Almost a month has passed, since a teenaged girl in Guwahati was molested by a mob and the video went viral all across the nation, but neither the state government nor the central government woke up to counter such a menace. This being one discreet case of molestation, the government could comfortably choose to ignore it at large. But then, the recent riots in Assam and now its retaliation in Indian metros, which largely got instigated through hate SMSs that went viral all across, highlight the repetitive indolent behavior of the government towards an entire set of people belonging to one region. The choreographed hate messages played a significant role in the migration of people of Northeastern states of India from cities like Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune and Mumbai; and such a migration clearly is a blow to the pledge of a free India with equal rights for all.
The government on its part banned bulk messages for 15 days, as well as multimedia messages of over 25 KB throughout the country. The government also blocked a total of 310 web pages, which provided, in one form or the other, morphed images of riots in Assam which had been instigating hate sentiments among over 60 million Indian net users. The banned web pages include specific pages from Twitter and Facebook as well – it’s estimated that 36 million in India use Facebook and 15 million use Twitter. Our ruling elites have perchance presumed that banning SMS texts and some social networking sites is enough to stem the trouble – these in reality are actually the tip of the iceberg of a much deeper-rooted problem. Although the government has set the tone of its action by blocking the hate pages from various websites, this is more of a juvenile and a temporary step. What our policy makers forget is that till one and a half decades ago, there were no social networking sites, yet there had been numerous catastrophic riots in the region.
Thus, simply blocking web pages and SMS texts would not serve the purpose. This would neither deter the nuisance creator nor help in zeroing in on the actual perpetrators. The real criminals (or groups of criminals) are still scot-free and would be planning their next target. The government should have rather deployed and mobilized resources that could have traced the source of such hate messages, filtered them and brought the real culprits to task at the soonest – the speed, intensity and accuracy of action from the government, if there had been relevant ones, would have deterred the perpetrators instantly.
In June this year, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a directive that any individual who racially discriminates against a person from the Northeast should be booked under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Yet, the directive failed to identify and ban outright racist words against people from the region – the word ‘Chinki’ being one example, the usage of which should be banned immediately. The government should make provisions under the Constitution to ban such and similar derogatory remarks – which act as triggers to communal and regional disharmony – aimed at any particular community or race or religion. So far, the government’s steps are purely ad hoc, random and momentary, and these won’t go very far in resolving the crisis from a long term perspective. In fact, what is shameful is that the Northeast region and their inhabitants have many a time been termed as ‘they’ and not ‘us’, which goes to indicate the prevalent mindset. India’s Constitution is not only the biggest in the world, but also one of the best – at least on paper. It lays down various provisions for minorities – not only by religion, but also by race, language and creed – so that none is marginalized and discriminated against. It is specifically noted in the Preamble of the Constitution that India is a sovereign, secular and a socialist republic. Yet, it is an open secret that our central government has always given a step-motherly treatment to the marginalized regions of Northeastern India and Jammu & Kashmir. Even today, with dire problems in Assam and other parts of Northeastern India, the reaction from the government is for all of us to see. No wonder, had the incident taken place in mainland India, which is an important vote bank, it would not have been the same.
The central government has rarely paid heed to the problems of this region, be it the case of Brahmaputra river, encroaching Chinese army or lack of trade infrastructure. The government even failed to safeguard the sovereignty of the region. The Chinese (and the world) routinely and deliberately display maps that incorrectly represent India’s borders – even that doesn’t raise the hackles of the Indian establishment. A huge part of the Northeast region is shown as part of China and not of India, but the government never raises any issue against the same at any global forum. On the contrary, when the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) distorted the map of Gujarat in their web page, the Indian government and media fraternity went ballistic over it! In fact, the government has even felt it irrelevant to consider the removal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act – under which several acts of human atrocities are carried out – from the region. The same is true for J&K too!
India must learn the American way to end such racism. In many parts of America, the use of the pejorative word “nigger” – which is used to address African Americans in a derogatory way – is banned. Cities like New York and many others have banned the term even in casual communiqués. It is banned because the word is a slur and it’s an insulting reminder of the era of slavery. Despite much criticism of American hegemony across the world, we must honestly appreciate Uncle Sam’s effort, in principle, to resolve the issue of racism. No other country has achieved so much in implementing anti-racism-activities in their own turf; one reason why a coloured man is the president of an overwhelming white majority nation. In fact, let alone derogatory words like ‘Chinki’, even the word ‘Northeast’ itself is disparaging. We don’t call a Bengali an Easterner or Maharashtrian a Westerner, then why should we club the seven states of Northeast as one? Even our responsible media often uses other derogatory words. And the government has never imposed any Constitutional censorship on such usage nor has it installed any mechanism to filter and screen such words from social messaging services (which can be easily done by passing a law that forces the service providers to track such messages)! It’s been used by everyone, from politicians to intellectuals to even the media. It reflects a mindset and a pattern of behaviour that are pervasive. To top it all, even the communal violence bill is eating dust under piles of pending files!
What is shameful in this circumstance is the lazy and reluctant approach adopted by the government. Reverse migration – and that too migration due to hostility from one’s own people – is an anti-thesis to the very idea of India. The government should come out with significant policies and laws to safeguard these people – and should at the soonest arrest the pockets of society that create nuisance – rather than impose a kneejerk blanket ban on web pages and texting services, which even in the short term is short-sighted!
- 29 August 2012 |
- Arindam on Indian Politics