BANGLAORE: Migrants from the North-East can turn to community associations in Bangalore when they are in distress.
A group called Northeast Solidarity runs a helpline that offers many services, including legal aid. Gowthaman Ranganathan, a lawyer with Alternative Law Forum (ALF), who handles one of these numbers, says it gets about four or five calls a week.
“The kind of help we offer varies on a case-to-case basis,” he says. And this includes meeting people at the ALF office, helping them file FIRs or even bailing them out. “Sometimes people call because landlords refuse to return security deposits, and sometimes all that’s needed is for one of us to go and talk to the landlord. It could be easier than taking the legal route,” he says, adding that security guards, beauticians, hotel workers and other labourers call most often. He also says crimes against North-Easterns are not necessarily on the rise, but are being reported more frequently now.
Ruhi Macha, general secretary of All Arunachal Students Union of Karnataka (AASUK) and financial secretary of the North-East Welfare Association of Karnataka (NEWAK), is a final year civil engineering student at Acharya Institute of Technology. A resident of city for five years, he says tussles with auto drivers and bus conductors over travel fares and change are the main problems he encounters. “And people from the North-East are still called 'chinky' here,” he rues. So whenever the 80 students from Arunachal Pradesh run into more serious problems, they approach him first. “The president isn’t here right now. So from AASUK, we do what we can. But if it calls for more, we look towards NEWAK or Northeast Solidarity.”
He adds that the city police are fairly approachable. “The deputy commissioner of crime, D’Souza, is also from the North-East. And legal help is available from Northeast Solidarity.”
A Manipuri student was beaten up a couple of weeks ago for allegedly not speaking Kannada. Macha however says that most people he knows pick up functional phrases and sentences fairly easily.
“When I ask the shopkeeper, 'Chennagiddira'? He replies with, ‘Neevu Kannada huduga.’” Pranjal Medhi, treasurer, NEWAK, feels that the police in Karnataka need to be trained to speak both English and Hindi, since the city has a huge number of migrants coming in. “Most cops use language as an excuse to reduce their workload. A lot of them refuse to even register complaints. This will slowly change now,” he says.
The representatives of NEWAK recently met Police Commissioner M N Reddi to discuss the recent attacks on migrants. “One of the main issues discussed was the creation of security committees in areas that have a heavy North East population," he says.
When problems arise, the committee can open a dialogue, says Pranjal.
He believes it is better to solve disputes outside police stations and courtrooms. “There may be problems from our side as well. The only solution is to have open channels of communication. Bangalore is a moderate and progressive city,” he says.
When asked about the language issue, Pranjal says, “We are open to looking at online forums to help people pick up Kannada easily. It may not be feasible to hold Kannada lessons for everyone, since most of us work long shifts. As of now, we don’t have a concrete forum to teach Kannada to North-Easterners.”
The Bangalore Mizo Association, Mizoram House, Koramangala provides assistance to anyone from the Mizo tribe, usually those who hail from Mizoram and, sometimes, Manipur. President Josiah L Ralte estimates the number in Bangalore between 2,000 and 2,500.
“We have an annual membership, but we assist anyone from the community who needs help,” Ralte says. So far, they haven’t come across any cases that have required them to take the legal route. He and the office bearers also counsel younger immigrants about some dos and don’ts.
“Ours is a peaceful culture and when people come this far away from home, they would do well to remember it. So we tell people to be law-abiding citizens, not to instigate fights or get into drunken brawls,” he says. “But at times, we also understand that people are cornered and have to defend themselves,” he concedes.
According to Dhiraj Talukdar, sports and welfare officer, Assam Society of Bangalore, the Assamese living in Bangalore have not faced too much trouble over the years. “We hold a lot of cultural events through the year. Recently, we celebrated Durga Puja here,” he says.
When an exodus took place in 2012 , the association managed to reach out to all the Assamese who had left. "Almost all of them returned and are well settled in the city now,” he says.
As for learning Kannada, he says, “I think most of us make an effort to learn the basics at least. But people need to understand that it’s a slow process,” says Dhiraj, who moved to Bangalore eight years ago, and is currently working at IBM.