AN EXORDIUM TO RACIAL DISCOURSE IN NORTH EAST INDIA
Updated: Aug 19, 2020
BY-SHIREEN SULTANA (HERITAGE LAW COLLEGE)
The question of India’s North-East identity and solidarity has been a substance of debate among scholars, academicians, and others. Apologia believes in the existence of a collective North-East identity whereas, against the Apologia stands the critique who brushes aside the North-East collectivity and has always questioned the clubbing together of the region as one. The article highlights all the racial discrimination that the North-Easterners have been facing since ages, the injustice they face, contrasting view of understanding India’s North East, and take the issue further by proposing to call these contending paradigms as the ‘apologists’ and the ‘sceptics’. We further argue that the collectivity of the North-East region should remain and the slur racial discrimination should stop.
Keywords: North-East India; sceptics; apologists; identity; solidarity; discrimination; racism; media; India
India is a land which is based on the theme of “Unity in Diversity” where the individual or social differences in physical attributes, skin colour, castes, creed, cultural and religious practices, etc. are not looked upon as a conflict. Rather, these differences are looked upon as varieties that enrich and add glory to the society and the nation as a whole. North East India includes seven contiguous states Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura. Collectively they are also called, Seven Sister States of India. These states are one of the most treasured and Eco-Friendly areas in India with vast natural resources and a cauldron of different people and cultures.
Article 14 of the Constitution of India says, equality before the law or equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. Besides having provisions citing Equality for all, Racism and Discrimination are deeply rooted in India for the North Eastern People. A reality that needs to be unfolded and that is the North-Eastern People face discrimination every day by the citizens of their own country from where they belong themselves. Race can be defined as the attributes, traits, and features which differentiate one group from the other existing social groups. It is inherited biologically and serves as Self-Identification. A person is being racist when an individual is showing emotions of hatred, prejudice, intolerance against the other person only due to his place of origin, language, appearance, or any other attribute that the person has gained biologically. In our country racism has been practiced so frequently against the North-Eastern people where they are humiliated and ridiculed daily, comparing them and calling them, “Chinese”, “Chikini” and other derogatory remarks.
The hatred has been endowed on them only because of their facial features. They are often asked if they eat snakes, dogs, frogs because the Chinese eat it as a part of their food. Many North Eastern Women face sexual derogatory remarks where they are asked if they are the Masseuse from Thailand and would conform to any sexual favours in exchange for money. These are the sole reasons why North Eastern People feel differentiated and isolated from the rest of the citizens of the country. People do not call a Bengali, a Bangladeshi or a Malyali, a Sinhalese, but it is so easy to call an Assamese, a Chinese. This is pure irony. The most tragic case of North East India was the murder of a 20-year-old boy, Nido Tania who was from Arunachal Pradesh. In the year of 2014, on January 30th Nido Tania died due to severe lung injuries he had been inflicted upon as a result of brutality and ruthlessly beating by the shopkeepers in the market of New Delhi. Nido Tania had dyed his hair and he got into an argument where the shopkeepers were constantly taunting him for his facial features, appearance, and his hair. The police had accused Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, however, CBI dropped the charges and framed charges under the SC/ST Atrocities Act,1989. Later the court dropped the charges of the SC/ST act saying that there was no definite motive of “racial slur”. This incident deeply moved the North-Eastern people and they were seen agitated where they demanded equal respect, dignity, and recognition. This is just not the only incident but there are cases like the mysterious death of Loitam Richard In Bangalore, the murder of Ramchanphy Hongray in New Delhi, the suicide of Dana Sangma, and other such incidents that serve as reminders of the racism inflicted upon the North Eastern People.
Across the world with the growing fear of COVID-19, the North East people are just not scared of being infected with the disease but they are more cautious of now being teased by the name of the virus since the virus has its origin in China. The teasing has fuelled up against them in a way where they are instances that they are called “Corona” publically. Indian TV star and host Meiyang Chang himself admitted of facing one. In Bangalore, there was news of landlords asking the North East People to vacate their homes and an auto-rickshaw driver spitting tobacco on one of the North-Eastern woman’s face. The abuse here is just not physical but also mentally harasses them and makes them feel that they do not belong to their own country since they are treated differently and ruthlessly.
It is quite pertinent to see and understand that even the police try to take the matter lightly and suppress them. The North-Eastern people are subjected to institutionalized racism where their concerns are not even heard by the superior authorities. One such case was of Nido Tania where CBI took down the charges of murder and rather applied the SC/ST Atrocities Act,1989.
The Bezbaruah Committee also had recommended that a North-East Special Police Unit should be created so that a police officer can register complaints give directions to other police stations. The committee also recommended appointing special lawyers and public prosecutors for legal counseling for North East crime victims. It also recommended that there should be such legislation that should include provisions like the offence should be non-bailable, investigation of the FIR should be completed compulsorily within 60 days by a special cell and trial should be completed within 90 days. New Delhi has a separate Special Police Unit for the North-Eastern region (SPUNER).
NORTH-EAST IDENTITY AND SOLIDARITY – THE SCEPTICS AND APOLOGISTS STAND
The question of North-East collectivity or the issue of one North-East entity has been analyzed and even stroked aside by the sceptics. The striking stand of the sceptics is that the North-Eastern states are not just one entity, and nothing is resembling pan North-East identity and solidarity. The fundamental argument lies that the North-Eastern region is based on the diversity which does not qualify to be collectively put together. They also argue that the diversity of the North-East and the depth of the division within the North-Eastern region of India cannot be generalized. If they would be doing so it would be a gross injustice to the people as it frequently resulted in the generalized treatment of the social reality of the region.
To the sceptics, the North-Eastern region has illusively presided as a homogeneous entity dominated by a specific race, the Mongoloid race. The validity of the sceptics arguments can also be seen on the issue of existing inter-state border disputes among the states of the region. For instance, In August 2014, Assam and Nagaland witnessed a violent border dispute which resulted in the death of 17 people and over 200 houses being destroyed. The Assam-Nagaland border dispute has its roots in the colonial period. But a solution to this long-standing disputes over land lies not in the constitutional borders or of any historical claims to ‘Ancestral Land’ but in mutual give and take. There are twelve disputed areas along the inter-state border of Assam and Meghalaya and there have been several occasions where it was seen that both states tried to find a permanent solution to their border crisis, but it ended with no results.
On the contrary, the apologia believes in the existence of North-East entities. To them, the intensity of collective feeling and solidarity among the people of the North-East may seem volatile but the apologists believe the North-East entity as a reality that everyone has to accept. The concrete base of their argument is based on the existence of North-East as a concept and as a valid term used at all levels of discourse. They firmly believe that the North-Easterners are very much visible among the people of the rein, which no authority can deny. Their stand is strengthened and accomplished by the Indian state itself. They also believe that the Indian state is among the foremost advocators and supporters of one North-East entity.
However, the ethno-nationalist of the North-East believe that their political aspiration could still be archived within the federal political establishment of India. The continuous peace talks between the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland and the signing of the Suspension of Operation agreement by certain armed militant groups of the region between the central and the state government also instils hope in the people. In such a scenario, the claims for a collective North-East has been perceived by ethno-nationalist as an attempt to alleviate their fundamental objectives of ‘Autonomy or Homeland’ demand. It would be in the interest of the Indian state always to be sensitive to the genuine political aspirations of the people of the North-East.
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST NORTH-EAST WOMEN IN INDIA
In India, the need for an equitable society has been for decades which has generated many scholars, legal institutions, yet the dream of an ideal equal society is far from the reach and seems like its delusional and impossible in a society that is characterized by inequality. The mindset of the people serves as the basis for all such discrimination. Women have always been treated as an object of gratification, a possession, a property incapable of any reason, and any base. We have all contributed to the sex stereotyping of roles assigned to the women, be it biologically or in a sociological sense. These stigmas are very deeply rooted in our society.
A gang rape case of a Mizoram girl in New Delhi left entire India in shock. This is not the first or the last incident that has occurred but there are several incidents like these that the North Eastern Women have been facing. The bitter truth was never realized. North Eastern Women are the prime example of an ethnic minority who inspite of being in a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society are the victims of marginalization, harassment, and alienation.
Research conducted by North East Support Centre And Helpline (NESCH) states that seventy-eight out of every hundred North East People have faced racial discrimination, sexual attacks against women, human trafficking, and violence in India.
THE ROLE OF EVENTS, PROTESTS, AND MEDIA
The anger, passion, aggression, and sentiments of the North Eastern people ignite the protests throughout India. Depending on the issues and the responses of the people, the intensity of the protests influences the mass. North East entity believes that the instances of events and protests have left an indelible imprint of collective feelings in the minds of its people and in the eyes of the outside observers. They believe that their stand has been justified, for instance, by the huge display of solidarity and massive street demonstration. First and Foremost, the sense of minority, vulnerability, and feeling of discrimination and alienation is intensified by their encounters with state and local agencies like the police and in the workplace where they have suffered harassment and maltreatment. After facing such misfortunes by men and women of the North-East bought them collectively together for mass protests against ‘racial attacks’.
Much uproar and anguish were felt after the murder of Loitam Richard who was allegedly killed in Bangalore,2012 in his hostel room. Social Media worked as a networking ground and a medium for justice campaigning and protests. After the case of Nido Tania, the accumulated anger of the North-Easterners towards the unresponsive Indian state government and the lukewarm response from the Delhi Police became the subject of various protests, mass gatherings which further developed its sole agenda to ‘Fight against Racism’. On the role of media, the apologists believe that even though after filing numerous petitions, the media has helped the North-Easterners to accomplish their agenda countrywide. The Indian media aired the cases and subsequently kept emphasizing racism after the Nido Tania case which forced both the Government and the police to address their grievances promptly.
ANTI DISCRIMINATION AND EQUALITY BILL,2016(2020)
This bill was introduced in March in the Lok Sabha by Member of Parliament, Sashi Tharoor, which signifies that there will be no discrimination against the people of the weaker section of the society on the grounds of caste, creed religion, sex, colour, place of origin, etc. The bill also guarantees protection to the weaker sections like scheduled caste and scheduled tribes, who are always exposed to violence for no reason. It also provides measures for reprisals, indemnity, and provisions for compensation to the victim.
THE PREVENTION OF ATROCITIES ACT (SCHEDULED CASTE AND SCHEDULED TRIBES) 1989
This law was passed on September 9th,1989. This law protects the SC and the ST’s from discrimination and exploitation. It also protects the weaker sections of the society from abuse, violence, brutality, and discrimination. It lists twenty-two offences which would come under discrimination like denial of access to drinking water, safe hygienic conditions, edible food, access to education, hospitals, entry into temples, etc. Section 14 of the act provides for the speedy trials in the court so that the victims get speedy justice and recoveries. However, this act has an argument produced that not all North Eastern people fall under the category of Scheduled caste and Scheduled Tribes and therefore they fall outside the purview of SC/ST Act 1989. If we look at the statistics of the North-Eastern Region, as per the government, we find the proportion of SC and ST in Sikkim is 4.6% and 33.8%; for Assam, it is 7.5% and 12.4%, for Manipur, it is 3.8% and 35.1%. It is also observed that while there are many laws, there is no one precise law that covers the type of incidents that the victims of North-East face. According to the Bezbaruah Committee, special amendments should be made to the Indian Penal Code such as Section 153-C (Use of criminal force against people of any particular racial origin) and Section 509-A (Word, Gesture or Act intended to insult a member of a particular racial group or any race). There are also many Anti-Racial Laws that should be debated upon in the upcoming years.
CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS IDENTIFIED UNDER THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA (2020)
Article 14 says, that no person should be deprived of equality within the territory of India.
Article 15(1) says, that there should be no discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth
Article 15(3) guarantees, to make special provisions for children and women.
Article 16 ensures, the citizens equal opportunities for employment to both men and women.
Article 17 abolishes, the practice of “untouchability” and any person who touches untouchability shall be punishable under the law.
Article 21 protects, the citizens from deprivation of life and personal liberty.
Articles 46 ensures, the protection of the weaker sections of the people the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and promotes provisions with special care to meet their economic and educational interests.
Article 51 (A)(e) signifies, the duty every citizen to the feeling of harmony and brotherhood among all citizens of India and abandon the practices which are derogatory to the dignity of women. Article 243D(3) says, that one-third (including the number of seats reserved for the women of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe) of the total number of seats has to be reserved for women in Panchayat.
Article 243T(3) says, that one-third (including the number of seats reserved for the women of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe) of the total number of seats in every municipality has to be reserved for women.
Article 243T(4) provides, for the reservation of offices of chairpersons in the municipalities for the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and women as per the manner provided in the state.
India is a signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) which calls for states to prevent and combat racist practices to build an international community free from racial discrimination.
The Supreme Court of India has issued guidelines to curb against the discrimination faced by the North East People regularly. It involves setting up a committee that is going to monitor the initiatives taken by the government to deal with the incidents of racial slur, violence, and ensure strict actions against all complaints filed. All complaints should then be forwarded to the National Human Rights Commission or the jurisdictional police station.
In Court on its Own Motion V. Union of India, W.P.(C) 817/2014, the court had taken a view that such disturbing acts threaten the integrity of the country and violate Article 19(1)(d)and(e) of the Constitution of India as it restricts the right of North Eastern to freely move throughout India and to reside in any part. It also violates Article 301 of the Constitution as natives of one State are harassed and prevented from settling and carrying business in any other state.
In Karma Dorjee & Ors V. Union of India, W.P.(C) 111/2014, the court had directed the Government of Delhi to constitute a special investigation team to investigate into atrocities committed in such instances. Such acts of discrimination violate the fundamental duty under Article 51(A) which is to promote harmony and spirit of common brotherhood amongst all people of India transcending religious, linguistic or regional diversities, to repudiate practices derogatory to the dignity of women. The said committee should monitor all incidents of racial discrimination involving citizens from the North-East and also other issues related to law enforcement. The working committee should be widely publicized in media, including in North-eastern states and the committee should be accessible to grievances, suggestions, and complaints.
In Madan Chettri V. State of Sikkim, CriLJ 3149/2002, the learned court observed that in common parlance ‘hath path’ means a sexual assault on a woman and that the appellant committed rape on Sashikala Basnett in 1998 when she was aged less than 16 years. The appellant was convicted by the learned Sessions Judges, under 376 of the Indian Penal Code for having committed rape on Sashikala Basnett and was sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for seven years with a fine of rupees three thousand and in default of payment of fine to undergo further imprisonment for six months.
In Peoples Union for Human Rights V. Union of India and Ors, AIR1992, The President of India on November 27, 1990, promulgated the Central Rule in the State of Assam. This is the fourth time that such a rule was promulgated under the Constitution. Along with the Central Rule, the Central Government under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 declared the entire the entire State of Assam a disturbed area as it was in a dangerous condition, therefore armed forces were deployed for maintenance and law and order. Ten days later on December 7, 1990, the Government of Assam declared the state as a disturbed area under the Assam Disturbed Areas Act, 1955. The proclamation of the Central Rule and the two notifications under the two enactments were assailed in four writ petitions.
The very injustice of such Cultural Domination and Prejudice is the identity crisis that North-Eastern people face. They are faced with the dilemma of either identifying themselves, interpreting their social life in the light of experience, attitude, and behavior of the dominant groups to be accepted as belonging to the ‘other’ or inferior groups and thus being subjected to gross human rights violations.
Silence is no longer an option and Education is the cure of all. It cures all forms of biasness, prejudice, and intolerance towards a particular community. The courts of our country have well acknowledged the hate crimes against the North East people but there should be more amendments in the Indian Penal Code and stricter laws should be established and enforced. India being such a diverse and complex nation will have differences among people in their appearance, language, origin, skin colour but these differences should not serve as a ground for any discrimination. Its high time we put a permanent full stop to all the derogatory comments and racial slurs. The Seven Sister States have always contributed to the beauty of our country, now, making it our responsibility to show the same love and respect towards the North-Easterners.
Though the sceptics and the apologists have their perception and understanding of the region, the fact is that the image and identity of North-East India are wholly defined by the two perspectives, but the North-East will remain a vague concept if not suffixed or prefixed by ‘India’. Without India, there can be no North-East and without the North-East identity, there can be no India. Given the understanding of diversity in human nature, differences in thoughts, appearance, and perception are bound to exist. Yet, differences should not be considered as a source of conflict but strength and vitality. After all, United we Stand, Divided we Fall.
The need of the hour is to recognize that such discrimination is the problem without any reason and responsibility. In India, for any problem to be tackled, the problem needs to be addressed first.
Recognizing the identity of North Eastern women and providing them with equal opportunities to achieve what all the societies of the world have been aiming for, acceleration of de facto equality.
Setting up of National Fastrack Crime Commission Against North-Easterners so that the victims can register their complaints and get access to justice fast.
Settling the disputes between the state boundaries of Assam and Nagaland peacefully so that human lives do not get affected.
Constitution of India
Indian Penal Code,1860
Code of Criminal Procedure,1973
Indian Evidence Act, 1872
The Prevention of Atrocities Act (Scheduled Caste And Scheduled Tribes)1989
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Team TIMESOFINDIA.COM, Stop calling us 'coronavirus': Video of northeast students goes viral, THE TIMES OF INDIA, March 18,2020
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K.R. Dikshit & Jutta K. Dikshit, North-East India: Land, People and Economy 285 (2014)
Ramananda Mayanglambam, Special Police Unit for North Eastern Region (SPUNER) in Delhi
Date : 18th January 2020 at University Of Delhi, June 29, 2020. http://e-pao.net/epSubPageExtractor.aspsrc=announcements.Ann_2020.Special_Police_Unit_for_North_Eastern_Region_SPUNER_in_Delhi_20200121
Kangkan Kalita, Assam-Meghalaya border tense over Langpih dispute, THE TIMES OF INDIA, March 1, 2020.
Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, Shunned, raped Mizo girl quits Delhi - Taunted by friends, BPO worker goes home, The Telegraph online, Nov 1, 2011
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Court On Its Own Motion v. Union Of India & Ors, W.P.(C) 817/2014, (Delhi HC: 2014)
Karma Dorjee & Ors V. Union of India, W.P.(C) 111/2014, (SC: 2016)
Madan Chettri V. State of Sikkim, CriLJ 3149/2002, (Sikkim HC: 2001)
Peoples Union for Human Rights V. Union of India and Ors, AIR1992,(Gauhati HC: 1991)
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