The concept of race is ever-present in the common psyche of our society. Sociologists refer to race as a form of social construction, not based on some natural or unchangeable scientific fact but rather describe the social meanings attached to racial categories. The biological differences that exist do not make race a social construction but rather the society’s interpretation of the difference. Race differs from ethnicity as it describes the physical appearance, genetic biology; however, ethnicity refers to the relationship formed through ideas of culture, language, customs etc1.
The difference of race in our society stems the problem of racial discrimination. Racial discrimination is a form of discrimination based on the race of a person. It also refers to the unfair and prejudiced treatment towards a person.
2. Are Indians Racist?
As per Washington Post, India is ranked among one of the most racist countries in the world2. It is mostly certain that many Northeast Indians and Africans face racial discrimination in the Capital and other metro cities. Derogatory terms such as Chinese, chinky, momo, Nepali, kalua etc. are commonly used to against them. This is also very prevalent in many educational institutions such as Delhi University3. Eve Teasing, molestation are some of the common harassments faced by the North-Eastern girls.
The test of whether a society is racist can only be determined by the collective consciousness of the society. While mockery of facial features, food habits and fashion sense are common, unprovoked intimidation leading to physical assault also occur very frequently. The scenarios for women are far much worse as they have to face double burden by reason of their gender and racial identity4. The stereotypes attached with dominant racist is that North-Eastern people are either drug addicts or violent and women from the region are often viewed as unchaste. Such mentality stems the daily interactions where North-Eastern men are mocked and women are openly sexually abused5. The same form of abuse or mockery is also faced by the African population in Delhi NCR. The skin color becomes a tool for Indians to associate their prejudices against the Africans. Police have also been reported to be impolite and abusive during Visa verification for the Africans. The government is yet to acknowledge the prejudice and the ill-treatment faced by the North-Eastern and the African population.
It has been reported that around 11 north-east women were found dead in their residence in 2016 alone. Reingamphi, from Manipur was reportedly raped and murdered in her Delhi residence in 2013. She came from a meager income background and was the soul bread-winner of the family. Also there was Mary Ezung from Nagaland who was also reportedly assaulted and murdered6. It is without a doubt that women suffer more grievously in the Capital compared to men. Reportedly, the Delhi Police have registered 896 cases of attacks between 2014 – 2017 i.e. 280 cases in 2014, 295 in 2015, 230 in 2016 and 91 in 2017 up to 15th July 20177. Such hate crimes are usually treated as isolated cases by the authority and are ignored by the public.
The incidence of a Nigerian citizen brutally attacked on account of a death of a teenager in Greater Noida serves as a strong evidence of this prejudice filled society. The teenager was a student of12th standard who unfortunately passed away due to drug overdose. The public was quick on shifting the blame on the Nigerian students living in the area. Unsurprisingly, the Nigerian students were assumed to be cannabis who had eaten up the teenager. Protest broke out demanding the departure of the African students from the locality. The police also added to the misery by booking five Nigerians for the murder of the teenager. Despite the uproar, the government did not address the issue effectively. The government must acknowledge the issue of racial discrimination so that it can address it8.
Another incident that caught the nation’s attention was the incident of Nido Tania. He was a student of Lovely Professional University and son of a Congress MLA from Arunachal Pradesh. He passed away due to severe lung and brain injuries inflicted upon him due to an attack. He was reportedly in Lajpat Nagar with his friends when a nearby shopkeeper began teasing him for his looks. He retaliated by breaking a glass door of the shop. This escalated the incident. It was alleged that police did not file a complaint but rather reached a compromise between Nido and the shopkeeper. This incident raised eyebrows regarding the safety and security of North-Easterns in the Capital. The court had directed the government to submit guidelines for the safety of the North-Eastern population in Delhi NCR9. This led to the formation of Bezbaruah Committee. The committee had submitted its report to the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The terms of Reference of the Committee were as follows:-
(i) To examine the various kinds of concerns, including the concerns regarding security, of the persons hailing from the North Eastern States.
(ii) To examine the causes behind the attacks/violence and discrimination against the people from the North-Eastern States.
(iii) To suggest measures to be taken by the Government to address these concerns.
(iv) To suggest legal remedies to address these concerns10.
The committee provided five important recommendations. They are-
· Enactment of law against discrimination – The report suggested that a new law should either be enacted or the Indian Penal Code should be amended. Further it suggests that any offence under this law should be cognizable and non-bailable. It emphasizes on completion of investigation within 60 days by a special squad headed by a police officer not below the rank of SP or ACP. Moreover the trial should complete within 90 days.
· Fast-track courts and special police squads – The committee has emphasized over specialized police squads and fast-track courts for handling matter of racial discrimination against North-East people.
· Introduction of North-East in education – The committee highlights the importance of integrating each and every aspect of North-East in our education system especially the NCERT. The committee feels that this could further help in sensitizing the issue of North-East to the rest of the nation. Furthermore, it also suggests schools and universities outside North-East to incorporate projects relating to the region.
· Social media and legal awareness campaign – The report underlines the need of legal awareness camps in north-east people abundant neighborhoods. The camps shall highlight the significance of legal rights for university students and also shall include lectures and activities regarding the same. The committee depends on the social media for better connectivity and communication with the community. It also suggest appointment of a nodal police officer who shall be in constant touch with the community.
· Relationship building via sports– The committee believes in harmony and better understanding that is built through sports. It recommends the ministry to organize sports events that promotes the indigenous games of the region11.
In reference to the cases mentioned, we have only scratched the surface. In order to address the issue of racial discrimination the authorities, with prudence and lawful cognizance of issues as brought before them should address them effectively. This would not only ensure speedy justice but also deterrence.
3. Racial Discrimination: Legal Perspective
The concept of secularism seems rather oxymoronic given all the incidences of racial discrimination occurring across the country. Even after various incidences triggered protests and demand for an anti-racial law, the government seems to be in denial regarding the issue.
The concern of racial discrimination has been very well dealt in the case of Karma Dorjee & Ors. vs. Union of India &Ors.(2017) 1 SCC799.The case highlighted the incidences of 26th October 2009 where a single woman was alleged to have been burnt by the accused for rebuffing his unwelcome advances, on 17th April 2012 a student from Manipur was alleged to be assaulted in his hostel which caused his death, in August 2012 panic widespread in the State of Karnataka after the circulation of ‘hate message’ via social media. On 25th January 2014 two young women were reportedly molested and on 29th January 2014 a young student was ridiculed and assaulted to death in Lajpat Nagar. This case demanded the Union Government to formulate mechanism to deal with the issue of racial discrimination. The Court directed the Ministry of Home Affairs to take steps for the redressal of issues pertaining to racial discrimination by a Committee. The Committee shall consist of –
1. Joint Secretary (North-East), Ministry of Home Affairs
2. Two other members nominated by the Union Government (one of who shall be a public figure)12.
Article 14 delves into Equality before law. As defined by Dr. Jennings, “Equality before the law means that equality among equals the law should be equal for all. And should be equally administered, that like should treated alike. The right to sue and be sued, to prosecute and prosecuted for the same kind of action should be same for all citizens of full age and understanding without distinctions of race, religion, wealth, social status or political influence13.”
Article 15 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. The essence of this article primarily suggest and envisages for the citizens of India, a society which is devoid of any discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, sex, place of birth etc. This article puts forth that there can be no undue restriction on any individual on the above basis for access and use of public places, run out of state funds14.
The International Convention on The Elimination of All Forms Of Racial Discrimination was adopted on 21st December, 1965. The convention was ratified by India in 1968. However, the Union Government is yet to enact a law on the matter15.
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs submitted before the Supreme Court a proposal for amending the Indian Penal Code on 20th September, 2016.The proposal included introduction of Section 153C and 509A. These sections will cover offences of racial matter16.
Section 153A, 153B and 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code also deals with matter concerning racial issues17. Section 153A deals with promoting enmity between groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc, prejudicial to maintaining peace.
In the trying times that we live in, education is not enough. Instead, sensitization is what is of the utmost need of the hour. Even casual racist slurs and jokes need to be rejected so that they don’t take the face of violent discourses. India with its rich diversity should be an example of unity in recent times, and not bigotry.
1 Sociology of Race, available at: https://othersociologist.com/sociology-of-race/ (visited on 10/01/2018)
2To fight racism in India, we must accept that it exist, available at: https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2017/11/racism-a-normalized-discrimination/ (visited on 10/01/2018)
3 To fight racism in India, we must accept that it exist, available at: https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2017/11/racism-a-normalized-discrimination/ (visited on 10/01/2018)
4 Racism in India is prevalent in many ways, available at: https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2017/02/racism-in-india-an-existential-hazard/ (visited on 10/01/2018)
5 Racism in India is prevalent in many ways, available at: https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2017/02/racism-in-india-an-existential-hazard/ (visited on 10/01/2018)
6 Let’s talk about racism, available at: http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/let-s-talk-about-racism-don-t-call-us-chinki-momo-chowmien-asks-a-northeastern-woman/story-SJckp4InptNV6Te29dlItJ.html (visited on 10/01/2018)
7 896 attacks on North-Easterns in Delhi since Nido Tanis’s murder but no law to criminalize racism, available at: https://www.theapolitical.in/human-rights/7322 (visited on 11/01/2018)
8 The Daily Fix: As Africans are attacked 40 km from Delhi, India must confront its racism problem, available at: https://scroll.in/article/833115/the-daily-fix-as-africans-are-attacked-40-km-from-delhi-india-must-confront-its-racism-problem (visited on 11/01/2018)
9 Daylight attack with iron rods killed college student Nido Tania, available at: https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/daylight-attack-with-iron-rods-killed-college-student-nido-tania-550373 (visited on 10/01/2018)
10Bezbaruah submitted its report to Ministry of Home Affairs, available at: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=106513 (visited on 10/01/2018)
11Bezbaruah report on North East community: Five key recommendations, available at: http://www.firstpost.com/india/bezbaruah-report-north-east-community-five-key-recommendations-1678393.htm (visited on 11/01/2018)
12 Karma Dorjee & Ors. vs. Union of India . (2017) 1 SCC 799
13 Right to Equality – A Fundamental Right, available at: http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/print.php?art_id=1688 (visited on 13/01/2018)
14Article 15 and Prohibition of Discrimination in Indian Constitution, available at: https://academy.gktoday.in/article/article-15-and-prohibition-of-discrimination-in-indian-constitution/ (visited on 13/01/2018)
15Karma Dorjee & Ors. vs. Union of India . (2017) 1 SCC 799
16 Karma Dorjee & Ors. vs. Union of India . (2017) 1 SCC 799
17 Karma Dorjee & Ors. vs. Union of India . (2017) 1 SCC 799