KOLKATA, 25 AUG: In a city that boasts of cultural diversity and tolerance towards varied ethnicity, facial features are enough to make people feel alienated, and in worse cases subject them to social ostracism.
Not only the students from the North-east have to face this sort of discrimination in the city, but also the residents of Hills in West Bengal are typified and are harassed in several ways when they come to the city to study or to avail medical facilities.
A group of three students of department of Arts in Jadavpur University had to face what Indians have been facing in Australia a couple of months ago. Mr Tashi Tshering Bhutia, Mr Kunzang Lama and Mr Vivek Chhetri, all residents of Darjeeling, on their way to an eatery were verbally abused and told to walk from the other side of the road by a group of drunken hooligans near Gariahat at 10.30 p.m. a few days ago.
Mr Bhutia, who had been staying in the city for the past seven years, said: “Kolkata is our capital as well. But, that was the day I felt how hated we are because of our facial features,” he added.
Another student narrated what he had to face in Metro when due to rush he stumbled while boarding a crowded train. “The man on whom I fell started abusing me. I said sorry but he refused to calm down. All the passengers took his side. They called me an animal and told me to touch the man’s feet and apologise,” he added.
Several students from Darjeeling hills and other North-eastern states, said if room rent for Bengalis is Rs 1,500 in Tollygunge, Jadavpur, Prince Anwar Shah Road, Santoshpur, Garfa, and Palm Avenue, it is Rs 5,000 for them. Even vegetable sellers and taxi drivers charge them exorbitant rates.
A student from Manipur, Mr Angel Shishak, referring to Bidhannagar Municipality chairman Mrs Krishna Chakraborty’s comment, said: “We are harassed at government offices and even nationalised banks. We want an apology from the chairman who said that we are the ones who create nuisance on roads.”
When students go to look for an accommodation, the house owners ask them for their passport.
“We have no problem providing documents, but why people from other states in India are not asked to furnish passports?” asked Mr Sambo Lapung, a student from Arunachal Pradesh. An owner of a paying guest accommodation in Jadavpur said that he generally doesn’t allow people from North-east to stay as they are “dirty, they take drugs and are difficult to understand” while an owner of another flat in Ganguli Bagan said: “We prefer students from North-east as they are peaceful and they abide by rules.”
Mr Kunzang Lama summed up the feeling saying: “They want Kunchenjunga but not its people. They want Darjeeling tea, but not those who pick them at Rs 62 per day wage.”
Regional profiling of behaviour
THE head of a municipality, as the elected representative of tax-payers, has his/her duties explicitly defined. And regional profiling of social behaviour is not one of them. The chairperson of Bidhannagar Municipality, Krishna Chakraborty’s suo motu and generalised remark against students from the North-east has caused a flutter. Not, as one might have imagined, among Salt Lake’s residents from the North-east; but at the level of the political class and civil society. Ms Chakraborty’s cavil over drinking in public, smoking by women, and “public display of affection and promiscuity” is not the issue. Where the chairperson has erred is in the regional profiling of what she deems to be a social aberration, if that is the term. Unwittingly or otherwise, she has cast an aspersion on students from the North-east who come to Kolkata to pursue their studies. As the chairperson of an upmarket satellite town, she needs to be a mite more liberal and a great deal more sensitive. Youth from other parts of the country ~ including Bengal ~ are no less guilty of social offences in Salt Lake or elsewhere, particularly eve-teasing, fake abductions, unruly behaviour and bending of the elbow in public. Her statement was thus uncalled for, provoking Ila Nandi, the leader of the Opposition in the municipality, to remind her that “we cannot call people from a certain region rowdy”. The chairperson ought not to have generalised her swipe against students from the North-east. And her supplementary ~ not a clarification ~ is an attempt at backtracking, one that is unlikely to mollify sentiment ~ “The brothers and sisters can certainly drink in their room.” And there is no bar on public smoking by “sisters”, unless the area is a prohibited zone.
The chairperson has generated an unwarranted controversy. Handpicked by the Chief Minister ~ after a bout of intra-Trinamul wrangling ~ she needs to focus on civic services, not least the wheeling and dealing in real estate and illegal transfer of land that the government had leased out for 99 years for residential purposes. Salt Lake’s Bangali bhadralok image ~ to quote the chairperson ~ was denuded long ago. Over the past three decades, it has deviated from the original site-plan, to summon real estate terminology. The area has passed the stage of delusory sophistication.
(Edits, The Statesman, 25 August 2011)