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A plea from N-E people in Pune: ‘Call us Indians, treat us equal’

The recent incident of a group of miscreants beating up a 17-year-old student, Takam Todo of Arunachal Pradesh, at the premises of Government Polytechnic in Pune and the delays by police in lodging of the FIR highlight the plight of people of the North East living in other parts of the country. While the incident […]

Written by Chandan Haygunde | Pune |
August 28, 2016 12:14:21 am
North East people in Pune, North Easter Community in Pune, Satish Shirsath, Savitribai Phule Pune University, Takam Todo, Violence against North East Community living in Pune, Violence against People of North east community in Maharashtra Maharashtra news, latest news, India news Professor Dr Satish Shirsath of Savitribai Phule Pune University said, N-E people, particularly tribals, belong to the Indo-Mongoloid ethnic group. They have different facial features, but are truly Indians.

The recent incident of a group of miscreants beating up a 17-year-old student, Takam Todo of Arunachal Pradesh, at the premises of Government Polytechnic in Pune and the delays by police in lodging of the FIR highlight the plight of people of the North East living in other parts of the country.

While the incident took place on August 14, it was only after The Indian Express report that the police registered an FIR on August 20, under Section 324 (voluntarily causing hurt by means of dangerous weapons or means) of Indian Penal Code (IPC).

N-E people consider Pune a good place, but say incidents of racial discrimination and ignorance is common here. Talking to some 100-odd of them, both men and women from Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Sikkim, Mizoram, Nagaland who are currently living in Pune for work, studies and other purposes, revealed that as many as 91 of them faced problems of racism, discrimination, teasing, cheating and abuse due to facial features.

Most of them said the local people discriminated against them by calling them foreigners (Chinese, Nepalese etc) or by passing comments like “Chinki”, “momo” and “hakka noodles”. Only nine said they have not faced any such problem in Pune.

While most of them ignored it, some felt hurt while a few others took it sportingly. A few “protested” and even approached local friends, police or NGO activists for help.

Asked what could be the reasons behind this discrimination, a majority of them say it is “due to ignorance about North East India” while some others say felt it was done “intentionally to hurt”. A few of them said people discriminated against them unknowingly.

Todo said he failed to understand why the miscreants thrashed him badly over such a minor issue of his torch light going towards them. “It may have happened that because I have different looks, the assailants considered me an outsider with no local support here and they went on beating me even after I repeatedly said sorry for rescuing myself,” he said.

A police officer said some N-E people in Pune also faced problems in getting a home on rent as the landlords thought they are foreigners. The problem was solved after the police intervened.

In 2014, after the murder of Nido Tani of Arunachal Pradesh in Delhi, a committee set up by Ministry of Home Affairs visited different cities, including Pune, to understand the problems faced by the people from N-E. N-E youths in Pune had narrated their problems before this committee.

Though the police and NGOs have conducted various activities for awareness, these incidents continue to take place. In July 2015, The Indian Express had reported how a Nagaland student, P David Ndang, was asked to pay entry fee meant for foreigners at the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum.

Gandhi Haobijam, a Manipuri student, says, “We have seen even the educated people in city calling us foreigners. They just don’t know that people having faces like us can be Indians. Lessons on culture, history, traditions and importance of North East India should be included in syllabus of schools and colleges in rest of India…We want people to calls us Indians and treat us equal.”

Need of a stern law against racism

Ripeh Bagra of Arunachal Pradesh, a law student in Pune and advisor of North East Community of Pune (NECOP), said, “We are very much Indians. It is ridiculous that in our own country there are people who don’t even know that we exist. Discrimination has become a routine thing for us at colleges and even work place. Certainly, a strong law is needed against discrimination along with awareness activities.”

In 2012, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had issued letters to all states and union territories, asking them to take action against those passing racial comments against the N-E people under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act as a large number of persons from the North-East India belong to the Scheduled Tribes. However, no such case under this Act has been registered with the Pune city police, said officials. There are cases only related to cheating and assaults on N-E persons, most of which were registered during the violence that spread following the Bodos-Bangladeshi migrants conflict in Assam in mid-2012.

Police officers say though there was no section of IPC under which a person can be booked for passing racial comments like “Chinki” against N-E people, action can be taken against the culprits on complaints.

More awareness needed among police, govt officials

Advocate Tania Kippa of Arunachal Pradesh, who did LLB in Pune and is now a research scholar at the National Law University in Delhi, said, “I believe it is mainly because of ignorance that the police have failed to take a prompt action in the case Todo, who went to the police station in blood-soaked condition soon after he was attacked and also next day with college staff. And this is not the first time. When I was a student leader in Pune, I also saw several incidents in which the police and college authorities failed to take proper action to help N-E people. Main reason is lack of knowledge and awareness about N-E among them.”

Kippa pointed at the July 9 incident, when Monika Khangembam, a girl from Manipur who was going to Seoul for a global women’s conference, reportedly faced “racism” as an officer at the immigration desk at the IGI Airport in New Delhi, after looking at her passport ,said “Indian Toh Nahi Lagti Ho (You don’t look Indian).

Monika had shared her experience on Facebook, which went viral on social media, following which External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had tweeted apologies to her and promised to take the matter to the authorities concerned.

“A few years earlier, a team of Meghalaya students visited Shaniwar Wada, a heritage site looked after by government. The staff here demanded entry fees meant for foreigners from the students. Our activist explained to the staff that students are from Meghalaya, which is a part of our country. Same Meghalaya has given us freedom fighters like U Kiang Nangbah and Rani Ma Gaidinliu. Attempts are on to create awareness about N-E,” said Bramhadev Atkari, state co-ordinator of My Home India, NGO that provides helpline to N-E people.

‘Discrimination is violation of constitutional and human rights of N-E people’

Human rights activist and lawyer Asim Sarode said, “Unfortunately, the local police cannot register any complaints as Indian Penal laws are silent on kinds of discrimination faced by N-E people. But Article 14 of the Indian Constitution gives right to equality and equal protection to everyone within the territory of India. Article 15 prohibits all forms of discrimination on the grounds of race and place of birth. Section 2(d) of Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 defines Human Rights as rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable in the courts in India. This means persons from N-E India facing discrimination can approach the State or the National Human Rights Commission with their grievance against discrimination.”

Professor Dr Satish Shirsath of Savitribai Phule Pune University said, “Most of N-E people, particularly tribals, belong to the Indo-Mongoloid ethnic group. They have different facial features, but are truly Indians. Their rights should be protected.”

 

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