Chai, Charcha Aur Change

Chai, Charcha Aur Change with North-East Cells Across the University of Delhi

DU Beat brings to you Chai, Charcha Aur Change- an effort to make meaningful conversations about change with student leaders across India, all over a glass of cutting chai. This time, we spoke to the heads of North-East Cells/Societies across four different colleges in the University of
Delhi (DU) with diverse identities and demographics, discussing the issues faced by North-Eastern students in the University and their focus areas.

Joining us are Shrikant Thokchom, President of North-East Cell, Hindu College, Abhilash Chetia Wanniang, President of North-East Cell, Hansraj College, Kristi Kakoty, General Secretary of North-East Students Association, Sri Venkateswara College and Anu Migom Panging, Talk and Panel Discussion Coordinator of North-East Society, St. Stephen’s College. 

Clockwise from top-left: Anu Migom, Kristi, Abhilash & Srikant

Q1) How has your experience been in the society? How has heading it been different?

Abhilash (HRC): The experience as a member of the cell was totally different. It was and is a wonderful experience to be a part of the North-East Cell (NEC) because of such diverse backgrounds and a moving cause. As for heading it, [as] the President, I have a lot of administrative responsibilities. I am enjoying it and I feel it’s of great importance to take forward the cause we have in our hands. 

Srikant (Hindu College): It has been bittersweet, [with the] ups and downs of being a Head. You are the one in-charge and you can’t just run away from the responsibilities now. With the rising cases of racism everywhere, it’s been more difficult and with the appropriation of the North-East [in the contemporary times], it is more difficult to do justice in representing the states. 

Kristi (SVC): Being admitted to the premier institute of the country while belonging to the North-East has a bittersweet as well as a paradoxical feel to it. NESA, along with my seniors, has come as a rescue and I consider [it] an honour to serve the association. 

Anu Migom (Stephen’s): [Our] North-East Society has also been exploring the discourse surrounding the LGBTQIA+, historical, cultural and literary narratives, with the added layer of contextualizing these discourses in the North-East. [We are put] outside of our comfort zone where it rattles our conceptions of assumed ideas, and that responsibility makes us work for people with whom we share that solidarity.

Q2) 2. What are some of the ways in which the cell has acted as a pole of support for the North-Eastern students?

Abhilash (HRC): Our main purpose is to provide a space for people of different communities from the Northeast to voice the issues that are relevant to them. We have various events and opportunities for the students per se. For example, we organise webinars to cultural events, andvarious competitions where we can discuss these issues. Our membership is open to all students across areas so there are opportunities for people to intermingle.

Srikant (Hindu College): Altogether we try to support each other as a family, to share our problems with each other and to try to know each other more. It is more like a vibe than a cell.

Kristi (SVC): From its inception, the association was formed with an aim to enhance the participation and visibility of the students of North-Eastern states in the college and to protect and advance their identity and interests. We are also open to students from outside of the North-East who wish to know more about the rich heritage of the region. 

Anu Migom (Stephen’s): The Society has been crucial in supporting people from the Northeast. It has also been an essential source for people from other parts of India to know about Northeast India. It has extended its support to people from discriminated spheres of life like LGBTQIA+. We have Weekly Discussion sessions wherein we discuss various facets of the North-East. 

Q3. With the admission season of 2021 coming, how do you plan to help the students from NE in the same?

Abhilash (HRC): We have already launched a Helpline number along with an email where students can contact for their admission-related concerns. The students can approach us in regards to any questions/confusions and we will assist them.

Srikant (Hindu College): We are already in the process of setting up a Help Desk with the support of the present union members and will try our level best to assist the ones in need.

Kristi (SVC): We will set up a help desk for any NE students wishing to join Venky. Once we have new students we will have orientations, workshops and freshers as well. We are always open to queries and doubts from their end and are looking forward to helping them to get adjusted in this new setting. We’re also planning to host movie nights and game nights for some bonding time. 

Anu Migom (Stephen’s): The Media Cell of our college is helping out students interested in St. Stephen’s with a Telegram Bot and through students who volunteered to aid in this process.

Q4. Were there any instances where you yourself faced racial discrimination in any public setting?

Srikant (Hindu College): Yes. Once, a person approached me and asked for my Aadhar Card because I was standing in the Indian line for the ticket counter to visit the Red Fort. There are, of course, cases of eve-teasing and discrimination and it is like an everyday process. At times we try to counter them and to speak up against them but mostly try to ignore them if they are in a group. We face instances of racism every day in Delhi. 

Anu Migom (Stephen’s): I don’t think I’ve faced any personal experiences like that but definitely there are a lot of people I know who did. I think even one person experiencing such discrimination is a painful experience to all of us. Collective trauma as a North-East community exists.

Q6. What things have you done to make sure that the cell is actually a safe space for NE students to come and seek support in times of distress?

Abhilash (HRC): This year, we have started a Grievances Committee where any student can go to the Chairperson of the committee, Pragya and raise their concerns about any issue in general. The Chairperson will be addressing the issues and the grievance filed can be against anyone. We also have an open forum to hold discussions to minimise the communication gap between the members of the society. All of the members in the union are democratically elected. We are looking forward to taking many more steps for the same. 

Srikant (Hindu College): We have always made it a point to include every single person from the North-East in the cell including Ladakh as well. We have always been there for each other and will continue to do so. Fortunately, we don’t have cases of racism faced by the students in the college, particularly. If ever faced with the same, we discuss, address and take the necessary steps for the same by discussing it with our Nodal Officer.

Kristi (SVC): We’ve not received complaints as such as of yet from our members but we’re constantly reminding everyone that they can always approach the core should they ever encounter instances of racial discrimination. We have a help desk here consisting of the core, the alumni members and professors from the North-East. Furthermore, we will be acquainting the forthcoming batch about the same in the Orientation Program. We also have an informal WhatsApp group for the students where they can discuss whatever they want with other members and if someone is not comfortable talking in the group, the core is always open for such discussions and we try our level best to solve them.

Anu Migom (Stephen’s): I think having a Northeastern representative for the ICC is helpful for this case. We have someone who can best empathise with the lived experiences of our marginalised community. As I said, we’ve also worked hard for people who are marginalised in the Northeast like the LGBTQIA+ community. And I think we maintain all of this by being an inclusive space for everyone. 

Q8. With the introduction of this online mode, there have been certain instances in social media platforms where students from the NE have been subjected to offensive comments, etc. Has your Cell countered any problem as such? If no, how do you plan to do so if ever faced with the same?

Abhilash (HRC): As a society, we haven’t encountered any issues as such yet. However, if we do so in the future, the newly set up Grievances Committee of our society will make sure that strict action is taken regarding the same.

Srikant (Hindu College): There were times when we received hate messages over our Instagram handle. Online trolling is very much prevalent nowadays. We are doing as much as we can to stop these kinds of actions.

Kristi (SVC): Fortunately no members have faced such offensive comments against them, to our knowledge. If our members are subjected to such offences, our association will be there to fiercely protect the members and take up the issue with the relevant authorities. To prevent such situations we are planning to host orientations in the college and also equip our members with the necessary intervention methods required in such times of need. 

Anu Migom (Stephen’s): There were instances of Northeasterns specifically asked about their marks with the intent that Northeastern’s score would be lesser and they would get seats that are reserved. There are members who are conditioned to be homophobic and sexist as well. We understand that even something like the ‘Northeast experience’ is not a universal concept and it varies from people from different statuses, gender, class, sex etc. We’re heavily involved in countering those things among all the problems that we might face on campus. 

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Featured Image Credits: DU Beat Archives

Himasweeta Sarma

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Himasweeta (a.k.a. Hima) is a Phil Major whose love for overthinking landed her up in the same. The sweet in her name says it all. A hopeless romantic who’s a sucker for sunsets, playlists and punctuation marks while texting.