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Denial Won’t Wish Away “Indian” Racism Against North Easterners

By Samar

17 October, 2014

They did not speak Kannada, the language of the state they live in. They, therefore, were ‘legitimate’ targets of violence in a city that benefitted the most from India’s shift from being a Nehruvian Socialism to free market economy. The fact that they contribute to the city, and province’s income means nothing. The fact that they pay their taxes that keeps the country afloat was even more redundant. They were they after all, the North Easterners stranded in mainland India.

Their nationality though is nonnegotiable at all other times than being the victims of such racist attacks across Indian cities, be it Delhi or Bangalore. It is nonnegotiable if they choose to assert their otherness as against the otherness inflicted on them. It does so when an outside entity claims them as its own. Let China claim Arunachal Pradesh as its integral part and there comes the Indian state unleashing the bogey of its sovereignty and patriotism that would never compromise on its territorial integrity. That would be the time for the top functionaries of the Indian state, right up to the Prime Minister, to visit them, to dance with them clad, sometimes, in their attires, to announce this or that package for this or that of the 7 states that form the collective referred to as the North East. But then, that is the only time.

Rest of the time they, the ‘Mongolian fringe’ of the undeclared Aryan state that has grudgingly accepted the erstwhile Dravidians its own but failed to do that with them. Failed, perhaps, is wrong word for it never seem to have made even an eyewash attempt to assimilate the North East while respecting the differences that define and shape the territory.

The failure is not always in your face violence that the state, and even its patriotic citizenry, inflicts on them. There is almost a tragically beautiful subtlety the Indian state deploys to achieve the failure. It forgets at times to include Kiren Rijju, the Minister of State for Home and the Member of Parliament from Arunachal Pradesh, in the delegation level talks but also from state banquets hosted by the President for Chinese Chinese President Xi Jinping during his India visit, an omission is never explained nor even to extend a face saving courtesy that it was coincidental. At other, it chooses Meghalaya as the transfers posting for the governors appointed by the last United Progressive Alliance government refusing to resign as per its wish.

The British colonials had always seen and treated the “Mongolian fringe” as an outpost to watch out for threats from the South East Asia and safeguard their Indian colony from the same. 67 years after they had to pack their baggage off, independent India continues to do the same with all their repressive instruments deployed by them to keep the ‘natives’ enslaved. Or it did more by converting the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance promulgated by the British in 1942 to suppress the Quit India Movement into the Armed Forces Special Powers (Assam and Manipur) Act 1958 and enforced it over all of North East. The state will keep talking of humanising the draconian act that enables the security forces to maim, rape and kill citizens with impunity. The state will keep talking of political solutions as against military ones. The state will keep on negotiating with this or that insurgent group. Yet, the same state will treat every North Easterner as perennial suspect, the other.

So do the ‘Indian’ citizens. That is the only thing worse than the both the violent and subtle racism they face from Indian state. To invoke Lawrence Liang and Golan Naulak’s idea of two districts forms of racism, the footnote vis-à-vis front page, they are condemned to face both. They experience the footnote racism in everyday life- subtle but as dehumanising as the explicit and violent front page forms of the same. They feel it when denied rented accommodation for nothing other than being what they are- North easterners. They feel it when their food habits are not merely questioned but beget violent attacks for them. They feel it when Delhi police issues an advisory suggesting the North East girls not to wear revealing dresses to escape sexual harassment and assaults. They feel it when they are told by the same advisory not to cook their regional cuisine, especially, Akhuni and Bamboo shoots, as it could offend the sensibilities of the local people. They feel it, though, the most when they realise that there are no such advisories issued for any other ethnic, regional or whatsoever community defined by whatsoever yardstick.

This is not to say that front page racism is any less endemic than these subtle forms of labelling the North Easterners as other. Neither does this mean that these two are absolutely separate and discernible from each other. How can, for example, one discern racist abuses like ‘chinki’ that can get the abuser a sentence of 5 years as most of the North Easterners are from Scheduled and therefore protected by the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Preventions of Atrocities) Act from physical attacks that killed Nido Tania, a student from Arunachal Pradesh in an ‘allegedly’ racist attack?

One can discern them from the liberal use ‘allegedly’ with racism. What else can define the repeated attacks on the people from the North East across India? How many more murders one needs to call racism what it is- racism? Were not the rumour mongering coupled with physical attacks on the North East students in Bangalore leading to their mass exodus enough to set the bell ringing? Should not the mysterious death of Richard Loitam, another student from Manipur after an altercation with his seniors in Bangalore have made the state take notice and pull it acts together?

Perhaps it cannot for it remain in a permanent denial mode; at least until things turn violent and come under media gaze. That is when it rushes into offering cosmetic solutions to the racist prejudices against the North East people that are instutionalised and engrained in the system. The futility of its lip service, however, gets exposed by the fact that no one has been ever convicted for even one year for racially abusing someone as ‘chinki’, forget the five years term such an abuse can bring. Compare that with the convictions for casteist abuses covered under the provisions of the same Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Preventions of Atrocities) Act.

I wonder how many North East citizens would, in fact, dare to go to lodge such a complaint with the police as they have to live in the same neighbourhoods for making a livelihood, the neighbourhoods where they are often a miniscule minority as against the perpetrators. Similar would be their predicaments in the police stations with hardly any officers from their community as against almost all sharing socio-cultural bondage with the offenders?

This lack of redress to everyday racism is what sustains the discriminations against the North Easterners, citizens of India lest one forgets, and paves way for once in a while serious attacks that reaches the media. Till the state ensures that the community feels confident enough to report everyday violations and perpetrators get prosecuted the vicious cycle of violence will not stop. Racism is a serious crime not something to wish away by going in denial. Hope that begins with the justice to T Michael Lamjathang Haokip and his friends attacked in Bangalore.

Samar is Programme Coordinator - Right to Food Programme Asian Legal Resource Centre / Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong



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