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.
– Francis Duggan
Last year, the topic of a debate in my school on the occasion of August 15 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 seem to mock minorities – the suppressed, inhibited and oppressed sections of society.
To pen down all the forms of discrimination people face every day in our campuses, states, 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, the biggest democratic and most diversely populated country in the world.
In a survey released a few years ago by ‘The Washington Post’, India was ranked among the most racist countries 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 people with different colours and cultures, 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 the 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 the country’s most prestigious educational spaces, such a Delhi University. They are harassed verbally as well as physically. Eve-teasing cases are common for North-Eastern girls. Unashamedly, people have given them the tag of “easily available”.
Many reports have also highlighted the problem of accommodation for North-Eastern DU students. Either they are turned away or asked to pay twice the usual rent for boarding, and not given rent documents. There are 14 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 is solely based on first come first serve basis, which leaves acquisition of a 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 coming 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 the school debate, I feel that it’s true that we are still fighting for freedom even after 70 years of independence. The only difference is that we rebelled against the colonial rule in 1947; today we are fighting against our own people, and curbing their right to become and feel free in independent India. It seems contradictory when our leaders quote the glorious ancient Indian texts stating, “Vasudeva Kutumbakam (the world is one family).” If this were really so, then, Zubair, a 30-year-old from northern Nigeria, 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 face 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 the 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, there is no specific law to address racism. Recently, MP Shashi Tharoor introduced the 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, the Ministry of Home Affairs asked the Delhi High Court to introduce two new sections in the IPC, dealing with racial discrimination.
Despite a number of mob lynchings, harassment cases, and humiliation of minorities based on race or ethnicity, no further steps have been taken in this regard.
To end racism, first, we need to accept that it exists. An ignorant attitude will only normalize the issue of racism in India. We need to have a department dedicated to addressing human rights violations against students in the country. NGOs working on human rights need to speak out against discrimination and racist violence and 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 campuses or other residential areas instead of specific areas with homogeneous cultural neighbours, which increases alienation. Most importantly, the government should pass correct and appropriate laws to tackle racism in India.
Moreover, we need proper education to seek the real meaning of freedom in India and fight for it collectively. It’s not our right, but our 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 else 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.