Entering the Space

As one emerges out of the Green Park metro station gate, one finds itself into a host of autowalas ready to take you places. ‘Humayunpur’ was our very destination. Mounting the auto for the ride, I recalled the first time when I had visited Humayunpur a few years back to meet a friend from my home town of Guwahati. The auto rides through the

Safdarjung Enclave road, with the deer park on the left and finally comes to a halt near the NCC gate. A fading blue signboard of the Delhi Development Authority greets us ‘Welcome to Humayunpur’. Tucked away in a corner of the posh Safdarjung enclave, opposite to the Deer park, Humayunpur – an urban village in south central Delhi known as the melting point of different cultures and for housing the migrant communities from the eight northeastern states amongst others.

Humayunpur is centrally located in South Delhi. It is Surrounded by Arjun Nagar, Krishna Nagar, Mohammadpur and Safdarjung Enclave. Various places such as the Green Park metro Station, Hauz Khas and the Outer Ring Road are conveniently accessible, at a distance of around one kilometre. What also amazed me is the end number of entries that this urban village consists. All roads and alleys leading towards Humayunpur!

Picture 2. Rented apartments and tangled electric wires. P.C – Aditya Ranjan Pathak

Making sense of the Locality

Walking through the lane, one enters this strange and esoteric life world of Humayunpur. Dingy and narrow alleys, rows of multi coloured buildings sticking to each other, tangled web of electric wires hanging overhead, with two wheelers honking their way out through the maze. This urban village housing the largest migrant population from north-eastern India speaks immensely about the process of urbanisation riddled with migration and the making of a metropolitan city like Delhi. Crossing a small community park on the right, dotted with young boys and girls with fancy hair colours enjoying their evening adda (gathering for conversations), one can sense North-eastern language floating in air. The lane comes to a halt with three cafes facing us vehemently. The cafes are Bhansaghar, NCC and Cafe Garage. As one makes their way through a small alley passing through, there is a small temple on the left, a person from the jat community selling momos on the opposite, two steps down the lane one can find Yo-Tibet which is a Tibetan restaurant with its flashy exteriors and little ahead on the right is the famous Freedom Corner- one of the oldest Tibetan restaurants established around the early 2000sin Humayunpur serving Chinese, Thai and Tibetan cuisines. The inner lanes of Humayunpur are filled with end number of clothing stores displaying western outfits, mostly exported from China, Thailand and Nepal, a few tattoo parlours and hair salons, a famous Korean DVD shop exhibiting East Asian music, movies and television serials. One can not notice the numerous cafes and restaurants serving interesting culinaries from the northeast dotting the ‘gallis’ of Humayunpur. The haphazard alleys lit up with yellow, red and blue lights emanating from the nearby shops, the mix of Korean and North-eastern music in the background blended along with the aroma of various cuisines from the north-eastern state of Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal, Mizoram, Manipur, Sikkim etc. makes us think about the many dimensions of multiculturalism, urbanization and migration. The aura  of  which is exquisitely found in the village of Humayunpur.

On entering Humayunpur from the NCC gate side. These cafes and restaurants greets us. P.C – Aditya Ranjan Pathak)

Origins and Transformations


A walk through Humayunpur is like taking a stroll through several civilizational layers at once. Hence the history of Humayunpur too, is therefore layered and thats what makes it utterly significant and undoubtedly interesting. The history of this place can only be understood if one doesn’t surreptitiously jump to the contemporary ramblings and instead

start from the beginning- from where it all started. This will give us a better sense of the origins of the place and its gradual transformations over time.

According to local narratives, which takes the shape of histories and is permeated from one generation to the other, Humayunpur once upon a time began as a Mohammaden settlement during the medieval period. Recent archaeological researches from the area have led to the unearthing of tombs belonging to the medieval times, precisely, that of late-Tughlaq or early-Lodi period. Around the 17th century this village was taken over by various Jat clans, such as the Tokas, the Phogats, the Mahalwals and the Singhs. The interesting point in the occupation of Humayunpur by all these clans is how each of them sought to claim this particular village called Humayunpur by asserting to have discovered it. Be it Roopa Ram and Ratiya Singh Tokas, descendants of Ruddh Singh Tokas in the year 1675 or Ch. Devi Singh Phogat in the year 1683, as indicated by the Bhat records of the Phogat clan, their intent was to seek claim over this region.

It was around the 1960s under the then Prime Minister of the country, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, the Delhi Lease and Finance, later known as the DLF Limited, purchased the surrounding farmlands of Humayunpur to construct what later came to be known as Safdarjung enclave residential area. The spatial history of Humayunpur can’t isolate the history of Safdarjung Enclave which lies adjacent to it. The history of both these spaces are obtrusively interlinked. This enclave emerged as one of the very first colonies to be built post-partition which did not include land grants for refugees and victims of 1947 partition. This is in parallel with the process of urbanisation of Delhi, as a city. Urbanisations mean the transformation of rural areas into urban with the help of rapid

industrialisation and this process of urbanisation in Delhi can be clubbed under- planned

development, spatial expansion and structural changes, growth of urban population to name a few. The idea was to prepare a Master Plan for the development of Delhi and its environs, and the large scale acquisitions that followed transforming villages not just physically and socio-economically but also culturally. According to the Delhi Gazetteer of 1987 Humayunpur Village earlier called also called Hanumanpur at some point, was one of those villages that underwent urbanisation around 1951-1961. Though, some research do suggest that that the village was a sleepy hamlet till 1980s, distinguishing it from the many urban villages in Delhi which entered an intense period of industrialization and commercialization. It was inspite of the sparse urbanization, Humayunpur remained an ideal village that still maintained its traditional residential character. The houses during the time were surrounded by trees, had courtyards, community wells and arched entrances.

As with any other space across Delhi, the physical and social anatomy of Humayunpur has gone through alterations over time. A settlement which started with the sizeable number of Muslim populations gave way to the Jat clans and then later in 1990s the waves of migrant inflow- which can be divided into two strands. While the first wave emerged from somewhat neighbouring states along the likes of Delhi for instance – Bihar, Nepal, Haryana and U.P. The second wave comprised of people from the various north- eastern states of Assam such as Assam, Mizoram, Arunachal, Nagaland, Manipur and the rest. It was to accommodate these migrants who started residing in Humayunpur that one or two storeys began to be added to the earlier existing traditional houses. It is the process of urbanization followed by migration and co-habitation that has transformed

Humayunpur to what it is today.

Migration and Current Histories


Naguib Mahfouz, the great Egyptian writer who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1988 said-‘Home is not where you are born; home is where all your attempts to escape cease’. This quote perfectly describes the feeling of people from the Northeast who have migrated to Delhi and have stayed in Humayunpur. Dicky Bhutia, an Alumni of Lady Sri Ram College of Delhi University. Presently the owner of a prominent restaurant called Lha Kitchen in Humayunpur talks about her journey to Delhi as a student seeking better opportunity and finally starting her own business and experiences of residing in the urban village of Humayunpur. Miss Bhutia believes the place is really convenient and comfortable, especially for people migrating from the Northeast. It is the sense of safety and inclusiveness that this urban village provides. My detailed interview with Miss Bhutia later in this piece will help us understand Humayunpur better from her lenses.

Abhijit Phukan from Assam, an alumni of the university of Delhi, who completed his graduation in Political Science in the national capital has been residing in Humayunpur for around two years says- ‘Humayunpur is a convenient place to stay for students like us. Humayunpur feels not just homely but also very comfortable. Most of my friends are here too. I have got used to this place now’.

Humayunpur, an area with around 400 local jat households still remains to be one of the largest locality of the northeastern migrant population. An area with the largest Northeastern population as compared to similar localities such Amar Colony in Lajpat Nagar, Mukherjee Nagar and Munirka in Delhi.

Migration, and particularly migration post-1990s has played a significant role in the formation and structuring of Humayunpur as a multicultural space today. The inflow of population from the North-eastern states around the time is particularly because of the process of liberalisation. Delhi as a metropolitan city and as the National Capital has always attracted people from all over the country for its academic institutions, its job pursuits and exposure into a multicultural space and meet new people. It is for these reasons; it became a hub for people all over the country to fulfil their dreams of a better life. It is the urban village of Humayunpur which started accommodating people most of them being from the northeast, in search of better avenues and life. The inflow of migration began with the rise of job opportunities, be it in fashion, service sectors and the rest. During the early 2000s, the call centre booming which added into the reason for more and more people getting attracted to the national capital. All of this became an incentive for the rise of the migrant inflow towards Humayunpur. Duncan Mac-Duie Ra, a researcher from the University of New South Wales, in his book ‘The Northeast Migrants in Delhi : Race, Refuge and Retail’ states that the two main reasons for the migration from Northeastern part of India to Delhi is because of unemployment and the demand of labour from the northeast which needs to be understood in the context of  Delhi transforming into a ‘Global City’ through Neo-liberal capitalism and consumer business. The second reason is Delhi being the best destination of higher and tertiary education. This particularly has been a primary historical reason for migration from the Northeastern part of India. Therefore, one can’t help but notice how the the idea of capital interlinked with better livelihood became major factor for this upsurge in the number of

people migrating from Northeast. Moreover, it is the demography of both the regions that

emerge as important reasons for the same, the lack of many resources and exposure in the northeast in contrary to that of the Delhi regions is what attract the large influx of students from the former to the latter.

Humayunpur since the 1990s, has become a safe space of inhabitation for people migrating from different parts of the country’s northeastern region. It provided people a cheap housing along with a prime location, that of south-central delhi, closer to colleges, schools, shopping malls and other places of work. It remains interesting how the local jat population such as the Phogats, the Tokas, the Mahalwals and the Singhs who owned houses and lands in Humayunpur have either constructed flats, or have added floors to their easier traditional houses and leased it out on rents. Therefore the rise in the flow of migrants to Humayunpur has also led to the boom in the rent economy, bringing immense wealth and money in the hands of these landlords. This area which over time transformed into a migrant space is also a lal dora. Now what is a lal dora? The history of lal dora goes back to the British period in 1908. It was basically a red line carved out on maps delineating the village population from the nearby agricultural land for revenue records. One can build houses and construct establishments without strict norms and permissions. A lal dora is exempted from building by-laws, strict construction norms and regulations as regulated under the Delhi Municipal Act. While this term applies to both rural and urban villages, in our case here, we are especially referring to Humayunpur which is precisely an urban village. These strands of jat population are therefore striving on the northeastern population for their income. One can still see many houses with name plates of Phogats and Tokas. Both these communities, the Jats and the Northeastern’s sustain on

each other for their living which is indeed very evident. One can see how the space has transformed and revolutionised with the presence of the northeastern population. It has led to the growth of a local economy with various restaurants, cafes, grocery stores, street shops, property dealers and travel agencies. All of which dots the narrow streets of Humayunpur.

This urban village has over time been familiarised by the migrant population residing in the locality. In a metropolitan city like Delhi which has the potential to not only alienate but also isolate people and especially the ones coming from far away regions with their unique life style, culture and social norms. Humayunpur has become a home way from home. It has been imagined and re-imagined, claimed and re-claimed, territorialised and re-territorialised since time immemorial, not just by one community but many. More recently it has been the northeastern inhabitants.

Picture 4. Categorically Eat- Pham, a Manipuri restaurant. P.C – Aditya Ranjan Pathak

The migrant population that resides in the area has not only altered the economic tones of the space but brought forth an interesting transformation in the socio-cultural milieu. Since 1990s, with the flow of the northeastern people the area was gradually seen opening up many eateries serving authentic culinaries from the northeast.

Freedoms Corner remains to be one of the oldest eatery serving delicious indigenous food. Hornbill Restaurant and Cafe serving naga cuisine, Lha’s kitchen specialising in Nepalese and Bhutanese culinary, Yo-tibet with its illustrious decor, Categorically Eat- Pham as the name suggest, is a hub of Manipuri delicacies, Mizo Dinner provides traditional Mizo food, Kori’s Cafe and Restro specialises on Korean dishes and Mohinga, an eating joint serving food from Myanmar.

Picture 5. Mohinga, P.C- Aditya Ranjan Pathak
Picture 6 . Kori’s Cafe cum Restaurant , P.C – Aditya Ranjan Pathak
Picture 7 . Yo-Tibet Cafe and Restaurant , P.C – Aditya Ranjan Pathak
Picture 8 . Urbanatic, fashion wear store, P.C – Aditya Ranjan Pathak

The market is scattered with numerable fascinating fashions stores exhibiting range of products from Thailand, Bangkok, Nepal and obviously Northeast. From footwear and bags to voguish clothes. It is literally a hub over anything and everything cool and funky. Runaway N.E, Exquisite, Selective collections, Urbanatic, Urbanatic Men’s wear, Vintage Violet, Wardrobe collections , Seasons, Hing and Hing are a few prominent ones that deserves attention.

In the recent times, a range of beauty and tattoo parlours have unfurled in the urban village of Humayunpur. There are DVD shops playing end number of Korean songs and music from the rock and roll era of the 80s and 90s which can be overheard as one passes by.

What is also remarkable about this locality is its walls. They are adorned with tons of what is called graffiti art. The walls have become a space of cultural expressions of the migrant population. On there other hand they have also creatively built a dialogue, a form of social-cultural engagement with the local jat population of the area.

Picture 9. Selective Collections, Fashion store , P.C – Aditya Ranjan Pathak
Picture 10, Seasons, Wardrobe Collection and Hing and Hing, P.C – Aditya Ranjan Pathak

The urban village has some unique grocery shops storing ingredients to cook Northeastern, Tibetan, Chinese and Korean culinary. Tenzin Jampa Store, Khikhi Store and Northeast Fresh are one of those sorts. The famous Asha Tangkhul Store is a prominent store for the northeastern culinary necessity.

Picture 11. Asha Tangkhul Store , P.C – Aditya Ranjan Pathak
Picture 12. Northeast Fresh , P.C – Aditya Ranjan Pathak)
Picture 13. Rebel Ink Tattoo Parlour, P.C – Aditya Ranjan Pathak
Picture 14. Rebel Graffiti Art on the walls of Humayunpur , P.C – Aditya Ranjan Pathak