By Archit Gupta, National Law Institute University, Bhopal.
Our Constitution provides for equality before law and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth or any of them. Though these provisions are part of Fundamental Rights, it is said reality that a section of citizens have to face systematic discrimination in National Capital of the country.[i] This discrimination is widespread and can be seen in other part of the countries.
The citizens from north east region or seven states have to migrate in search of educational, professional and employment opportunities. Their culture and way of living is very different from those living in mainland. There is a perception about citizens from this region which has led to labeled being them of loose character by some vested elements in the society. But the recent attacks clearly show that how much hatred is there in our society. While it would not be improper to say that law and order is in shambles all across the country, the attacks on citizens from north east region have taken a racial form. They are easily identified because of their unique facial features.[ii]
Although the attacks on them have been increasing every year, especially in Delhi, it was the death of Nido Tania, which forced the government to setup a committee to introduce necessary measures to stop this menace. The 11 member Bezbaruah Committee submitted its report on July 11, 2014.[iii] It must be noted that after this particular incident a special cell was setup in Delhi to deal with crimes against citizens from north east region.
In the light of the recommendations of the committee, the Union Home Ministry has decided to increase the number of policemen from north eastern region in Delhi. Recently, it decided to appoint 20 police personal from each state.[iv]
The laws related to racial crimes are not codified as such. Any acts of discrimination or physical harm like murder, assault, hurt etc. has to be dealt with through the recourse of the criminal laws and the criminal justice system. In case, the victim is a member of the Scheduled Cast or the Scheduled Tribes, the crime can be also remedied by filing additional charges with the help of the provisions of the Schedules Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The condition is that the perpetrator has to be from the higher cast in the case of a SC and in the same way, a non-tribal in the case of a ST for the Act to be applicable. The Act seeks to remedy and wipe out the historical discrimination against the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes in different parts of India. It is also criticized for being more tilted towards remedying cast based discrimination rather than those based on tribe[v] Same happened in the case of Nido Tania, but it was later dropped after it was found that the victim didn’t belonged to ST community. This is another commonly held misconception that people from north east region belong to ST community.
One of major recommendations of the committee is to provide for stringent action against those people who indulge in verbal abuse it is quite common for the citizens from north east region to hear term such as chinki, momos, etc. Although this might sound like harmless fun, yet it is common form of harassment that they have to face in public places, schools, universities, etc. The Union Home Ministry has ordered to include such words within the ambit of the Schedules Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 through its order. That means anyone called a person “chinki” could get a maximum term of five years. However, this directive was criticized as being excessive.[vi]
The Committee has recommended a provision in Section 153 of IPC to provide for imprisonment up to five years with a fine to “whoever, by words either spoken or written or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise attempts or promote to attempt on the ground of race or place of origin or such other grounds relating to racial features or to racial behavior and culture or to racial customs or participates in such activity intending to use criminal force or violence…” The provision for imprisonment will be there even if any person is “likely to cause fear or alarm or a feeling of insecurity amongst the members of that racial group”.[vii]
“Whatever legislation is decided upon,” the report said should make such offence cognizable and non-bailable and the investigation of the FIR should be completed compulsorily in 60 days by a special squad, investigated by a police officer not below the rank of Deputy SP/ACP.[viii]
Most countries in the West, including the US and the UK, have anti-racism laws. Even Australia, where Indians, especially Sikhs, have been targeted recently, has a law against racism. Racial discrimination involves treating someone unfairly due to his or her race, hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features.[ix] India is also a signatory to ICERD (International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination). However, India made the reservation that in case of any appeal to the International Court of Justice for a decision regarding ICERD, the consent of each party in each individual case would be necessary.[x]
However it must be kept in mind that problems being faced by citizens from north eastern community are not their problem only. The hatred which is prevailing in our society can affect anyone. Take the above mentioned Nido Tania case for example. It was alleged that he beaten up for merely objecting to locals who were passing racial comments against him. The fact that no one bothered to interfere shows how deep is this malaise in our society. The ordinary jokes that we crack in our day to day life against certain community can have disastrous effect. In Bangalore, the widespread rumor of impending attacks against north eastern people triggered a mass exodus and embarrassed entire city. However it was heartening to see that fellow citizens holding placards at railway station appealing to the citizens from north eastern region to stay in the city.[xi] It shows that sanity is still remaining in our society.
But reality is that a certain section of our country’s citizenry still feels alienated from our society. The Committee has also proposed introduction of culture of north eastern region in the textbook at school levels. It has also recommended exchange programs between different states in order to encourage exchange of ideas. It would not be improper to say that without a change in mindset of our society, we cannot stop such forms of attacks.
[i] Delhi most racist city in India, reveals government report : North, News – India Today, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/delhi-most-racist-akha-salouni-death-northeast/1/373667.html (last visited Jan 5, 2015)
[ii] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/edit-page/Racism-our-dirty-secret/articleshow/30121070.cms (last visited Jan 5, 2015)
[iii] http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=106513 (last visited Jan 5, 2015)
[iv] Home Ministry acts on slew of measures, says Bezbaruah Committee report | Latest News & Updates at Daily News & Analysis, http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-home-ministry-acts-on-slew-of-measures-says-bezbaruah-committee-report-2048932 (last visited Jan 5, 2015)
[v] The Morung Express: Nagaland Latest & Breaking News, Northeast & India News – The tokenism of law and racial discrimination in India, http://www.morungexpress.com/public_discourse_public_space/110762.html (last visited Jan 5, 2015)
[vi] Call a Northeastern ‘Chinki’, be jailed for 5 yrs – The Times of India, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/people/Call-a-Northeastern-Chinki-be-jailed-for-5-yrs/articleshow/13848316.cms (last visited Jan 5, 2015)
[vii] Soon, you will go to jail if you call them ‘Chinki’, http://www.rediff.com/news/report/soon-you-will-go-to-jail-if-you-call-northeast-folks-chinki/20150102.htm (last visited Jan 5, 2015)
[viii] Panel suggests Centre to debate possibility of anti-racial law, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/panel-suggests-centre-to-debate-possibility-of-antiracial-law/article6422831.ece (last visited Jan 5, 2015)
[ix] The ugly face of race, http://www.telegraphindia.com/1140219/jsp/opinion/story_17965459.jsp#.VKpGXSvF_l8 (last visited Jan 5, 2015)
[x] UNTC, https://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-2&chapter=4&lang=en#EndDec (last visited Jan 5, 2015)
[xi] People from North-East flee Bangalore fearing racial attacks : NATION – India Today, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/people-from-north-east-flee-bangalore-racial-attacks/1/213611.html (last visited Jan 5, 2015)