Why Kiren Rijiju alone cannot stop racism against North East Indians

Just a new law or an addition of a chapter on north east in the curriculum cannot hold back people from passing racial slurs.

Being the national capital, Delhi houses people from various ethnicities and religions across India. Castes are often discussed, regional demarcations are made fun of. It’s all jolly until these divisions in borders are not taken to heart. But all cannot be taken in a light vein, especially when it comes to discrimination or racism.

Discrimination against the North-East community is not something that is unheard of. Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju on Wednesday tweeted a video highlighting this discrimination against citizens from the North East.

The girl in the video has alleged that she and her friends were stopped at Jama Masjid and asked to pay an additional amount to carry their phones. The demand might have been legitimate if all visitors would have been asked to submit the fee. The girl, however, has alleged that it was only she and her friends who were being asked for the money while all other fellow Indians were allowed to carry their phones and flaunt it too.

Just earlier this year, Monika Khangembam, a Manipuri woman activist, raised her voice against the attitude of the people when she was questioned about her Indianness at an immigration desk at the Indira Gandhi International airport in Delhi.

She was shamed with comments like “Indian toh nahi lagti ho”, “Pakka Indian ho?”. The unfortunate part is that these remarks by the immigration officer reflect the bias towards the North Eastern people that has been a part of the attitudes for long. Comments on their personality or their diction, or a giggle or a shrink while looking at them is something that can be heard and seen in the commonest of places, even like the Delhi Metro.

Addressing the issues and their dire consequences, Monika says that the problem is that the government is not ready to acknowledge that racism is prevalent in the country. “The first step to resolve the problem is to accept that there is racism in the country. The governments are not willing to accept that there is racism. Once they admit the problems, strict anti-racism laws should be framed to bring down instances of inequality,” she said.

Remember when Arunachal Pradesh resident Nido Tania was assaulted and beaten to death by shopkeepers in Lajpat Nagar? The incident had garnered fierce reactions and called for debates on sensitization towards the community. But has anything changed? Have the ‘chinky’, ‘thupka’ ‘jokes’ stopped? The answer is a No!

But Monika claims it is not just name calling that is the root cause of the problem. “It is the attitude of people which is disturbing. The perception of people needs to change and there should be more tolerance towards minorities,” she added.

During the campaigning for the 2014 general elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made tall claims about working to bring the North eastern people on the same page. But in their own vision document, they referred to North Eastern people as ‘immigrants’ asserting that they need to be protected. The mistake is a telling tale of how oblivious the society is towards them.

While most of the cases of parity are reported from Delhi, other parts of the country are no better in terms of how they treat our fellow Indians from the North East.

The government has claimed that they have done a lot to bring equality but repeated incidents force us to question the truth of those claims? However, can we just hold the government accountable for violence and crimes against some citizens? Sensitising people cannot just be the responsibility of the government. A new law or an addition of a chapter on north east in the curriculum cannot hold back people from passing racial slurs. What is needed is respect, from people and for people to build a society which is less aggressive and more welcoming.