No Tyranny Of Language Or Culture: How These Good Samaritans Are Helping North East Migrants During Covid-19 Lockdown

No Tyranny Of Language Or Culture: How These Good Samaritans Are Helping North East Migrants During Covid-19 Lockdown

by Sumati Mehrishi - Thursday, April 23, 2020 04:25 PM IST
No Tyranny Of Language Or Culture: How These Good Samaritans Are Helping North East Migrants During Covid-19 LockdownRSS volunteers supplying essentials to those in need. (@friendsofrss) 
  • Positive actions towards people of North East during the lockdown has renewed their trust.

    The fight against Covid-19 has spurred a new language of togetherness.

Last month, Vungthunglo, a resident of Wokha town, Nagaland, saw an unknown number flashing on her phone. She answered the call. It was her son — Nzanthung Ngullie, 28, on the other end. He had left Dimapur for Goa a few days back, for work. Nzanthung revealed over the phone call that he was not in Goa.

He was stranded in Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh and had borrowed a phone to make that call.

For Vungthunglo — a mother placed geographically at the other end of the country — this was baffling and worrying. This call was Nzanthung's last contact with his mother (26 March).

Here is what had happened and led him to Baghpat. When Nzanthung arrived in Goa by train from Dimapur, he heard of the nationwide lockdown, which was announced last month to fight the spread of Covid-19. A friend from the North East living in Goa suggested that Nzanthung must leave Goa and go back to Dimapur.

Nzanthung had exhausted the money he was carrying through the trip. The friend gave him some money for his return. Nzanthung decided to proceed to Delhi instead of Dimapur.

On reaching Delhi, he travelled to New Delhi Railway Station (NDRS) from Nizamuddin Railway Station in order to catch a train to Dimapur. At NDRS, he got to know that trains had stopped running. He had nowhere to go and chose to stay the night there.

Some other stranded travellers advised him to travel to a village in Uttar Pradesh — to find help from relatives of one of the stranded travellers among them. Nzanthung was perhaps under the impression that he would be able to travel further, towards the east and then North East, if he left Delhi. They all hired a cab and reached Baghpat. And then, Nzanthung was stuck once again.

He was helped with accommodation and meals by two local men “Rajendra ji and Ishwar ji”.

Nzanthung decided that he must travel back to Delhi. The man who hosted him, decided to drop him at a point where it would be easier for him to take help from motorists travelling towards Delhi. Some locals noticed his presence and got concerned, but no one bothered him.

At Baraut, he met a man named Dastgir, who hails from Darbhanga, Bihar. Dastgir helped him by lending his phone. Nzanthung made a call to his mother.

A worried Vungthunglo got down to the task of spreading information about him. Social media helped in making her message and details of her son reach people who were in a position to consolidate help in Nagaland and in UP.

Information from her triggered a series of phone calls. Political adviser to the Chief Minister, Government of Nagaland, Priyang Pandey, mobilised help, looped in the police and administrative authorities at various levels in Uttar Pradesh, and help from Nagaland.

Nzanthung safely reached Delhi, with the help of bikers. Many people helped him on the way with meals. He was taken for a primary health checkup by the staff from Nagaland House.

A picture of Nzanthung shared on Twitter by Priyang Pandey (@priyangpandey).
A picture of Nzanthung shared on Twitter by Priyang Pandey (@priyangpandey).

Pandey told Swarajya that every check post on the route was informed. All inputs and tips from his mother were being shared with the police. Various people hailing from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar played a role in coordination and pitching information and updates.

Nzanthung is staying in Nagaland House in New Delhi during the lockdown.

Vungthunglo told Swarajya over the phone: "there were many people who helped him on the way. He is fine as of now and the Nagaland government is taking care of him. We are so thankful to god."

The Importance Of Emotional Accountability

Nzanthung practically found help at every stage of his journey. There were villagers and passersby who noticed him and showed "concern" on his presence, but no one bothered him. There was some emotional accountability involved.

This was important for people who were coordinating calls and helping to trace him.

A person helping in his tracing, who has extended family in Nagaland, said: "when we go to the North East, we get noticed, just as they get noticed in places in North India where awareness about the North East is low. Any negative reaction to Nzanthung's presence would have been a 'blot' on north Indians. Good examples go a long way in establishing faith. We are one as Indians."

When Nzanthung made a safe entry to Nagaland House, the person most relieved after his mother, perhaps, was Pandey. He says, "being a North Indian and working for a government in the North East, it was a challenge for me to ensure that he was safe. Ki aisa kuchh na ho."

When Pandey says "aisa", he means any untoward incident.

Any untoward incident — that of regional or racial discrimination against any person from the North East would be detrimental to the efforts of people who are working closely with state governments in North East towards broadening the emotional and cultural base of North East folks living in other parts of India.

Pandey adds, "the people of North East must know that we are with them and we are all together”.

Vungthunglo's video message conveyed a similar emotion.

Positive actions towards people of North East in crises renew their trust. It is reciprocated. But behind them, there are unfortunate incidents threatening the faith and trust that people build among themselves.

Last month, a man misbehaved with a 25-year-old Manipuri girl in Delhi. He allegedly spat at her and called her "corona". The man was later arrested.

In another incident in Mumbai, a man allegedly spat on a Manipuri girl on a road. An FIR was registered against the man.

Last month, in Mysuru, two students were stopped from entering a grocery store. A video shot by one of the students showed them pleading with the staff to let them enter the store as they had groceries to buy, and to stop discriminating against them.

The Importance Of Untangling Communication Knots

The information from various stations reached Rajesh Padmar — a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) volunteer based in Bengaluru. A case was registered against the staff for harassing the students.

Padmar has his eyes and nose on the welfare of the people of North East during the lockdown. RSS volunteers in Delhi respond to a round the clock helpline set by the RSS Delhi in order to help the people from North East in the wake of the lockdown.

People from the North East can call the helpline and expect help to reach them. The helpline spurs a network of calls in different states to coordinate help.

People such as Padmar serve as an anchor, not only in making assistance reach people of the North East in case they are discriminated against during the lockdown, but also in helping with basic essentials, and meals.

In Chennai, RSS swayamsevak and youth wing leader S G Suryah has formed a team to help the people of North East with essential goods and meals.

Earlier this month, he found that some migrant workers from the North East were facing teasing and taunts from a group of vegetable sellers in Chennai's T Nagar area. He spoke to the vegetable sellers. He took migrants from North East along during his conversation with the vegetable sellers.

Suryah tells Swarajya, "I explained to the shopkeepers what is wrong in their behaviour towards people from the North East. It is a slow process. Change cannot be brought in a short time, yet efforts have to be made and they yield results."

How Help Reaches North East Folks

RSS is taking help of a centralised call receiving system which is manned by 10 to 20 people round the clock. Based on the requests received, the karyakartas of the places those requests are for, are informed. In this previous article, Swarajya had written about how the RSS is helping people in need for food and essential goods.

Suryah has requested Tamil Nadu Chief Minister to extend the benefits being given to ration card holders in the state during the lockdown to the migrants from the North East living in Chennai.

Padmar and Pandey, on the other hand, loop in the attention, and appeals of some of the chief ministers in the North East. It makes way for crucial interventions during the lockdown for better communication with state authorities outside North East for the welfare of people.

Suryah has planned to consolidate support from people in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to form a collective corpus fund to help the migrants from the North East. Most people from North East who come from the migrant workforce need help with cash for their daily needs.

Suryah is also coordinating and collaborating with the Northeast India Welfare Association, Chennai, an umbrella organisation working for the welfare of migrants from the North East living in the city, who got in touch with him even before the lockdown started.

When Atihe Hopeson, a Manipuri living in Rajaji Nagar got the news of the lockdown, he, along with 14 other friends from North East decided to stay where they were. They work at a restaurant. Initially, they assumed that they wouldn't get their salaries for the month of March. They did.

But there was another problem. They stay at a paying guest accommodation and have no access to a kitchen. There was no way to cook or find meals.

They got in touch with Linda Newmai, a Naga BJP worker, who then got in touch with RSS. Hopeson says, "the RSS provides us meals in the mornings and evenings — every day."

The Collaboration That Counts

Tluanga Colney, general secretary, Northeast India Welfare Association, Chennai, has been able to work out arrangements and support for nearly 600-700 people from his region living in the city to help them during the lockdown.

As per Colney, there are approximately 10,000 people from the North East in Chennai.

He says, "we have recently started the third shelter. Around 100 people are staying in two shelters, 15 in the third, and it is expecting more people. We are appreciative of the support given by the Chennai Corporation. They provided food and shelter."

Suryah and his colleagues supported the shelters with mosquito nets, mattresses and other essentials needed to make the stay safe and comfortable.

Dry ration is provided to people who are needy. There have been some good souls in Chennai who have postponed the rental payment by migrant workers from North East. Others are not too lucky.

"It is difficult to support so many people with money for paying the rent," Colney adds. Many migrants are not left with money to buy ration. They get in touch with the North East Association "in such panic situations."

Some tribes from a few North East states do not have welfare organisations. Many of the welfare associations keep track of their own states and speak their own languages.

"Nearly 60-70 who are in need of help are taken care of by their welfare associations. Those who come to us are more in a desperate situation," Colney adds.

There are two pregnant women staying in the shelters where Suryah and Colney are collaborating to assist North East folks. Doctors visit them regularly. There are more pregnant women who need help and people from their own communities are trying to support them.

Along with work, assistance, defeating biases, and creating emotional bandwidth during these tough times, their communication has to be short, minimal, yet effective. With a helping hand from North East to achieve it all, the lockdown to fight Covid-19 has spurred a new language of togetherness through the crisis.

Sumati Mehrishi is Senior Editor, Swarajya. She tweets at @sumati_mehrishi 

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