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Police Detained Northeast Indians Thinking They’re Tibetans Who Might Protest Against Chinese President’s Visit

Around 40 Northeastern people, including women, were detained despite having identity cards.

by Pallavi Pundir
18 October 2019, 10:35am

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their visit at Arjuna's Penance, ahead of the summit at the World Heritage Site of Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu state. Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in India on October 11 for an "informal" seaside summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi aimed at mending relations between the historically prickly Asian giants after sharp words over Kashmir.

In India, the question of those from the Northeast being seen and treated as “outsiders” has always an unsettling social reality. There’ve been one too many stories about racial discrimination and even threats and attacks on those living outside their states. However, last week, a ridiculous piece of news from Tamil Nadu may just add to the discriminatory perceptions. The Tamil Nadu police detained roughly 40 people from the Northeast states, allegedly mistaking them for potential Tibetan protestors who were actually protesting against the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping during an Indo-China summit in Mamallapuram from October 11 to 13.

Amid high security throughout the city, several Northeastern people were arrested. “I was picked up on Friday morning as well from Guindy Metro station, where I usually board a train for work, and detained till 8 PM. To avoid this, I took a cab on Saturday from Velachery, where I stay. But it proved useless,” Robert (name changed to protect privacy) from Mizoram told The Hindu. Northeastern associations in Chennai confirmed communication from the state police to expect security checks, and told The Hindu that all the detainees were carrying identity proof. By Friday morning, though, they started receiving phone calls about detained people.

“We were told that carrying identity proof would keep us away from trouble. We had communicated the same to our people,” PC Michael, general secretary, Chennai Mizo Welfare Association, told The Hindu. “I was carrying my Aadhaar card, PAN card and employment proof. However, nothing helped. What is the point of carrying them if I am made to feel like an outsider in my country?”

"They made me get out of my cab and produce all forms of identification cards," Lalramliami, who was one of the detainees, told The Quint. "I showed them my voter ID and Aadhaar card. But they didn't seem convinced. I had no idea why they stopped me.” The police also pointed out that she was dressed in black and asked her if she was a “protestor”, after which, despite her “no”, she was still taken to Saidapet police station and kept there till 8 PM.

The police additionally collected a written undertaking with the detainees’ permanent address, photocopies of identity proof and identification marks. Tluanga Colney, the general secretary of NE India Welfare Association in Chennai stated that he personally visited St Thomas Mount police station on Friday night to release up to 40 people, which included many women, lodged in different stations.

In the meantime, this heightened security has actually led to the detainment of around 14 Tibetan activists, who were released from the Central Prison in Puzhal early this week. However, the Northeastern people are pretty enraged about this mix-up. "It has been 72 years since our Independence. People from the Northeast have been part of the army, air force and even gone to war for this country,” Colney told The Quint. “And after all this, to be treated like a stranger is criminal. A deep sense of disappointment has seeped into the whole community.”

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xi jinping
Narendra Modi
Tamil Nadu
Tibetan protesters
Northeastern associations
Chennai Mizo Welfare Association