi or English, making it hard for them to defend themselves, and easy for others to take advantage of them, activists say. As their numbers swelled in Delhi, high rates of assault prompted social activists, student associations, and organizations such as the All India Christian Council to establish the North East Support Centre & Helpline in 2007.

Since then, thousands of calls have poured in reporting racial discrimination and physical and sexual assaults, especially on women, according to Shimrah, a researcher at a Delhi think tank who helped form the 24-hour phone service. The helpline aids in registering cases with police and connects callers to legal resources and groups that can intervene.

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