In a recent letter from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to all the states and the union territories, it takes a very strong stand against racial discrimination and suggests that even calling someone from North-east a ‘Chinki’ could lead them to spent about 5 years behind the bars under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. It, of course is a welcome step and demonstrates the government’s ‘political will’ to solve this problem. But it also raises very pertinent questions like, ‘Does a draconian act solve the problem? Can morality be legislated? Or for that matter, Can human behavior/attitude be controlled/modified through any form of legislation? I seek answers….!!!
The MHA letter has to be contextualized in the current scenario. The students of the North-east have been eternally campaigning for strong solution to the problem of racial discrimination they have to face in Delhi. The government till yet has kept mum on the issue till yet. But the recent incidences of violence against the North eastern students has greatly agitated the student community who have now raised the issue with more vigor. They are now determined to continue their struggle as long as justice is not served to victims of ‘racial violence’ –Richard Loitam and Dana Sangma. Thus, in this context the letter can be seen as a follow up of the rising menace and it does provide a legal shield to the students of North-east who come in large numbers to the metropolitan cities to continue their studies. But will the students still feel safe post this legislation is the question that needs to be answered. I doubt.
History has ample evidences of India not being able to implement laws-no matter how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ they are. And when it comes to the ST/SC atrocities act, the numbers are even more baffling. The same article which informs us about the MHA letter suggests that according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 6,272 persons were booked under the Act in Uttar Pradesh in 2010. But the implementation of the Act has been rare when it comes to major cities. Just 16 persons were booked under the Act in Delhi in 2010. Moreover, a recently published article in Hindu talks in detail about the lacunas like irregularity, delay in investigations etc. in dealing with cases of such nature. For instance, in Delhi, the High-Level State Vigilance and Monitoring Committee, headed by the Chief Minister has not met even once since February 2010, while it is mandated by the Act that it has to meet twice a year – in January and June. Thus, I am doubtful about how far a legislation of this sort would go in tackling the problem. And again there is lack of reporting. Many such incidents go unreported as most of the people (victim) do not want to go through the ‘unnecessary hassle’ of tackling with the police in their lives. And again there is the problem of lack of police cooperation and already present stereotypical bias against the North-eastern peoples. Moreover, controversial acts like this (though required very much) somewhere also ends up fortifying or increasing the Anti-north East people. For instance, the people might see the act giving undue advantage to the North-eastern people, which subsequently might play a negative role and won’t help much in eliminating Racism. And again the law assumes all the people of North-east as SC/ST which also is a problem. Thus, it needs an essential understanding that not all people who have mongoloid features belong to the Scheduled Tribe Status.
Racism is a disease-Mostly social and moral in Nature. It finds its roots in the erroneous beliefs and propagated myths among the people. Respecting differences is not something which is thought in India, either in classrooms or in family lives. Thus, it keeps perpetuating. Though, political action is helpful it can only go to some extent. If a long term solution has to be brought in efforts has to be made, to spread awareness, decrease the cultural gaps and make consistent efforts to propagate a culture of tolerance and peace among the people. An initial entry point could be made by bringing forth changes in the educational curriculum like including like including cultural and moral aspects in it. Students should be made aware of history, cultures and even geography of the North-east. Efforts to make student understand the devastating consequences of racism can also go a long way in solving the problem. Making them realize that the ‘jokes’ or terms they use to describe North-eastern people is ‘not fun’. It is actually a abuse. Determined attempts needs to be made to make the citizens aware of the positive contributions and the common histories shared by people from different racial groups should be made. A fundamental aspect is also teaching the student to question. Rather than believing the propagated ‘myths’ the students should question them, their individual beliefs and see if they are racial may also serve fruitful for the purpose. Exchanges of students, public employees etc. should be encouraged. Thus efforts should be made to kill the disease itself and not the mere symptoms. Rather than treating it as a legal problem, it should be seen as a moral question and efforts should be made to increase the level of awareness, because India has not dearth of ‘good laws’.
To be Continued……
Image courtesy: Facebook site on stop discriminating against people from North-east