A YouTuber from Punjab calling a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from the state of Arunachal Pradesh “Chinese” recently caught the public’s attention after the story went viral on social media. But there could be many such incidents that are left unreported and silently withstood. Racial discrimination against North-Eastern people by mainland Indians is nothing new, though new incidents keep occurring.

How could one forget Nido Tania, the boy from Arunachal Pradesh who was beaten to death by shopkeepers in a fight sparked by taunts on the hair colour of the Arunachalee boy in Munirka, Delhi? Memories of a few North-Eastern guys being denied entry in a supermarket in Bangalore, allegedly for physically resembling the Chinese and therefore carrying with them the coronavirus even as they wore masks and showed their Identity cards, are still fresh even after a year of its occurrence.

The obvious question that comes to the mind then is, “What initiative has been taken to curb this menace of blatant racism?” Or to put it differently, why has no effective step been taken by the concerned to ensure the basic safety of Northeasterners?

Also read | ‘Chinese’: Racial slurs won’t stop over Arunachal MLA’s call to ban ‘PUBG’

The recent discrimination case involving the YouTuber from Punjab reveals an uncomfortable trend among some mainland Indians to use discriminatory words and to humiliate and subjugate their North-Eastern counterparts. These discriminatory acts stem from the comfort in the belief that incidents such as this do not attract any fearful consequences. It is thence commendable on the part of the Arunachal police to pursue the case with utmost seriousness to book the culprit and thereby send a stentorian message to the public.

This effort of the AP police in collaboration with the Punjab police should be emulated by other states to give nothing away in cases of discrimination against the Northeast people, if the intent is to sincerely address the issue. Geographical and physical differences should not be allowed to be misused as an opportunity to divide the people of India; discrimination has the dangerous potential of sowing seeds of disunity and could knock for six the integrity of the country.

It is worth remembering that a year ago, an animal rights activist had called Nagas ‘Chinki’ and was booked by the Nagaland police and brought to Kohima to face trial. The accused did apologise and appeared remorseful and seemed to have learned her lesson. She was later released and it is highly doubtful the person will repeat the same mistake again. But the crux of the matter is if the punishment awarded is exemplary enough to discourage others from committing the crime again. It is in this aspect, that the effort of the Arunachal police to nab the YouTuber despite his apology, that deserves adulation. Racial discrimination is too serious a matter to be dismissed with a mere note of apology. More stringent actions should be awarded to discourage potential discriminators.

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At a time when the nation is reeling under the severe impact of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unthinkable as to how a feeling of hatred and enmity could be developed against one’s own countrymen. We should all hang our heads in shame and introspect. The challenge now is to find a solution to put an end to this humiliating culture for good.

Being one personally affected by the unending wave of racial discrimination based on appearances and the type of food chosen to put on my plate, I remember the psychological trauma and anguish so much so I had at one point I questioned if NE Indians are considered bonafide citizens of the country at all. Many victims of racial discrimination will harbor the same anguish.

Also, racial discrimination spawns regional enmity as is evident in past incidents. Such episode of racial discrimination against Northeasterners has in the past fuelled regional enmity and resulted in the attack on people belonging outside the region and vice versa. It is a dangerous trend detrimental to the idea of unity in diversity. 

While the Government is spending its time and energy to thwart off China’s claim of a part of a state in Northeast India, calling names like ‘Chinese’ to our Northeastern brethren, in addition to it being a crime, is tantamount to promoting China’s propaganda. Ironically, there is a sizeable strength of Northeasterners among the Indian Army personnel, valiantly manning our borders to avert external aggressions, including that of China’s. It is a tragedy that Northeasterners, despite rendering their selfless service to the nation, are rebuked and not treated as ‘equals’ by many . 

To rein in the menace of racial discrimination in all sincerity, it is time discussions on the matter are given a centrepiece in our social sphere to spread the awareness of it being a vicious social evil. Endowing paramount importance to the issue is a pressing necessity that merits the collective endeavour of concerned authorities and the general public. The initiative warrants policies and actions devised by taking into account the grave ramifications racial discrimination has, beyond the concerns of Northeastern Indians. In all the cases involving discrimination against the NE people, the victims are not just those directly affected; India as a country that celebrates diversity is the main victim.

Also read | Varun Dhawan slams Youtuber for racial slur on Arunachal MLA

(The writer is an author and freelance writer based in Mumbai.)

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