Established in 2004, a group, My Home India, which operates from cities like Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Bangalore and Aurangabad, runs a 24X7 helpline that caters especially to students from the North East to provide advice on college admissions, accommodation, medication and other issues such as harassment.
Mayur Karjatkar, who has been working with the Pune helpline as a volunteer since the time it was established and who is now the general secretary, says, “Although most problems that we address are related to admissions and accommodation, we do get to know about one or two cases of harassment almost every month from students based in Pune.”
Karjatkar adds, “There is very little awareness amongst people about North Eastern people. Most still think that they are not from our country. A lot of people take advantage of the fact that they don’t know Hindi.”
He cites one such case that had happened in the year 2011 wherein a young North Eastern boy was asked by the autorickshaw driver to pay Rs 5,000 to travel from Swargate to Marketyard, a distance of 2 to 2.5 km. The driver and his friend forced the boy to withdraw money from the ATM and pay the amount.
“When this boy approached the police station, instead of a filing an FIR, they just took a complaint. We intervened later and got an FIR lodged. The rickshaw driver was caught after two months,” he says, adding that the helpline has around 30 active volunteers. Besides, local people in various parts of the city also pitch in, as and when required.
The helpline receives maximum calls — around 150 to 200 —between April to August, when youngsters from North East in Pune are looking for either admission in colleges or for accommodation.
Citing another such incident, says, Karjatkar, “In 2008, a few youngsters who were from Nagaland were passing through Marketyard and a group of people started calling them ‘chinki’. When the Naga students warned them not to do so, they started beating them up. When we got to know about the incident, we reached the spot and help them file an FIR.”
Nitin Ghodke, working as a coordinator in Pune branch, says, “It’s a fact that people tease them and call them ‘chinki’ and ‘nepali’. While most choose to ignore, if one or two choose to react, they get beaten up.
The Delhi incident is a clear example of this. Even girls from North East are subjected to eve-teasing, however, they are hesitant and don’t talk about it openly or take any action because they are scared.” Ghodke adds that that language being a problem, they cannot express themselves even if they want to.
The problem, according to Karjatkar, lies in the attitude of society. He shares some more startling experiences faced by the students. “College officials ask them to pay a fee which is fixed for foreigner students till they specify their nationality.
Even when they visit any museum or historical place, which have different entry fee for foreigners, the North East people are treated like any other foreigners. It’s sad but they have to prove everywhere that they are Indians,” he says, adding that there are around 20,000 North Easterns in Pune, out of which over 15,000 are students.
With an aim to create a harmonious environment and raise more awareness amongst common people and unite them with people from North East, My Home India regularly organises cultural meets, sports meet and also tours to North East. “We invite local people to participate and get to know each other,” he says Ghodke.