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Another day in Delhi, another incident of ‘racism’: Arunachal woman alleges harassment at cafe

Writer Ngurang Reena says two customers at Blue Tokai Cafe in Deer Park 'stared at her while exchanging laughs'. Cafe promises structural changes to redress situation.

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New Delhi: A writer from Arunachal Pradesh has claimed she faced racial and gender-based harassment at a South Delhi cafe, prompting the establishment to issue a statement saying they would create “a team” to specifically deal with such incidents.

The incident allegedly took place at Blue Tokai Cafe in Deer Park earlier this week.    

Ngurang Reena, a doctoral candidate at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), told ThePrint she was at the cafe — an establishment she had been frequenting for three months — on the morning of 13 June, working, when two other customers allegedly began staring at her constantly “while exchanging laughs”. 

When she confronted them in Hindi — “Kya dekh rahe ho? (What are you looking at)” — the two men allegedly grew louder and progressively more threatening, until she decided to get the management to intervene. 

At that point, she said, the two men got “offended and used racially degrading terms”. 

“People from ethnic minorities go through this every day. We try to ignore [them] because [they] can be extremely triggering,” Reena, who’s written about such experiences before, said.

A tweet posted by Reena describing the incident — where she also accused the cafe management of “apathy & inaction… towards the horrifying even” — has generated significant traction. 

 

In an email to Reena dated 14 June, Blue Tokai co-founder Nupur Asthana promised structural changes at the cafe to redress the situation.

“We will be creating a team made up of a diverse group of members who will not only be responsible for dealing with issues like this but will also be responsible for holding sessions that discuss culture and diversity on an ongoing basis so that it is actively woven into our company culture and not taken for granted,” she wrote.

This mail, accessed by ThePrint, was sent after Reena alleged a lack of basic empathy in the first email sent by Blue Tokai, which referred to the incident as an “inconvenience”.


Also Read: How a 19-yr-old ‘stalked, blackmailed’ 50 women online for over a year, before he was arrested


‘Persistent racism’

This is hardly the first incident of racial profiling of people from the northeast in Delhi, or other parts of India.

A study commissioned by the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) in 2020 said there had been a significant upsurge in racial discrimination since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Nearly a year ago, a group of women from the northeast shot, and circulated, a video of two men asking them for their “rates” at a party at Hauz Khas Village. The village, a popular hangout spot, is in the vicinity of the cafe where the incident with Reena took place. 

Located only a few kilometres from Humanyunpur a locality where people from nearly every state of the northeast either live, have businesses or go to eat — Hauz Khas is considered an upscale locality. Those who frequent the place claim that the area has previously seen incidents of racial profiling.

Riya Hazarika, a research scholar from Delhi University, said she faced harassment in 2017 when she went for dinner to Hauz Khas Village. A man slowed down his vehicle and called her “Nepali” before speeding off, she told ThePrint.

In another instance, Doreen Gurung, a marketing professional based in Gurugram, told ThePrint about a time when a “teenager approached me, called me “videsi (foreigner)”, and asked if I would accompany him to a pub and entertain his friends”.

‘Lack of support’

Reena said she hardly got any support at the cafe while confronting the men. On the contrary, she claimed, a woman seated nearby told her off for “creating a scene” while she was trying to work and asked her to “take it outside”. 

This reaction, Reena told ThePrint, made her feel more isolated. Eventually, Reena’s friend and another regular customer allegedly intervened, asking the management to take her grievances seriously. 

The problem of racial profiling, she said, had much to do with the country’s education system, which she claims often reduces “India’s northeast to merely a paragraph”.

“We need to focus on going beyond creating CEOs through our education system,” she added. “There should be more effort towards educating people on gender inclusivity, diversity, and cultural heterogeneity.”

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)


Also Read: It’s time we stop seeing Northeast as ‘punishment posting’. The racism is showing


 

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