North-Eastern Community Facing Racist and Xenophobic Slurs By Indians Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

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People from the North-eastern community of India face racial discrimination on daily basis because of their mongoloid looks. The rest part of the country treats them as foreigners. The reason stated is their resemblance to Chinese people’s face.

India is a diverse county, and everyone admires the diversity of India. It would be no longer remain jewel for our country if there is no unity in diversity. Everyone should get equal treatment irrespective of their caste, creed, race, colour, gender, etc. Yet, we discriminate because they belong to different ethnicity. P On the top of that, we celebrate the diversity of India.

Plight of the North-Easterns

People from north-eastern states migrate to other parts of the country for higher education and jobs. They migrate due to the lack of educational facilities and career opportunities in their respective states. People harass them by calling names such as chinkies, momo, chowmein, Chinese, etc. Women are a vulnerable part of our society as a result, they are more prone to harassment/discrimination.

Moreover, there is a large section of the society that believes that no such discrimination exists. Delhi has been a hub for violence against north-eastern people, for instance, Nido Tania incident, rape, harassment, etc.

BBC took an interview of the people of Nagaland. One of them said he fears to send his children outside Nagaland as they might be mistreated. Is not this such a devastating thing that people feel safe unsafe in their own country? Another one said that she does not even know what being an Indian means. She has never stepped outside Nagaland and does not even want to. They even do not want to know about other parts of India. A lady who works in Delhi stated that they are even discriminated at the workplace. The fear of getting harassed and mistreated is reflected in their interviews. 

Effect of the Coronavirus 

The outbreak of the coronavirus has affected every country across the world. This deadly virus spread from Wuhan, China has been sweeping away people across the world. The people of the North-eastern state of India has facial similarity to that of Chinese people. Therefore, along with the coronavirus/pandemic, they are also subjected to racial discrimination.

As it is, they were prone to criticism, name-calling, and harassment, and now they are also called the “Corona Virus”. Consequently, they feel alienated and an outsider in such tough times living in their own country. 

A woman living in Delhi from 7 years, went out to buy some groceries with her friend during the lockdown. After that, a middle-aged man spat paan on her and called her “corona” and disrespected her. Furthermore, a man called a woman “gandi virus” due to her mongoloid features.

In Pune, a woman went to take a protective mask and was taunted “coronavirus aa gaya”. The landlords are kicking them out and shop owners/vendors are reluctant in selling them grocery items. In addition to it, the auto drivers are not willing to give them the ride.

Being in a Pandemic, people should help each other to cope up with the pandemic. Instead, they are making it more difficult for them. Primarily, a virus is just an excuse to showcase their racist views against them. The humiliation they face adds up to the misery of staying away from their families in such a time of distress. A report was released in March by Right and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG). It states that there has been an increase in the number of racial discrimination cases after the outbreak of COVID -19.

Inefficient Legal Framework

Article 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution talks about equal treatment to everyone irrespective of their gender, caste, race, etc. There are laws such as section 153A and 509 of IPC. Though, none of them cover these types of instances precisely.

After the murder of Nido Tania, M.P. Bezbaruah Committee was set up to look into the matter. The committee recommended to make amendment in IPC and add section 153C and 509A. Section 153C and 509A penalizes the use of criminal force and word, gesture or act intended to insult any particular race group respectively.

In addition to it, to make the offence cognizable and non-bailable there is imprisonment up to 3-5 years with fine. Furthermore, the FIR should be completed within 60 days and trial in 90 days. However, the proposal to amend the provisions of IPC got a positive response from only 4 states, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Uttar Pradesh.

In 2014, the Supreme Court had issued guidelines against the discrimination face by North-eastern citizens. SC/ST north-eastern citizens can seek protection under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Although, not everyone falls under this category and they are not addressed by any piece of legislation. Furthermore, terms such as momos, chinkies used in a derogatory manner are not defined as offence under the same act.

Police are not even aware of the sections under which they can charge the person making racist comments. In the case of a woman, they file a complaint under section 354 or 509 of IPC. Though, they have no idea if it involves man as a victim. Man/boys also face discrimination because of their mongoloid features but there is no specific law.

Recommendations

Primarily, the states should consider the urgency of the matter and give assent to the amendment in IPC proposed by Bezbaruah Committee. As a result, it would deter people from committing such acts against north-eastern people.

Secondly, it would address the problem of males as well. The Bezbaruah Committee suggested for a gender-neutral law for racial discrimination. Furthermore, there is also a need of educating the police officers to take this as a serious offence. Many police officers do not file a complaint as they consider it as a trivial matter. Besides, they need a proper training program to deal with such matters.

Other than that, it can also be cured by educating people from a very young age. History, social system, the culture of north-eastern parts of the country can be included in the textbooks. Additionally, the film and television industry can also play a crucial role in it as they capture many audiences.

Also, till today this industry has highlighted many sensitive topics. For instance, female infanticide, girl’s education, child marriage, widow remarriage, etc. Likewise, films/serials/series can be used as a source to spread awareness among the people about the same. In addition to it, North East actor/actresses should be given an opportunity to represent themselves at a bigger platform. As a result, people would start recognizing people with mongoloid features as Indians only.

Steps by Lawmakers 

Lawmakers should take inspiration from other countries and focus on making anti-racial discrimination legislation. For instance, the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, 2001 and Racial and Religious Hatred Act, 2006. United Nations released Model National Legislation dealing with racial discrimination. It consists of guidance to the government for enacting legislation against racial discrimination. Accordingly, it can be referred to while working upon the anti-racial discrimination legislation.

In the end, what matters the most is the mentality and mindset of the people. One day coronavirus would be combated by the vaccine but what about the virus that is in people’s heads? The real crisis would end when the very same virus would disappear.


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