By Stephen David in Bengaluru
Racism tops the litany of complaints that hundreds of people from Northeast face in the Karnataka capital Bengaluru even as calls for a strong anti-racism law in India grows from the affected community members.
A 2012-2019 engagement by Northeast Solidarity [NS] in Bengaluru, a society engaged in reaching out to the people of Northeast India, also found that most of the victims were students or contractual workers in the unorganised sector. Most of them were subjected to lewd comments, physical attacks and abuse by locals who seemed to have some sort of support from the powers that be.
While touts took advantage of students regarding admission to educational institutions, many of the victims were yet to be paid back wages by their local employers. Young girls complained of sexual harassment and were prime picks for human trafficking, found the NS study.
Of the over 700 people the organisation reached out with help, students topped the list at 232, followed by 184 nurses, and 115 security guards. That was followed by 97 who were working in restaurant, 34 as domestic help and 27 as beauticians. Highest number of victims hailed from Manipur, 133, followed by Assam, 128, Sikkim, 87. Mizoram and Nagaland accounted for 78 and 77 respectively
Northeast Solidarity President Dr Rini Ralte told India Legal that her engagement found that attacks against the Northeast people took place in over a hundred locations in the Karnataka capital: some areas like Ejipura, Electronic City and Kamannahalli reported more than a dozen incidents while Koramangala – a seedbed for start-ups and giants like Flipkart – reported the highest incidents at 61. “Nearly 700 people were beneficiaries of our help in nearly 252 cases that our Solidarity team was involved with,” says Ralte, a theologian and activist in women’s issues.
“More than 125 FIRs have been filed in various police stations in the city and we believe that the institutions of law and order will render the necessary justice to the innocent victims,” adds Ralte, who is also a professor of theology and women’s studies at a leading seminary in the city.
The United Nations defines racism as a “theory of races hierarchy which argues that the superior race should be preserved and should dominate the others. Racism can also be an unfair attitude towards another ethnic group. Finally, racism can also be defined as a violent hostility against a social group.”
India has been at the forefront of campaigns against racism on the global arena: India was an outspoken critic of apartheid [the white nationalist government’s anti-black policy of separateness] and racial discrimination in South Africa. India, a UN document reveals, was the first country to raise the issue in the UN (in 1946) and played a leading role in the formation of a Sub-Committee against Apartheid set up by the General Assembly. When the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination was adopted in 1965, India was among the earliest signatories.
Yet to find almost 142 youths not paid back wages in a city like Bengaluru somehow does not resonate with India’s tolerance culture. Further, the Bengaluru study found, 218 people were subjected to cheating, extortion and threat while 118 were subjected to physical attacks.
Most young girls from the Northeast affected in the unorganised sector – for example, beauty parlours or as stewards in restaurants and hotels – are afraid to go public with complains of sexual harassment as most often their bosses are the harassers. They are afraid to lodge a complaint with the police for fear of losing their jobs.
The reality is that most of the north eastern states face huge unemployment problems leaving the youth no choice but to come to cities like Bangalore in search of livelihood and economic sustenance.
In 2012, there was a fake SMS that threatened to carry out attacks on people from the north east in Bangalore which triggered a sudden exodus of people wanting to flee the city to their respective home states in the north east. It was estimated that nearly a lakh people fled the city for safety.
Following this nearly forty non-profits with 200 members came together to help the Northeast Solidarity helpline to reach out to a wider community of people who remained in the city. To stem the tide of the rush, both the Central and State Governments pitched in to defuse the tension by getting the local police to redress the issues connecting to the fake SMS.
“I have been studying and teaching on Women in Religion and Society in the city for more than twenty-five years but have never witnessed such a chaotic situation involving students and people from north east,” says Ralte. “Sadly, though, the issue has been a festering wound from 2012 onwards although we are trying our best to find the balm to heal it.” She laments that it has been a continuous struggle to find the financial resources to help meet expenses especially to those who require continuous, critical medical care. For example, a victim of gangrape who is now recuperating in a rehab centre requires approximately Rs 25,000 every month. Right now, we rely on public support and donations but those who are not able to pay for their medical treatment have no choice but to go back to their home states where they are confined to their homes only.
The Bengaluru helpline sees a silver line in the clouds too when they conduct a vibrant and culturally rich north east festival in Bangalore every year showcasing the beauty, creativity, colours and diversity. The helpline wants to build a youth centre for development where youngsters who are hunting for jobs are given life skill and soft skill training before they take up any jobs. The cost for this project is in the range of Rs 10 crore and Ralte is open to accept any help in fulfilling this worthy project for the youth of north east.
In the national capital New Delhi too, Alana Golmei, has been at the forefront to spread awareness and render help to people from the Northeast through North East Support Centre and Helpline (NESCH).
After a 19-year-old Nido Tania from Arunachal Pradesh was thrashed to death in Delhi by local goons on Jan 29, 2014, outreach and awareness programmes across the country, especially where there is a high concentration of people from Northeast, have swelled.
Following Tania’s death, a committee was constituted in Feb 2014 by a retired government bureaucrat MP Bezbaruah to suggest measures to address these concerns. His July 2014 report to the Ministry of Home Affairs had a lengthy title: ‘Report of the Committee Under the Chairmanship of Shri M.P. Bezbaruah To Look into the Concerns of the Peoples of the Northeast Living in Other Parts of the Country’.
Bezbaruah’s report, among others, recommended suitable legal/legislative measures, quick action by law enforcement agencies and guidance to the people wherever they are outside their respective regions.
A special police unit in Delhi to help people from the Northeast has registered more than 500 cases of rape, molestation, eve-teasing and harassment at workplace and by landlords in just five years alone. A 2009 study in Delhi reported over seven lakh people from the Northeast live and work in the Delhi capital region. The same study found that almost 10,000 youths get out of Northeast every year for studies and work and a good majority of them have said they face racial discrimination.
With helplines across the country continuing to get calls it is high time that the entire recommendations of the Bezbaruah Committee be implemented in letter and spirit including promulgation of a strong law and amendment of Indian Penal Codes where by such offences will be made cognizable and non-bailable. Including completion of investigation of the cases, by an officer not below the rank of an ACP or SP, related to discrimination of Northeast people within 60 days.
As Bezbaruah noted, the key is to influence the minds of the general populace about the “ethos of Northeast in the psych of the people outside Northeast. This can be achieved by amending school curriculum and university syllabus making study of the region mandatory”. Maybe then the cries of complaints that jam the helplines may see a dip and eventually stop.