After the Facebook post of a Manipuri girl accusing an immigration officer of alleged racial slur went viral on social media earlier this week, there has been much speculation about racism yet again. In our discourse, such discussions come to the fore only in the aftermath of crimes, be it related to women, race, caste or religion. Many have reached out to Monika Khangembam including the Minister of External Affairs Smt Sushma Swaraj who tendered an apology and said she’ll take up the matter with the Home Ministry. While this was a graceful gesture from Ms Swaraj, I couldn’t help but go down memory lane.
Two years ago, Ms Swaraj, who was then the Leader of Opposition, referred to north-eastern people as “chapti naakwala” (flat-nosed) in a speech made in Parliament to condemn the brutal murder of Nido Tania. Her racial stereotyping did not go down well with the north eastern fraternity. But she never apologised. And the matter faded from public memory.
On Monday evening, I represented the Congress party on a prime time TV debate on the need to curb racial discrimination. I was shocked to see the BJP spokesperson shamelessly defend Ms Swaraj’s “chapti naakwala” statement on national television. The spokesperson, instead of expressing regret, went on justifying how the honourable minister was right in her stereotype as India is a diverse country. It made me ponder about the hypocrisy of the BJP which talks about sensitisation while remaining insensitive. It, then, dawned on me that the government has no will to tackle racial discrimination. Allow me to explain how I reached this conclusion:
1) When the Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Ahmedabad, a diktat was issued asking the north eastern staff of a hotel to stay away from its premises.
2) The Prime Minister hosted a dinner banquet for the visiting Chinese President. The Minister of State for Home Affairs Shri Kiren Rijiju was left out because he hails from Arunachal Pradesh.
3) BJP vision document for the Delhi Assembly elections 2015 alienated the citizens from the north-east by calling them, “north eastern immigrants”.
4) Despite it being more than two years now, the government has been sitting on the Bezbaruah Committee report. The report was submitted after the Committee travelled extensively across the country and interacted with students and youth from the north-east based in different cities. The purpose behind the formation of this Committee by the then Congress-led government was to find a solution to deal with racism effectively.
5) The government has completely ignored the need for an Anti-Racial Discrimination Law. Even though, in the aftermath of Nido Tania’s murder, Shri Kiren Rijiju, himself, expressed the need for such a law because the current Indian Penal Code has provisions only for crimes committed against an SC/ST individual, but no safeguard is in place for OBCs or those not bracketed into similar categories.
As a concerned north-easterner, I hope I am wrong in my observation that our government itself has practiced racial discrimination. I hope I am wrong in saying that despite it being three days since an immigration officer passed a racial slur at a high profile international airport with CCTVs all around but no action has been taken yet. Even though it’ll be difficult, I hope the NDA surpasses the endeavours of UPA in trying to bridge the gap between the north-east and the mainland. But most importantly, I hope that the ruling party of this nation, the Bharatiya Janata Party, first sensitises itself.
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