By: Himashree Deka
In Bengaluru, racism has topped the list of complaints that hundreds of people from Northeast face in the state. This revelation has raised calls for a strong anti-racism law in India from the affected community members.
Northeast Solidarity (NS), a society engaged in reaching out to the people of Northeast India, based in Bengaluru, in an engagement between (2012- 2019), found that most of the victims of racism were students or contractual workers in the unorganised sector. Most of them were subjected to lewd comments, physical attacks and abuse by locals.
It has been informed that many of the victims of this racism were yet to be paid back wages by their local employers. Young girls complained of sexual harassment and were prime picks for human trafficking, as found in the NS study.
The organization reached out to over 700 people with help, among which students topped the list at 232, followed by 184 nurses, and 115 security guards. There recorded 97 people working in restaurants, 34 as domestic help and 27 as beauticians. The highest numbers of victims were from Manipur, 133, followed by Assam, 128, Sikkim, 87. Mizoram and Nagaland accounted for 78 and 77 respectively.
As per reports, more than 125 FIRs were filed in various police stations in the city.
Yet to find almost 142 youths not paid back wages in a city like Bengaluru somehow does not resonate with India’s tolerance culture. Further, the Bengaluru study found that 218 Northeasterners were subjected to cheating, extortion and threat while 118 were subjected to physical attacks.
Most young girls from the Northeast affected in the unorganised sector – for example, beauty parlours or as stewards in restaurants and hotels – are afraid to go public with complains of sexual harassment as most often their bosses are the harassers.
The reality is that most of the northeastern states face huge unemployment problems leaving the youth no choice but to come to cities like Bangalore in search of livelihood and economic sustenance.
In 2012, there was a fake SMS that threatened to carry out attacks on people from the northeast in Bangalore which triggered a sudden exodus of people wanting to flee the city to their respective home states in the northeast. It was estimated that nearly a lakh people fled the city for safety.
After a 19-year-old Nido Tania from Arunachal Pradesh was thrashed to death in Delhi by local goons in 2014, outreach and awareness programmes across the country, especially where there is a high concentration of people from Northeast, have swelled.
Following Tania’s death, a committee was constituted in Feb 2014 by a retired government bureaucrat MP Bezbaruah to suggest measures to address these concerns. His July 2014 report to the Ministry of Home Affairs had a lengthy title: ‘Report of the Committee Under the Chairmanship of Shri M.P. Bezbaruah To Look into the Concerns of the Peoples of the Northeast Living in Other Parts of the Country’.
Bezbaruah’s report, among others, recommended suitable legal/legislative measures, quick action by law enforcement agencies and guidance to the people wherever they are outside their respective regions.
A special police unit in Delhi to help people from the Northeast has registered more than 500 cases of rape, molestation, eve-teasing and harassment at workplace and by landlords in just five years alone. A 2009 study in Delhi reported over seven lakh people from the Northeast live and work in the Delhi capital region. The same study found that almost 10,000 youths get out of Northeast every year for studies and work and a good majority of them have said they face racial discrimination.
With helplines across the country continuing to get calls it is high time that the entire recommendations of the Bezbaruah Committee be implemented in letter and spirit including the promulgation of a strong law and amendment of Indian Penal Codes whereby such offences will be made cognizable and non-bailable. Including completion of investigation of the cases, by an officer not below the rank of an ACP or SP, related to discrimination of Northeast people within 60 days.
It may be mentioned that India has been at the forefront of campaigns against racism on the global arena: India, a UN document reveals, was the first country to raise the issue in the UN (in 1946) and played a leading role in the formation of a Sub-Committee against Apartheid set up by the General Assembly. When the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination was adopted in 1965, India was among the earliest signatories.