In light of the spate of incidents of discrimination against Indians from the north-east, Policy Matrix organised a webinar on the topic “Laws & Lessons: Combat Discrimination Against North-East Indians” with MLA from Pasighat-West Ninong Ering on 11th June. He has earlier been a Member of Parliament from 2009 to 2019 and a former Union Minister of India. The discussion was comprehensive and focussed on various ways and means to fight the menace of racial slurs and discrimination against north-easterners in various parts of India. Mr. Ering began his conversation with Ms. Vaibhavi Sharma by thanking Team Policy Matrix for connecting the youth for a dialogue on a pertinent issue of discrimination with people residing in the north-east, especially during these pandemic times.
Mr. Ering said that the discrimination and mockery of people from the north-east is nothing new. Building upon his own experience, he stated that he has been raising awareness and demanding action on this matter as an MP and as well as a Minister. He said that quite recently, the YouTuber Paras Singh incident has united everyone against this issue. The remarks made were not only against him as a person but also against the people of Arunachal Pradesh as a whole. He also said that the usage of terms like “mainland” India is problematic, every part of India is mainland India, North-east is as much Indian as any other part. Putting into perspective, he took the audience through the ordeal faced by the people from North East who travel thousands of kilometres away from home and family and when they face such treatment in their own country, it is extremely disheartening and violating the dignity of their life.
Commenting upon the inadequacy of the existing legal framework in addressing the issues of racial slurs, discrimination at the workplace and physical attacks targeting North-eastern Indians, he said that there is a pressing need for a comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Law providing penal actions against the racist elements. He said that “Surety of punishment is required rather than the Severity of punishment.” he expressed hope that lawmakers will seriously ponder upon the issue and frame a law.
In the long term, he suggested that education and awareness in the common people are required. He stated that in line with the Bezbaruah Committee Report, he had introduced a bill in the Parliament on compulsory teaching of stories and lives of north-east India in the CBSE curriculum in 2017. He said that this inclusion will pave a path for the integration and acceptance of north East Indians. He remarked that it was time when the north-east claims its rightful place.
He stated that there are various instances of discrimination at the workplace against people from the north-east. Such unfortunate incidents, he said, really make us feel helpless at times! However, to eliminate this, we need a long-term strategy as demarcated in the Bezbaruah Committee report, and he said that we should make a start with the inclusion of chapters on the north-east – their lives, stories and legends. If there are small chapters on freedom fighters from the north-east, their history and culture at primary and secondary level – students can catch it young so that it stays with them and are acquainted with this part of the country better. He also suggested that colleges and schools should include north-east trips as a part of their educational excursions.
He also urged the superstars like Salman Khan, and John Abraham to play a crucial role in awareness on the lives of the north-east people. He said that the people from the region are very good with football, and the Union Sports Minister Mr Rijiju can come up with a scheme wherein people of the region will go and play football all around India and vice versa. He also urged the central leaders to visit interior areas of the north-east should return to foster greater cohesion between local people and the administration. He expressed hope that with similar measures, we can achieve a racism-free India someday where every Indian would be equally treated.
In response to a question, with reference to the Axone (2019) film, as to whether north-eastern Indians contribute to their own discrimination by not mingling with others, he stated that although he had not watched the film, in his opinion this was a very minute observation. He stated that as people basically migrate from one place to another, so they tend to stick together. And further, due to the racial slurs faced initially north easterners stay together by force and not by choice. Having said that, he said that love and hatred often come from the same society. In general, he stated that most of the people in society are welcoming and easily mingle. He said that interaction and intermingling would be key enablers in reducing biases against them since they would lead to greater assimilation of knowledge about the north-eastern food, culture and festivals.
Talking about the increased incidents of discrimination post the outbreak of Covid-19, he said that the discourse has been highly racialised and stigmatised against the people of the north-east. He said that in India, the pandemic had reinforced racial profiling, portraying the north-east people as suspect carriers of the virus resulting in taunts and discriminations being faced by them. He said that it is about the maturity of the society to understand the origin of the virus and should not relate the people by their looks, declaring them as Chinese and associating with the virus. He expressed that the time is ripe for a course correction.
Responding to a question on the Inner Line Permit, he said that these are meant to protect the people, the land, the forests, the minerals and resources from exploitation. However, the hospitality of north-eastern people knows no bounds, tourists from all over are most welcome and he hoped that post-pandemic, people would come in huge numbers to see the beauty of this region.
In conclusion, he said that both laws and lessons must be used to tackle the racial discrimination issue. The government must include Lessons in its curriculum and hope national education policy 2020 will accommodate the right space for the north-east. And laws should be strongest against those who involve in racial discrimination cases. He urged the civil society and youth to come together fight to reform the evil mindset. The session concluded with a vote of thanks from Advocate Mordhwaj.