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This article is written by Adya Garg, a student of NUJS, Kolkata.

India is the country that has always been identified through its motto of ‘unity in diversity’. However, at the same time, one can clearly see it as being divided amongst two countries in itself, due to the exclusion faced by the North-Eastern Communities in their own country. While the same is not confined to any particular city, and finds practice in many cities[1], the same has been the most apparent in the capital city of India, Delhi,[2] supposedly, one of the most inclusive and accommodating metropolitans of India. Surveys have revealed that North East communities deem the Capital as the most unsafe place in terms of ethnic discrimination.[3] Sociological as well as legal factors have been blamed for the practice of such discrimination in the country. While some demand a change in the attitude and mind-set of the citizens of the nation, others deem legal recourses as an effective option of curbing the discrimination.

This national level debate gained momentum in the year 2014, which witnessed multiple cases of atrocities against the North-East students residing in Delhi. The most prominent of them was the death of Nido Tania, a college student, due to an alleged racial attack.[4] This particular incident led other such incidents to also being highlighted. Similar controversies included a case of molestation of a Naga student.[5] Not only was she sexually assaulted in Delhi Metro, her supporters were threatened and beaten by the other professional colleagues of the offender.[6] Another was the brutal murder of Souloni Akha from Manipur.[7] Apart from these, the Priyanka Chopra starrer, Mary Kom, also found itself amidst criticism for casting a person with no mongoloid features as the female protagonist.[8] The argument raised was that this barred the display of racial discrimination faced by MC Mary Kom due to her mongoloid features, on the big screen.[9]  Even early years had faced practice of such discrimination such as the case in 2009, in which Ramchanphy Hongray from Ukhrul, was raped and murdered by her co-tenant.[10] Racial motives were attributed to the crime.

On examination of the cases of various kinds of atrocities inflicted upon the North Easterners, it can be reasonable concluded, that the discrimination faced by them is mostly racial in nature.  While their names are made fun of, for sounding different, it is their mongoloid features that attract most of the racial remarks. Often this also leads to North Eastern people being treated like foreigners in their own country. An apt example being the auto rides offered to these people till ‘Majnu ka Tila’, a Tibetan refugee colony.[11] Their upbringing also usually being culturally and socially different from the rest of the country faces the brunt of such atrocities. Often their progressive thinking is looked down upon as a lack of morals. Hence, North Eastern girls find themselves being tagged as ‘loose’ and ‘easy’, even to the extent of being stereotyped as ‘sexually available’.[12] This perhaps forms one of the foundation reasons of increasing gender crimes against females from North East. Even the Nido Tania case started from racial slurs being made at his blonde hair and red jeans. Job security has also been an issue with these people, often being terminated prejudicially. Due to economic reasons, these people mostly reside in rented homes in so called ‘urban villages’. The people in these localities have conservative roots and often deem North Easterners as a threat to the morality.

Not only at the personal level, but people from these communities are also often left victims of institutional racism. This racist prejudice is experienced while seeking legal recourse against the racism faced when police take such cases lightly or pressurize the victims to withdraw the case.[13] The police have often been found to delay the recording of the First Information Report and the subsequent investigations. So much so, that report of an assault against a Singaporean woman was delayed on the grounds of the similarity of the facial features with those of the North Easterners.[14] Police was highly criticized for being negligent in the Nido Tania case. After the altercation, Tania was dropped off by the police in the same locality where it took place, leading to easy track down of Tania by the offenders.[15] Such lackadaisical and discriminative attitude of the Police can be said to be the reason of only 4% of the North Eastern victims reporting their crimes to the police in Delhi.[16]

In the legal view, such acts have also been criticized the most for violating the fundamental rights as laid down in the constitution. The articles that have been invoked include Article 14, Article 15 and Article 16. While Article 14 confers the Right to Equality in the eyes of law, Article 15 bars discrimination on the grounds of race among others and Article 16 confers equality in terms of public employment. However, the loophole lies in the fact that these rights can only be invoked against the ‘State’ and not against any personal discrimination or violence.

With the murder of Tania, a furor was created in the city and legal proceedings were initiated in the High Court understanding the need for addressing the problem with a legal point of view and find legal remedies for the same. Advocate Upendra Hazarika represented two NGO’s on behalf of the North East communities. In its judgments dated 12 February 2014, the Delhi HC called for a legislation barring citizens of one state from harassing immigrants from other states of India. Other problems pointed out included the primary difficulties in handling of such cases by the Delhi Police. This was considered as being due to the language barrier between the Delhi Police and the North Easterners. It was noted that out of 90,000 personnel, less than fifty hailed from these regions. Recruitment of more police force comprising of North Easterners was pointed out as a mandatory step that ought to be taken by the government, by the Bench comprising of Chief Justice RV Rammana and Justice R S Endlaw. [17]

Not only the HC, but the people of India as well, especially the North East communities, were criticizing the dearth of an appropriate legal provision to tackle the problem faced by them and were thus demanding introduction of stringent legal provisions for the same. However, often the introduction of legal remedies targeted at the discrimination faced by the North Easterners only is questioned and criticized by the other residents of the metropolitan cities. It is raised that such acts or atrocities are not discriminative towards a particular community but are rather the daily ordeals faced by any common resident of such cities generally. However, it has been pointed out that compared to the small population of North Easterners in Delhi, the crime rate is proportionally very high.[18] Further, the rate of such crimes has been increasing, largely attributed to the difference in the physical features.[19] Such atrocities have been said to create a feeling of alienation and hatred among the youth of these communities, also blamed for encouraging the separatist movements led by youth in the North East regions back home.[20] Thus, addressing these issues in particular have been deemed as an urgency in regard to national integration.

The legal provision being demanded the most was the introduction of an Anti-racism law in India. While India recognizes SC and ST categories officially, unlike some countries such as UK, USA and Australia, no racial sets have been recognized. Thus, the continuous demand of an anti-racism law in India as being a necessity following the discriminative incidents needed to be focused upon. This initiated a plethora of media debates, often citing the Anti-racism law passed in Bolivia as an example.[21] However, the same has been criticized for the reason of infringing the right to freedom of speech. Article 16 of this Act makes, “A medium which authorizes and publishes racist and discriminatory ideas”, “subject to economic sanctions and to suspension of its license to function, subject to regulation”,[22] under which Media houses and journalists can be arrested for publishing racist content.[23]  Thus the Act found itself being criticized for being a tool for censorship by the government. Similar allegations have been noted in the case of the Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act (2001) in Australia.[24] Thus an anti-racism law as a remedy against these problems faced by the North Easterners has not been considered as the best option in India.

With multiple acts of atrocities against the North Eastern community in the capital and the controversy regarding the efficiency of an anti-racism law, other legal remedies were also being sought as the need of the hour. In view of the same, the year 2014 also saw the set-up of the ‘Bezbaruah Committee’. Constituted by the Ministry of Home Affairs, it was chaired by Shri M.P. Bezbaruah, I.A.S. (Retd) and a member of the North Eastern Council.[25] The purpose was to address the grievances of the North Eastern residents of the metropolitan cities of India, and suggest some suitable remedies that ought to be taken by the government, especially in light of the Nido Tania case.[26]  While the committee compiled its report and suggestions, it did not fail to point out the need of High Court directives in order to tackle with the problem in the long run.

Before addressing the legislations that need to introduced, existing legal provisions that ight address the problem were focused upon. Often such acts are pleaded against under the Schedule Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. While the act does not comprise of any particular legal provision against racial discrimination towards North East people, the act is often resorted to due to the significant figure of people from North East falling under either of the categories i.e. scheduled castes or scheduled tribes.[27] Section 3 of the Act notifies deliberate insult and humiliation in public view as an offence. Under the Act, any person, even other than the victim, can lodge a complaint and the police can arrest the offender without any warrant or investigation. Even a directive from the Ministry of Home Affairs direct booking offenders guilty of atrocities against the North Easterners under the SC/ST Act.  One of these included booking under the ‘Chinki law’[28]  which marks calling North Easterners with names such as ‘Chinki’, ‘Chow-Chow’ as an offence that can lead to an imprisonment for five years, under the SC/ST Act. However, while the Act has been considered as a good enough legislation against atrocities faced by the North Easterners, it is not a permanent solution. Owing to its provisions for the protection of a certain set of people, it is considered as being similar to an anti-racism law. However the Act classifies people on the basis of caste instead of race. The two sets although often overlapping, do comprise of communities which is covered by one set but not by another. [29] Thus, large number of people from these communities such as Gonds, of whom only a few are ST’s, are left without any legal recourse against the discrimination faced under the Act.[30]

Another legal provision often resorted to in such cases or which might cover such acts is the Section 153A of the Indian penal Code. This section constitutes promotion of hatred or ill-will between different communities on the grounds of race among others. Thus the importance of maintenance of harmony between different racial classes has been laid down. While the section includes a stringent punishment of imprisonment of three years, fine or both, the Act is limited in scope due to the requirement of promotion of enmity amongst two classes.[31] Not every act of racial discrimination against the North Easterners can be considered as promoting hatred against the entire community.

Thus, the committee considered amendments to Section 153A of the IPC, Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 and the SC/ST Act, 1989 as legal recourses to these problems. The legal provision demanded for addressing this concern has been required to make the offence cognizable, bailable, completion of investigation of FIR within 60 days and completion of trial within 90 days.[32]

The recommendations of the committee were accepted by the Home Ministry quite positively, and early enforcement of the same had been promised.[33] However, approximately a year later to the incidents that led to the formation of the committee, no implementation has taken place. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, suggested by the committee, was promised to be introduced in a recent meeting chaired by Kiren Rijiju.[34] However, the same did not take place in the recently concluded session as promised.[35]

Multitudes of legal remedies have been demanded by the citizens of the country especially North East communities and NGO’s supporting them and many have been suggested by the Bezbaruah committee and Ministry of Home Affairs subsequently. However, the question still remains as to what extent mere legal provisions can serve a remedial purpose for such racial and other atrocities inflicted upon the North Easterners in metros like Delhi. The need of the hour is to bring about a change in the sociological perspective and mindset of the people. Sometimes the sociological changes have been tried to be brought about using a legal medium. Examples include the ‘Chinki Law’, UGC and NCERT’s initiative to include chapters pertaining to the various aspects of the North East region of India[36] and inclusion of their cultural activities[37] among others. While the same may go a long way in facilitating the inclusion of North Easterners and eliminating the feeling of alienation, it is responsibility of the people of India to progress towards this even without any legal force. India needs to come out of its denial mode pertaining to accepting racism in India.  Accepting racism as a problem will be the first step towards identifying the trauma faced by people suffering from racial discrimination such as the North Easterners. The mentality needs to be changed and the people need to stop treating and seeing the people from North East as foreigners.  Ultimately, a correct balance of legal provisions and a change in the mindset is what India needs. Only then will India be able to witness a day in future when racism would have been eliminated and it could proudly claim as being a ‘racism – free nation’.

 Image taken from here.

[1] Sowmya Aji, ‘Rumour is villain in Bangalore People from North-East flee Bangalore fearing racial attacks Read more at: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/people-from-north-east-flee-bangalore-racial-attacks/1/213611.html’ (India Today 2012) <http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/people-from-north-east-flee-bangalore-racial-attacks/1/213611.html> accessed May 05, 2015

[2] ‘Delhi tops in racial discrimination against North Eastern people, panel tells Delhi High Court’ (DNA India 2014) <http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-delhi-tops-in-racial-discrimination-against-north-eastern-people-panel-tells-delhi-high-court-2012649> accessed May 05, 2015

[3] ‘Discrimination against north-east people a reality: Survey’ (The Economic Times 2014) <http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-12-06/news/56779899_1_discrimination-cent-survey-report> accessed May 05, 2015

[4] Tanima Biswas, ‘Daylight attack with iron rods killed college student Nido Tania’ (NDTV 2014) <http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/daylight-attack-with-iron-rods-killed-college-student-nido-tania-550373> accessed May 05, 2015

[5] Youth ki Awaaz, ‘With Another Attack On Northeast Indians In Delhi, It’s Time Everybody Gears Up For A War Against Violence’ (Bhavita Rangzen Bhumo 2014) <http://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2014/05/delhis-non-acceptance-towards-north-east-indians-time-war-violence/> accessed May 05, 2015/

[6] Ibid.

[7] David Boyes, ‘The Brutal Murdered of Akha Salouni’ (North-East Mirror 2014) <http://www.northeastmirror.com/index.php/north-east-india-state-news/351-the-brutal-murdered-of-akha-salouni> accessed May 05, 2015

[8] Konsam Panthoi, ‘Where is Mary Kom’s Story?’ (e-pao 2014) <http://e-pao.org/erang/Reviews/Where_is_Mary_Kom_Story_By_Konsam_Panthoi.php> accessed May 05, 2015

[9] Ibid.

[10] ‘Mortal remains of murdered girl brought home; many condemn; Accused held’ (e-pao 2009) <http://www.e-pao.net/GP.asp?src=1..271009.oct09> accessed May 05, 2015

[11] Aarushi Maheshwari, ‘The North Eastern community in India’ (India Opines ) <http://indiaopines.com/north-eastern-community/> accessed May 05, 2015

[12] Ibid.

[13] Bezbaruah Committee Report, pg 14. <http://mha.nic.in/sites/upload_files/mha/files/ReportOfMPBezbaruahCommittee.PDF>

[14] Ibid.

[15] ‘NEFIS Press Release on North East students’ protest at Delhi University’ (Sanhati 2014) <http://sanhati.com/articles/9047/> accessed May 05, 2015

[16] Madhu Chandra, ‘Social Profiling: The Root Causes Of Racial Discrimination Against North East Indians’ (Counter-currents 2012) <http://www.countercurrents.org/chandra051012.htm> accessed May 05, 2015

[17] Aneesha Mathur, ‘Recruit more police personnel from Northeast states: HC tells Delhi’ (The Indian Express 2014) <http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/recruit-more-police-personnel-from-northeast-states-hc-tells-delhi/> accessed May 05, 2015

[18] Bezbaruah Committee Report, pg 5.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ayushman Jamwal, ‘India does not need an anti-racism law’ (IBNlive 2014) <http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/ayushmanjamwal/3248/65081/india-does-not-need-an-antiracism-law.html> accessed May 05, 2015

[22] Avani Chokshi, ‘The Racism Quandary’ (Journal of Indian law and Society 2014) <https://jilsblognujs.wordpress.com/2014/09/14/the-racism-quandary/> accessed May 05, 2015

[23] Ayushman Jamwal, ‘India does not need an anti-racism law’ (IBNlive 2014) <http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/ayushmanjamwal/3248/65081/india-does-not-need-an-antiracism-law.html> accessed May 05, 2015

[24] Babette Francis, ‘OPINION: Free speech under attack in Victoria’ (News Weekly 2005) <http://newsweekly.com.au/article.php?id=2172> accessed May 05, 2015

[25] Bezbaruah Committee Report, pg 1.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Aman Sharma, ‘North-East racial slur could get you jailed for five years Read more at: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/north-east-racial-slur-home-ministry-sc–st-act-jail-term/1/198828.html’ (India Today 2012) <http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/north-east-racial-slur-home-ministry-sc–st-act-jail-term/1/198828.html> accessed May 05, 2015

[28] Karishma Kuenzang & Kashika Saxena, ‘Call a Northeastern ‘Chinki’, be jailed for 5 yrs’ (Times of India 2012) <http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/people/Call-a-Northeastern-Chinki-be-jailed-for-5-yrs/articleshow/13848316.cms> accessed May 05, 2015.

[29] The Racism Quandary.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Bezbaruah Committee Report, pg 19.

[32] Ibid, 29.

[33] ‘Home Ministry acts on slew of measures, says Bezbaruah Committee rep’ (DNA India 2015) <http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-home-ministry-acts-on-slew-of-measures-says-bezbaruah-committee-report-2048932> accessed May 05, 2015

[34] Niglun Hanghal, ‘Much Ado about Bezbaruah Committee’ (e-pao 2015) <http://e-pao.net/epSubPageExtractor.asp?src=news_section.opinions.Opinion_on_Racial_Discrimination.Much_Ado_about_Bezbaruah_Committee_By_Ninglun_Hanghal> accessed May 05, 2015

[35] Ibid.

[36] Niglun Hanghal, ‘Much Ado about Bezbaruah Committee’ (e-pao 2015) <http://e-pao.net/epSubPageExtractor.asp?src=news_section.opinions.Opinion_on_Racial_Discrimination.Much_Ado_about_Bezbaruah_Committee_By_Ninglun_Hanghal> accessed May 05, 2015

[37] Ibid.

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