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India is a land of ‘Unity in Diversity’.

‘Unity in Diversity’ is based on the concept where the individual or social differences in physical attributes, skin-colour, caste, creed, cultural and religious practices, etc. are not looked upon as a conflict. Rather, these differences are considered as varieties that enrich society and the nation as a whole.

North-East India includes seven contiguous states-territories, namely:

Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura.

Hence, also known as the ‘Seven Sister States of India’.

These states are one of the most treasured and eco-friendly areas in India, having an abundance of natural resources and a cauldron of different cultural practices.

Article 14 of the Constitution of India provides for equality before the law or equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. However, despite this, racism and discriminations of various other kinds are rampant in India for the people of its own north-east!

Race may be defined as the attributes, traits, and features which differentiate one group from the other existing social groups. It is inherited biologically and serves as a means of self-identification. A person is said to be ‘racist’ when he/she displays emotions of hatred, prejudice, intolerance against other/s only due to the latter’s place of origin, language, appearance, or any other attribute that the person has gained genetically/geographically.

Through the news, it is commonplace to have read about instances of north-eastern folks getting humiliated and ridiculed on a regular basis, when they are called out as, “Chinese”, “Chinkee” and by other such derogatory remarks. Are their facial features their faults?

They are often even asked if they eat snakes, frogs, cockroaches, bats, as the Chinese relish these bizarre items as delicacies on their food-platter!

Many women from the north-eastern states face sexually coloured remarks where they are asked if they are actually masseuses from Thailand and would conform to any sexual favours in exchange for money! And precisely, these are those reasons which psychologically distance such victims from the rest of their own countrymen, making them feel unsafe and isolated while away from their hometowns.

People do not usually call a Bengali as Bangladeshi, or a Tamilian as Sinhalese, but it is so easy to call an Assamese/Naga as ‘Chinese’. Isn’t this pure ‘double standard’?

The most shocking and tragic case on these lines was the murder of a 20-year-old boy, Nido Tania, who hailed from Arunachal Pradesh. Nido had got his hair coloured, and had got into an argument where the shopkeepers were constantly hurling taunts and abuses at him for his facial features, appearance, and his hair. The police registered a case under Section 302 of Indian Penal Code (IPC), though CBI dropped these charges and instead proceeded under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Later, the Court dropped even these charges and ruled that there was no definite motive of “racial slur” in this case. This incident deeply hurt those from the north-east, and public agitations demanding equal respect and dignity were witnessed.

There are other such instances like that of the mysterious death of Loitam Richard in Bangalore, the murder of Ramchanphy Hongray in New Delhi, the suicide of Dana Sangma, and other such matters that serve as reminders of the racism inflicted upon those from the north-eastern side of the country.

With the growing fear of COVID-19 spread across the globe, those from the north-east are not just scared of getting infected with the disease but are more cautious of now being teased by the name of the virus, since the virus spread to the world from China!

Such disdainful acts of teasing have led to instances where some from such states are being called as “Corona” publicly! Indian TV star and popular host, Meiyang Chang, himself admitted of having ridiculed this way.

In Bangalore, there was news of landlords asking their tenants from the north-east to vacate their homes. Also, an auto-rickshaw driver spitting tobacco on the face of a woman from the north-east became viral due to the shock-factor involved!

The abuse here is not just of the physical kind, but also mentally harassing to the victims, making them feel alienated and cut-off from their own fellow countrymen.


Institutionalized Racism

It is quite pertinent to understand at this point that even the law-enforcement agencies take such matter lightly and suppress it or brush it aside.

One such case was that of Nido Tania, as discussed above, where the CBI diluted the essence of the matter by dropping the charges of murder and instead applying the SC/ST Act.

To remedy situations, the Bezbaruah Committee had recommended that a North-East Special Police Unit should be created, so that a police-officer could register complaints of such cases and give pertinent directions to other police-stations.

The committee also recommended appointing special lawyers and public prosecutors for carrying out legal counselling for the victims of such ‘hate crimes’.

It also recommended that there should be such a legislation that includes provisions like- the offense to be made non-bailable, FIR-investigation to be completed compulsorily within 60 days by a Special Cell, and trial to be completed within 90 days.

New Delhi has a separate Special Police Unit for the North-Eastern Region (SPUNER).


Legal Framework

The Anti-Discrimination and Equality Bill, 2016 was introduced in the Lok Sabha by MP Shashi Tharoor, which signifies that there will be no discrimination (on the grounds of caste, creed religion, sex, colour, place of origin, etc.) against the people of the weaker sections of society. The Bill also guarantees protection to the weaker sections like SCs/STs, who are often exposed to violence for no reason. It also provides measures for reprisals, indemnity, and/or compensation to the victim.

The SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 aims to protect SCs/STs from discrimination, violence, exploitation. It lists 22 offenses, which would fall under ‘discrimination’, like denial of access to- drinking water, safe hygienic conditions, edible food, education, hospitals, places of worship, etc.

Section 14 of the Act provides for speedy trials in courtrooms, so that the victims get justice and recoveries expeditiously.

However, this Act has a lacunae in terms of the fact that not all people from the north-eastern belt fall under the category of SCs/STs, and therefore they fall outside the purview of this Act, technically. As per Government data and statistics, we find the proportion of SC and ST to be 4.6% and 33.8% in Sikkim, 7.5% and 12.4% in Assam, 3.8% and 35.1% in Manipur, etc.

It is also observed that while there are many laws in place in our country, there is no precise or specific legislation that covers the type of unfortunate incidents that the victims of north-eastern states face.

According to recommendations of the Bezbaruah Committee, special amendments should be made to the IPC, such as Section 153-C (Use of criminal force against people of any particular racial origin) and Section 509-A (Word, gesture or act intended to insult a member of a particular racial group or of any race).

Further, as far as a constitutional perspective is concerned, Articles 14-17 and Articles 46 & 51A(e) must be implemented well, in the interest of welfare of all.

Commenting from an international law angle, India is a signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) which prescribes its Member States to prevent and combat racist practices in order to build an international community free from racial-discrimination.


Judicial Activism

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has issued guidelines in the past to curb instances of discrimination regularly faced by people from the north-east.

This involves setting up a committee that would monitor initiatives taken by the Government to deal with incidents of racial slur & violence, hate crimes, and ensure strict action to be taken against all complaints filed. All such complaints are to be then forwarded to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) or the concerned police-station.
In the matter, Court on its Own Motion v. Union of India, judicial view was that such disturbing acts threaten the integrity of the nation and violate Article 19(1)(d)and(e) of our Constitution, as these restrict the right of north-eastern people to freely move throughout India and to reside or settle in any part thereof. These also tend to violate Article 301 of the Constitution, as natives of one state-territory feel harassed and prevented from carrying on their business/trade in any other state of the country.


Final Comments

To conclude, silence is no longer an option, and education is the ‘preventive-cure’ for many evils. It helps in preventing the manifestation of many biases, prejudices, and instances of intolerance towards a particular community.

Though our courts have acknowledged such ‘hate crimes’ against those from the north-eastern states, suitable amendments in the IPC and stricter laws in this direction are yet to be passed. Also, law-enforcement agencies should be properly sensitised regarding such offences.

India, being such a diverse and complex nation, is bound to witness differences among people in their appearance, language, origin, skin-colour, etc. but these should not serve as a ground for any discrimination/segregation. It’s high time we put a full-stop to all episodes of racial slurs. The ‘Seven Sisters’ always contribute to the beauty and bounty of our country, and now it is our responsibility to show love and respect towards their people.

After all, ‘We the People of India’ stand when united but fall when divided!...

By SHIREEN SULTANA (Heritage Law College, Kolkata)


  1. Pertinent Bare Acts
  2. Times of India (E-Newspaper)
  3. www.legalcrystal.com


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