“So big are your eyes, so small are your views,” said a banner when students from the North-East gathered in Delhi after the death of Nido Tania in January this year. The words made it apparent that while pursing higher studies or careers in cities across India many youths from the North-East feel like aliens in their own country. They have to put up with harassment and petty name-calling just because they look different or cannot understand the local language. Though Kolkata has never witnessed any racial violence or discrimination, either on campus or on the streets, youths from the seven north-eastern states and even Sikkim and Nepal have to put up with inconveniences even as they make new friends every day.
Common name-calling, like being called ‘Nepali’ and ‘chinkey’, or being mocked or called names in public places is just a small part of the gamble. But students from the North-East feel that major threats like moral or physical abuse, ganging-up against them, refusal of basic human civic rights, and threat-to-life issues are less in Kolkata as compared to other metropolitan cities.
Boys probably have to put up with less; declares a student of political science at South City College, ''Kolkata is a pleasant city. Though I just moved in a few months ago I like the city very much. After my hometown in Sikkim, Kolkata is the only place where I feel at home. I have a lot of Bengali friends who helps me in studies. Despite them knowing that I can’t understand Bengali, they never feel irritated while talking to me in either English or Hindi.''
More often than not, people who rent out apartments tell students from these regions to uphold ''Indian morals and traditions,'' treating them as part of a different community and a different country. Not just the men in cities, but incidents where even women have commented on the clothes worn by girls from the North-East and the culture in public transport are common in urban spaces. Kolkata, however, not only welcomes people from different walks of life but has also made outstation students, workers, and people of different origins feel welcome.
North-eastern students, on being asked whether they looked at Kolkata as a city they could settle down to, said they wanted to have a career here as it provides them with a pool of opportunities to excel in their careers.
A freestyle footballer and student of Mother International School, who was born and brought up in Kolkata, says he sees the city as his own, ''We are originally from Darjeeling but when I go back there on holidays I feel awkward. I feel more at home in Kolkata.''
Something all of them agree on is that acceptance in Kolkata is way more than what they see in Delhi or Bangalore. ''I believe it’s the uneducated that are hostile, otherwise the rest of Kolkata is very welcoming. I came here in search of good education. I want to take back home all the new things I have learnt here,'' says another boy.
''Every place has its pros and cons. I have accepted this city as my own. Most people are very warm here. They don’t call this place City of Joy for nothing,'' confirmed another of the many students.
A history (honours) student at Scottish Church College says, ''Compared to other states in India, Kolkata is much more secure. My friends in Delhi and Bengaluru often tell me that they face a lot of ethnic issues. But honestly, I never felt that I’m not a part of Kolkata.''
''I don’t want to go back. I love being here,'' said one of the students.
Students who once came here with the feeling of alienation and apprehension have settled in and feel at home in Kolkata.