Skin deep or widespread


The violent attacks on people from the Northeast first in Bangalore and then in Delhi last week by gangs of hooligans, though in cities separated by over a thousand miles, were too close to each to not see a pattern. The expletives and abuses, the victims said they were subjected to, also clearly indicate hatred on the basis of race. In the Bangalore incident where an engineering student and his two colleagues, all from Manipur were attacked, the victims said they were reminded that this was India and not China when they were unable to speak in Kannada. In the first of the Delhi incidents, the two men from Nagaland were told they were being beaten up because they were from the Northeast and that they and all others from the Northeast must leave the colony or else face the consequences. Curiously, they were also told they were spared death because they were not from Manipur. Manipur it seems is the new Nepal in the larger Indian psyche, and anybody Mongoloid looking is now a Manipuri and no longer Nepali. The second incident, where a Mizo girl was killed in her flat, does not seem to be racial in nature, though little is known yet as the victim did not survive to tell her tale. The needle of suspicion however is on her live-in non-Mizo boyfriend with whom neighbour said she had a quarrel on the previous evening of the day her lifeless body was recovered.

Something obviously is seriously wrong here, and what is even worse is, there have not been enough voices against these incidents from the respectable sections of the larger civil society in these cities. And we say `respectable section` in the optimistic belief this racism is limited to only lumpen elements constituting largely of migrants themselves, who see a threat of losing out jobs and wages to the migrants from the Northeast. It would have been reasonable to presume this was the insecurity leading to these racial hate attacks for indeed Northeasterners are migrating to these cities in a big way, either as students or else to seek low to mid level jobs in the service sectors, and this would be resented by competitors for these same jobs. As always and everywhere, it is also true that migrants who are normally the more desperate job seekers, always manage to bring down wages in the local markets, angering local workers of the same class. This friction is there in the Northeast too, where locals resent the usurping of the local service market by migrants, and in fact this is one of the openly stated reasons for the demand for the ILPS in places where this was not previously in vogue. This would have been a very plausible explanation if not for this deafening silence of the so called saner sections of the society in these places. So far, the only voices reverberating on the matter are those of Northeasterners in candlelight vigils in the metropolises, with pathetic appeals they are not outsiders to seemingly indifferent audiences.

This absence of any strong moderating voice probably is an indication that the racism evident in the recent attacks is not just skin deep, and that the malaise is much more widespread. Unlike in the new and congested colonies where migrants flock to and where these racial incidents are frequent, in the upper strata of the society it is likely the venom is much more nuanced and channelled in manners that make legal interventions difficult if not impossible under the current laws, therefore not easily visible. This possibility should not be ruled out, so that remedial measures, such as those recently recommended by the M.P. Bezbaruah committee, are compelled to take them into consideration, rather than merely respond to the sporadic violent attacks in the lower income colonies. It is quite unthinkable what a remedial recommendation could be if this latter scenario is true, but it is definitely a challenge which nobody serious enough to resolve this scourge can afford to ignore.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam


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