NATIONAL | MARCH 27, 2020:
Around 100,000-plus citizens of North Eastern states and Tibetans living, studying or working in Maharashtra are on the verge of panic over the 21-day lockdown as they could encounter a probable 'life-and-death' situation.
Mumbai and Pune, the two main cities which are also worst-hit by COVID-19, also happen to be the major hubs of NE folk, with nearly two-thirds of them being women.
Hailing from Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Manipur, besides Sikkim and a sprinkling of Tibetans, they are mostly engaged in the hospitality, beauty and grooming, and communication industries.
"The real problems are starting for us now. Most live in rented accommodations and work largely as daily wage earners. By March-end, or early April, the rents will be due or rentals up for renewals. But we have no money for this," rued Leo Tharmi Raikhan of Manipur and spokesperson for the Tangkhul Welfare Association (TWA) Mumbai.
Mumbai Bharatiya Janata Party leader Krishna Hegde, who is helping the large number of NE people in the western suburbs, said they face a genuine crisis.
"With no jobs and income due to the lockdown, they may be facing starvation. The rentals is an issue even for Mumbaikars, and more so with the North East people in the present circumstances," Hegde told IANS.
TWA Vice-President Thotmahai Raingam said that most NE brethren look forward to a long break in summer to go back to their families, but all such plans are ruined now due to the lockdown of flights and trains till April 14.
"We try to go for Christmas with our families, but since it is also a big celebration in Maharashtra, most don't get leave, so they compensate with the summer break. Now things appear uncertain and we may be only able to go back in Summer 2021," Raingam told IANS.
Both Raikhan and Raingam explain that the NE communities mostly send their children to study in good colleges or universities in Maharashtra, and the others seek employment opportunities which are limited back home.
"As per estimate, of the 100,000-plus, nearly 25 percent are students and the rest are working people. Now, both are stranded badly without source of income, no savings as they plough back their earnings to support families in their home states," Raingam explained.
According to Raikhan, more than 95 percent working in Mumbai-Thane-Pune are in the unorganized sector and depend on daily wages, with the rest in salaried jobs.
"With no wages since the past one week or so, and no salaries expected this month, how do we survive. This is the burning question for us now. We appeal to the concerned government and district authorities to understand our plight and help us immediately before we are thrown to the streets," said Rangam.
Besides, there have been stray incidents of abuse and racial discrimination against the NE folk with some uncharitably calling them 'corona carriers', but these were nipped in the bud, as in the recent case concerning a TISS student of North-East.
Hegde appealed to Mumbai landlords and landladies that in view of the extraordinary circumstances, they should allow some concessions like deferment of rentals, or paying in instalments, etc, to their NE tenants on humanitarian grounds.
Either students or employed in hotels, restaurants, saloons, spas, malls, shopping plazas, salons, or call centres, they are based largely in western suburbs of Mumbai, Mira Road-Bhayander-Kalyan in Thane, Navi Mumbai, Pune and small numbers in other cities.
Though belonging to culturally different states, they enjoy a strong bond among themselves and regularly fraternize through a variety of associations like TWA, Naga Students Union, Mizoram Association, Assam Association, and other local community groups.