In the past few years, as many as 50,000 tribals from the Northeastern states have made Delhi their home while carving a niche for themselves among the numerous ethnic communities living in the capital. For instance, tribals from Manipur and Nagaland have their own religious practices, food, and cultural programmes.
Ninety per cent of Manipuri tribals in Delhi belong to the Christian faith. Many of them live close to Delhi University’s North Campus, R K Puram, Safdarjung Enclave and Mukherjee Nagar. Some of the main Manipuri tribes living in Delhi include Naga, Kuki, Zoumi and Hmar.
Two weeks ago, a large number of Manipuri tribals had gathered at Jantar Mantar and outside Manipur Bhavan to protest against three bills passed by the state assembly.
J Maivio (29), who has lived in Delhi for 11 years, said Manipuri tribals too encounter several differences in culture, language and food habits when they move to Delhi.
“Getting different kinds of meat is not difficult, but some food items, such as fermented fish or fermented soyabean, are hard to find. These food items have a strong smell, and our landlords have complained about it sometimes,” said Maivio, who belongs to the Poumi Naga tribe. He is a social activist who works closely with the Delhi Police helpline for Northeastern residents and the Manipuri student community.
One of the leading tribes in Manipur, Paite, set up a church in Dwarka 15 years ago. Dr Langkham (65), who is from the tribe, is associated with the church. A medical professional, Langkham moved to Delhi two decades ago.
“When I came to Delhi, the first thing that hit me was the heat. But this is a big metropolis and I never felt like a stranger here. I felt accepted. Sometimes there would be some misunderstanding. We look different, so people would ask which country we come from. They would be really surprised to know we can speak Hindi. A lot has changed over the years,” he said.
Each tribe speaks its own dialect but has many things in common culturally, said Langkham. His children, who grew up in Delhi, were “never really very far” from their culture, he said. “We cook traditional food at home, we speak in our dialect and also we have friends from our community here,” he said.
The community also hosts Naga indigenous games at the Polo Ground in Delhi University and Naga dance performances at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.