India is an inherently racist country. There I said it. Everyone of us has faced some form of discrimination when travelling to a part of the country we don't call native.
A South Indian gets labelled as "Mallu" in North India, a Northeasterner as "Chowmein/Momo/Chinky" in mainland India, a North Indian as "Bihari" in the rest of India.
I believed the lack of awareness and sensitisation about various ethno-cultural groups in a diverse country such as ours is the main reason for such discrimination.
|Many young lives have met brutal ends, many women raped and harassed.|
However, the recent case of verbal abuse reported by Manipur resident Monika Khangembam, who was subjected to racial slur by an immigration officer of the government among others, highlights the sense of pleasure individuals derive from by such assault regardless of their education and levels of awareness.
It must be noted that in the last few years, there has been an exponential rise in reports of racial crimes inflicted upon the people hailing from the Northeast.
The number of youth who leave their homes and travel to mainland cities in the hope of education opportunities, job prospects and a better life is rapidly increasing with each passing day.
What we did not foresee when we set out to achieve our dreams is that we could end up as victims of crimes perpetuated because of our facial features, ethnicity or lifestyle.
Incidents like sexual harassment, discrimination, and verbal abuse are nearly an everyday occurrence, so much so that we have become numb and tend to shrug off such incidents as minor unless somebody suffers grievous assault like murder or rape.
Many young lives have met brutal ends, many women raped and harassed.
In the wake of Nido Tania's murder in early 2014, there was widespread demand for an anti-racial discrimination law because, while the current Indian Penal Code has provisions for crimes committed against an SC /ST individual, no safeguard is in place for OBCs or those not bracketed under similar categories.
Members of the political spectrum and the civil society had then agreed upon the imminent need for such a law.
In a welcome move, the then Congress-led UPA government formed the Bezbaruah Committee seeking a report on how to curb racial crimes. The committee travelled extensively across the country and interacted with students and youth from the Northeast based in different cities.
In July 2014, the committee submitted its final report to the ministry of home affairs and was assured action on "priority basis". Two years on, the report lies forgotten.
With this article, I attempt to reach out to a young idealistic Northeastern man I met on a news debate when we were all seeking justice for Nido Tania. He was vociferous about the plight of our people, offered solutions, called for an anti-racial law, and was scathing in his attack of the Congress party.
Even though we disagreed on some points, I could see the passion in him for the rights of our people. When this man, Kiren Rijiju, was made the minister of state for home affairs, like many other Northeasterners, I was hopeful.
When the Northeastern staff of an Ahmedabad hotel were asked to stay away during the visit of the Chinese premier, I was hopeful that our righteous junior home minister would take a firm stand against such discrimination.
When he was left out of the PM's dinner, hosted for the same Chinese president, I was hopeful he would condemn it.
Two years ago, when he said the Bezbaruah Committee recommendations would be enforced soon, I believed him. Thus far, I feel let down. I hope my voice and that of many others' reaches the Kiren Rijiju of that news studio and shakes him into action.
As the junior home minister, he can act on the panel's recommendations and bring about real change with a strong legislation. Because, let's face it, in the aftermath of racial crimes, the authorities wake up for a brief period and then fall back into slumber.
What will last is a strong precedent that serves as the ultimate deterrent. And for that precedent to be set, the anti-racial law must be enacted. It is the only hope for millions like Monika Khangembam.