Racial Profiling in India
The demands for an anti-racism law for the safety of all northeastern citizens were on a high during the wave of protests witnessed post the killing of Nido Tania, a 20-year-old from Arunachal Pradesh in the capital city. This is not the first instance of racial discrimination that the northeasterners face in this country. Similarly, in June 2017 Tailin Lyngdoh, a lady from Meghalaya was asked to leave the table in Delhi Golf Club, because she was wearing a ‘jainsem’ and reportedly looked like a maid.
A Preview With Respect To Northeastern States
Each year witnesses thousands of young people from the northeast migrating to New Delhi and other cities for higher education and jobs. The seven states known as “Seven Sisters” are linked to India with a tiny landmass that spans over the northern tip of Bangladesh, and are fraught with chronic underdevelopment and embroiled in separatist conflicts. It is a common practice for the people from the northeast to be called “Chinkies” – a word so common that most of us have become immune to it but derogatory and demeaning enough for the government to punish its use with five years jail term. Harassment from landlords, employers, and assaults on the street are commonplace.
Now India’s northeastern community is campaigning for a stringent anti-racism legislation. But they say most Indians including the government are in denial that Indians are racists.
Time to recognize the problem
Ironically enough, most Indians see racism as a phenomenon that exists in western countries and is oblivious to racism as a phenomenon in India. They automatically see themselves at the receiving end and fail to see that they themselves harbour potential racist attitudes and behaviour towards their own counterparts simply because of a deep-seated prejudice.
For north-easterners who have particular looks, life is an everyday struggle in Indian cities; be it the mundane experiences of overcharging by autorickshaw- wallas, shopkeepers and landlords, slew of verbal abuses on streets or seemingly innocuous remarks of colleagues, friends, teachers or the more extreme experiences of physical, mental and sexual assault. It is often a saga of never ending the misery, a chronicle of repetitive experiences.
Visible but Unseen
Since it is a lived experience, racism is difficult to prove. Quite often, the victim cannot even recount exactly what was wrong about the way in which a co-passenger behaved or it is difficult to articulate a sneer, cultural connotations that can infuriate when personally experienced.
How does one prove that when an auto-rickshaw driver enquires a northeasterner if she is going to Majnu ka Tila (which is a famous Tibetan refugee colony in Delhi) that he is falling prey to a common attitude of racial profiling? How does a northeasterner prove when her fellow passenger on metro refers to her as ‘chinese’ in his conversation with friends, who are sneering and laughing in her direction? Racism is most often perceived, like an invisible wound and it’s quite burdensome to articulate it in the language of evidence or law. In this sense, everyday experiences of racism that are so prevalent are difficult to be proved objectively as required by the law.
If we are serious about fighting the menace of racial profiling we need to solve the larger problem which is the flaw in attitude. Of course, there will be incidents of extreme, outrageous violence which will be easy to fit in the pigeonhole of racial profiling. But it is the everyday forms of racial discrimination that go on build up these acts of extreme outrage, so it is more reasonable to nip the problem in its bud.
Where is the Solution?
One of the ways is to fiercely implement laws to deal with harm and injustice. But we know the state of implementation of laws in India so we have to go beyond laws, by influencing the most difficult and sensitive of tools: the human mind. The need of the hour is to address this as a sociological problem. This can be achieved by using multiple strategies: Curricula changes, sensitizing mohalla and RWA groups, training police and administrators, MPs and political leaders.
Another way is to develop incubation centres where students of the northeastern region who plan to study and live in other parts of the country get an orientation of the cultures and social atmosphere that they will inhabit. Thus both potential victims and perpetrators have to be educated. Unless we talk about it how would everyone know that there is a need for change? When large population from the North Eastern states have moved to various other parts of the country and made their homes and careers it is imperative that they are accepted and assimilated into their new neighborhoods, but the sense of being different looms large. Cases of mistreatment of the people in these areas are reported very often than not. One of the reasons for this is the lack of knowledge about the region.
As the natives of the northeast argue, “why can’t the good aspects of our culture be highlighted in the other parts of the country; the apt example is how much our society respects women. When such positive aspects are brought to the fore, the ignorance will automatically recede and the respect for our region will grow.” Thus racial profiling, especially in the case of citizens of northeast is an all-pervasive problem which needs immediate attention, however, a lot depends on whether there is a general will to bring about an attitudinal change.