Some people carry their honour in a flag,
And of their nationality they brag.
They feel superior and they differentiate,
And against those who are different they discriminate.
Last year, the topic of a debate in my school on the occasion of 15th August was ‘We celebrate Independence Day, but are we really independent?’ This genuine question has never been addressed precisely. Discrimination as a social process, as comprehended by the majority, elite and hegemonic group, is so normalized that democratic principles of the constitution seems to mock at minorities, suppressed, inhibited and oppressed section of the society.
To pen down all forms of discrimination people face everyday in our campuses, state and the whole nation is quite a difficult task. This article aims to foreground the issue of racism which is often normalized and seldom realized in this biggest democratic and most diversely populated country of the world.
In a survey released last year by ‘The Washington Post’, India was ranked the most racist country in the world. This headline reminds us of the recent controversial comment of Former BJP parliamentarian Tarun Vijay wading into a racist row; “we have fought racism and have people with different colour and culture but still never had any racism”. It’s astonishing how the conscience of our leaders is agnostic on the discriminatory issues occurring in their own cities. Delhi itself is one of the most racist cities in India, where humiliation and taunts faced by people from North-east and South, exclusion based on religion, racism against foreigners etc are not punishable offences as revealed by a government report.
For many North-East Indians, if you are based in Delhi and other metro-cities, you must face discrimination. Chinese, chinky, momo, chowmein etc are such common derogatory words used against them not only in public spaces but in country’s most prestigious educational spaces such a Delhi University. They are harassed verbally as well as physically. Eve-teasing cases are more common for North-Eastern girls. Unashamedly, people have given them a tag of “easily available”. Many reports have also highlighted the problem of accommodation of N-E DU students. Either they are turned away or asked to pay twice the usual rent for boarding and not giving rent documents. There are fourteen colleges in the University of Delhi that offer hostel facilities including Sri Ram College of Commerce, Miranda House, Hindu college and SGTB Khalsa College. The dormitory allocation in most of them are solely based on first come first serve basis which leaves acquisition of hostel room on the applicant’s luck. Delhi University partially takes care of women’s accommodation for female applicants but also fails to address the needs of male candidates. A worried male candidate descending from Nagaland said, “We are uncomfortable in preferring flats over hostels as the crime rate against N-Es has only increased over the years”.
Returning to the topic of school’s debate, I feel that it’s true that we are still fighting for freedom even after seventy years of independence. The only difference is that, we rebelled against the colonial rule in 1947; today we are fighting against our own people who are curbing the rights of becoming and feeling free in independent India. It seems contradictory when our leaders signifies the glorious ancient Indian texts stating, vasudeva kutumbakam (the world is one family). If this been really so, then, Brayan, an African student at DU wouldn’t have said, “the first words I learnt in India were, kala (black) and bandar (monkey)”. Now, is it really possible to go with the statement of Mr. Vijay that India has never been racist?
African students in India fear from the racism on a daily basis. Recently, Endurance Amalawa, a Nigerian studying in India, was admitted to the hospital after being attacked by a mob in greater Noida. Locals had blamed a group of Nigerian students for the death of an Indian teenager even though the police had no evidence linking them with youngster. The stereotypes attached and these forms of alienation based on ethnocentrism are a matter of shame and dismay for the whole Indian society.
Although the constitution says that there shouldn’t be any kind of division on the basis of race, caste, gender class etc but there is no specific law to address the issue especially of racism. Recently, MP Shashi Tharoor introduced Anti-discrimination and Equality Bill, 2016. The bill deals with discrimination, victimization and harassment but the Central government is yet to send the Bill to the parliamentary standing committee. Also in 2015, Ministry of Home Affairs asked to introduce two new sections. First, if anyone charged for racial discrimination will be sentenced to 5 years in jail also have to cough up a fine of Rs.5000
Despite going through a number of mob lynchings, harassment cases and humiliation of minorities based on race or ethnicity, ultimately leading to genocide, no further steps has been taken in this regard.
To end racism first we need to accept that it exists. Ignorant attitude will only normalize the issue of racism in India. We need to have a department dedicated to address human rights violations against students in the country. NGOs working on human rights need to speak out against discrimination and racist violence, provide action and legal support to the victims. The human resources ministry must hold anti-racism campaigns on university campuses and students should be told about the importance of various scholarships for higher education. Students must be given proper lodging facilities around campus and other student’s residential areas too instead of specific areas with homogeneous cultural neighbour that increases alienation. Most importantly, the government should pass correct and appropriate laws to tackle racism in India. Moreover, we need proper education (as the current education system needs to be critically appraised) to seek the real meaning of freedom in India and shall fight for it collectively. It’s not our right but responsibility.
Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., “Nothing in the entire world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” India is a secular country and everyone has to be respectful and should give everyone a chance. Culture heterogeneity is the pride of India but ignoring the very presence of racism will only result in alleviating hatred and intolerance. So, let’s unite and fight racism.