It was close to 12.30 pm on October 11, and 28-year-old Lalramliami was cruising through the familiar roads of Chennai to a friend's residence. The Mizoram native had done her diploma in nursing in the city and had flown in from Bengaluru to collect her certificates. The day was going pretty smoothly, she tells TNM, until city police stopped her near Saidapet.
"They made me get out of my cab and produce all forms of identification cards," she says. "I showed them my voter id and Aadhaar card. But they didn't seems convinced. I had no idea why they stopped me," she adds.
The police allegedly pointed out that Lalramliami was in black clothing and asked if she was a 'protester'.
"I was confused and I immediately said no," she explains. "But I was made to go to the Saidapet police station and sit there till 8 pm," she adds.
And Lalramliami was not the only person to be put through this grueling experience. Across Chennai, at least 40 men and women, who are from North East India, were allegedly made to spend the day in three police stations - St Thomas Mount, Saidapet and Koyambedu. This after police allegedly mistook them to be Tibetan protesters involved in a 'Free Tibet' agitation, looking to hold demonstrations against the Chinese President Xi Jinping who was in Tamil Nadu for an informal meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 11 and 12.
26-year-old Michael (name changed), who works at a mall in Chennai, was also among those who spent the day at the Saidapet station.
"I can't believe how they treated us," he tells TNM. "Why should they detain me after I showed them my Aadhaar card to prove that I am from the North East and am an Indian? When we got to the station they demanded that my store manager come sign a guarantee form for me if I wanted to leave. How can I ask my employer for something like that? Who will take care of the store?" he asks.
Michael says he lost his day's salary due to the police action and only left the station at 8 pm when members of the Chennai-based North East India Welfare Association intervened.
Lalramliami meanwhile was allegedly forced to call her friends to the station and have them write a document guaranteeing that she will not get involved in any protests.
Speaking to TNM, Tluanga Colney, General Secretary of North East India Welfare Association, says, "It has been 72 years since our independence. People from the North East have been part of the army, air force and even gone to war for this country. And after all this, to be treated like a stranger is criminal. A deep sense of disappointment has seeped into the whole community."
Colney points out that the entire episode exposes the need to sensitise people and authorities about the diversity of the country.
Noting that they may have different features, Colney says, "But that doesn't erase our identity as Indian. Why should be treated like outsiders in our country?
Activists and college students in Chennai too were allegedly subjected to police high-handedness during the Chinese President's visit. 23 Tibetan-origin students from the Madras Christian College (MCC) and seven from the University of Madras were placed under ‘house arrest’ on campus.
Earlier last week, the Chennai police had arrested Tenzin Tsundue, a Tibetan activist and writer, as well as nine other activists. Tenzin was picked up from Villupuram district, while the others were held after reaching Chennai from New Delhi. The police had alleged that the Tibetans had planned a protest during Xi Jinping’s visit to Mahabalipuram, calling for the independence of Tibet, a tense region under the Chinese state.