In the wake of the death of Nido Taniam in Delhi, Nita Sathyendran talks to workers from the north-eastern states who are living in the city

There is outrage and sorrow in the streets of Delhi over the death of Arunachal Pradesh native Nido Taniam. Here, in the capital city, the anger and anxiety is muted but it’s there all the same. Many of those who hail from the north-east of India – Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Arunachal Pardesh, Nagaland and Sikkim – work in restaurants, hotels, saloons and beauty parlours in the city. However, they all are quick to emphasise that they have never been given step-motherly treatment by the city and its people.

“I am worried,” says Margaret, a beauty therapist, who hails from Dimapur, Nagaland. Her colleague Riba, also from Nagaland, adds carefully: “I have never experienced racial slurs as such but have heard of certain incidents that happened to acquaintances, particularly to those who work in big cities like Bangalore, where I worked before coming to Kerala. Just because we look different, it does not mean we aren’t as Indian as anyone else.” The two women have been working in the city for over three years now. “We’ve never faced any problem here,” say the duo.

In fact, (not) surprisingly all the workers, skilled and unskilled, that MetroPlus talked to have more or less the same good things to say about Kerala – exceptional place to work; how they enjoy working here; how peaceful life is here; how green, pretty and laidback the state is; how kind the people are... Perhaps that’s why many of them are making their way to Kerala even as Malayalis continue to fly the coop.

Unlike many migrant labourers who come here through agents, many of those from the north-east, and those from Bhutan and Nepal, are skilled workers and seem to have come here at the invitation of their friends or relatives. Also, most of them seem to have worked in metros before coming to the city. For instance, Francis Narzary, a cashier at a popular restaurant, followed a friend to the city all the way from Tezpur, Assam. “I’ve been in Kerala for five years now. I worked in hotels in Delhi and also in Haripad before coming to the city. There are many people from Assam who now work in Kerala, most of them in the hotel business and in construction. There are, I think, 10 people from Tezpur in the city,” says Francis, in halting English. Another Tezpur native, Rajib Gasamitari, too found his way to the restaurant thanks to Francis.

However, for almost all of them the balmy climate and language are huge problems.

“But a lot of our clientele speak English and Hindi. So it’s relatively easy to communicate,” says Sophika and D. Tamang, two beauticians. Their colleague Pallavi, from Darjeeling, is one of the few who can actually talk Malayalam. “I even haggle for vegetables in the market in Malayalam,” she says, with a laugh. Pallavi came here on holiday three years ago to visit her brother and sister, both of who are beauticians and ended up staying here because “it’s a nice place to work.”

Most of those who work together apparently live together. On free days they often hang out together too.

“We usually meet up with friends at Gandhi Park, go to the beach, which is a novelty for many of us, dine out, catch a movie… We’re just like other people making a living in the city,” says Francis. Indeed.

(Some names have been changed on request to protect privacy)