The marginalisation of people from the north eastern states of India is not a new issue. In fact, over the last decade, instances of such marginalisation have only increased exponentially. Despite the government’s efforts of bringing North-east into the larger union of India as a country, it has not been sufficient. The fault is obviously in the proper lack of implementation of the various laws that have been issued for the abovementioned cause.
The Fundamental Duty under the Article 51A(e) of the Indian Constitution is “to promote harmony and the spirit of brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religion, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to dignity of women.” However, on Sunday, 25th June, 2017, not only did a few Indians disregard their fundamental duty, they also proved that discrimination in India is still prevalent even after various Constitutional laws.
Tailin Lyngdoh is a governess who is originally from Meghalaya. She works with an Abu Dhabi based doctor from Assam. She was not allowed to enter the Delhi Golf Club on the pretext that she looked like a ‘maid’. “They told me, ‘Leave the dining hall, maids are not allowed.’ They were very rude. I felt ashamed and angry,” said Lyngdoh, who was wearing a Jainsem, a traditional dress worn by the indigenous Khasi women. When the staff was questioned as to how could they decide that she was a maid, they responded in a mix of Hindi and English that, she looked like a maid, her dress looked like that of a maid and she resembled a ‘Nepali’. The Golf Club management has arrogated the right to insult domestic workers as well as people who look like domestic workers. This incident caused an uprising not only in the NE states but also among NE people living in cities. That Lyngdoh being a scheduled tribe whose rights are protected under the laws governing Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes of India, was vehemently discriminated so.
Her employer Nivedita Barthakur was not amused when they asked Tailin Lyngdoh to leave the table where they were about to have their lunch. She tried explaining to them that the lady was wearing the Khasi traditional dress which is similar to a saree or a salwar suit. That it’s accepted attire in all formal occasions and state occasions. They refused to budge and said that she had to leave as domestic helps are not allowed inside the dining room. Dr. Sondhihad, who was amongst the guests, also pointed out that Lyngdoh belonged to a scheduled tribe and they were treading on dangerous ground as they were clearly discriminating against a woman by racially profiling her. Their response was a curt “jo karna hai kar lijiye.”
Barthakur wants to take legal action against this incident and she is seeking help from Kiren Rijiju (Minister of State for Home) and Conrad Sangma ( Lok Sabha MP from Meghalaya). On a Facebook post, she wrote, “It was because you and your Delhi elites are too embarrassed to sit with your domestic help and refuse to treat them as equals. This is about your colonial hangover which refuses to treat citizens of India equally and as per the Indian constitution.”
This incident is a shameful spot on the Indian constituency which prides itself for its diversity. That despite Constitution of India guaranteeing equal rights to every citizen of India, a person was denied her fundamental right and discriminated against based on her physical appearance, ethnicity or profession. Since independence, the leaders of India have always had a tendency to ignore the north eastern side of the country. Frontrunners in the fight against racism such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King were in fact inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings of equality. Even on world forums and platforms, India has been outspoken about its unacceptability of racism and has imparted sympathy for racism victims. Therefore, it is ironic that the country has failed to practise what it preaches. It is evident from the number of cases and incidents related to insurgency, underdevelopment, unemployment and most importantly, lack of recognition and respect for those hailing from NE. One of the foremost reasons for this discrimination is the difference in the physical appearance of Northeastern people. This prompts people from the mainland to abuse NE people with various racist and unflattering terms such as ‘chinki’ or ‘momo’ and even ‘Chinese’ or ‘Nepali’. In addition, the influx of Tibetan refugees in Delhi, which consists of a large proportion of NE people, has given the general people more motive to categorise and harass both the communities.
Like Tailin Lyngdoh, there have been more many more North-easterners who had to face the brunt of racial slurs and discrimination. On 26 October 2009, a woman was allegedly burnt to death in the kitchen of her home by a stalker whose unwelcomed advances she had rebuffed. On 29 May 2013, a young Manipuri girl was allegedly murdered in a rented apartment in the national capital. On February 7, 2014, a minor girl from Manipur was raped by her landlord’s son. On February 9, two Manipuri boys were beaten to death by a group of five men who subjected racist taunts on them. On 25 January 2014, two young women from the north-east were subjected to racial taunts and molestation and soon thereafter on 29 January 2014, a young student named Nido Tania was racially ridiculed and assaulted to death in the Lajpat Nagar area of New Delhi. These cases are only a pinch of the various forms of racism which people from NE face on a regular basis. Statistically, the age group between 18-30 are in constant threat of racism as they are the ones who migrate to bigger cities for education or job opportunities especially in cities like Delhi and Bangalore. In addition, sexual harassment of people of NE in other cities has also increased.
Recently, after the death of Nido Tania, the Bezbaruah Committee was established in February 2014 to come up with stringent measures to stop these kinds of racial discrimination. It was headed by M.P Bezbaruah. Some of the key measures that this committee has come up with are the creation of anti-racism law , accountable law and order, interventions through education , social media outreach and legal awareness and bonding with the power of sports. Unfortunately, despite submitting the report, the centre still remains silent on these recommendations..
The question to be asked here is how long will the government continue to ignore the NE people. Everyday that goes by in ignorance, another NE person becomes a victim. It is a matter of great shame that North-easterns are treated as outsiders in their own country. That there are still institutions in this country which deny citizens their basic rights as citizens and as human beings. It is also of concern that an institution which supposedly receives some sort of funding from the Government can so blatantly practise discrimination. Therefore, it is the need of the hour that the centre and the people of India stop treating NE like some burden that was thrust upon them during independence. The foundation of India is its unity in diversity and that is exactly what NE needs right now. It is as much part of India as every other state and it is high time that it gets its due.
Written by Anuran Medhi (Kirori Mal College)
& Zoukim Tungnung (Lady Shri Ram College)