There is an articulation of ‘anti-racial’ lingo towards mobilising a desperate flank subsequently encapsulating the northeast vis-à-vis daily experience of social profiling and discrimination in other parts of India. The lingo is raised amidst the clout of protest, with its epicentre in Manipur and Meghalaya, ignited by the ‘mysterious’ death of two students; Richard Loitam (19) from Manipur, a first-year student of BArch at Acharya’s NAV School of Architecture, was allegedly murdered by hostel mates in his hostel in Bangalore on April 17, and Dana Silva M Sangma (21) from Meghalaya who committed suicide on April 24 due to the reported humiliation by exam invigilators at Amity University in Gurgaon.
In an interaction on May 10, 2012, prime minister Manmohan Singh expressed his concern over the protest but denied racial profiling and institutionalised discrimination on the northeast people in other parts of India. According to him, the northeast has been more advantageous than others in terms of grants and economic packages to develop. Large-scale migration of students and workers from the northeast to the Indian metropolitan cities is interpreted as a positive sign of integration. He assured to speak with the home ministry (MHA) to look into the cases of Richard and Dana.
The same day the MHA informed us about official expectations of speedy reports on the issues. Since the matter is a state subject, the MHA can only make recommendation to the concerned state governments to expedite investigation so that there would be impartial justice. The ministry could not promise a time-bound justice but sought our suggestions to deal with interrelated issues that might be considered in policy framing. The MHA on May 18 sent an advisory to all the states and UTs to adopt a policy against “racial profiling and discrimination faced by Indian citizens of northeastern states”.
In the meanwhile, the delay in justice and perplexing media statements had disappointed the protest flank. The two deaths that have occurred in different cities on different dates are being interwoven in framing racial charges against the concerned authorities for misreporting on the causes of the deaths, official apathy towards the victims and attempts to cover up crimes, lack of immediate response and fair investigation into the case by police, and lack of political will by the government to deliver justice. In Manipur, a controversial post-mortem report had added fuel in making the protest culminated into militancy. Student organisations ransacked Congress and BJP offices and imposed a ban on Karnataka-based manufactured goods and institutional agents.
Reading against the grains of the protest has revealed pent-up fury against several frequent instances of social profiling, assaults, and denial of justice affecting the security of the people hailing from the northeast in the neighbourhoods, streets, service sector, etc in the Indian metropolitan cities. Ipso facto the protest is racially conceived and politically coloured. Its significance, however, despite the valour it adds to anti-India political campaign by the insurgents, is the potential pressure in forming public opinion to demand fast track procedure towards impartial and speedy justice.
The pressure tactics are based on the perception that effective functioning of justice in India rests on the ability to exert alarming social and political pressures for justice, i.e., state, police, judiciary and powerful lobby worked in tandem. Although justice is yet to be delivered, or even if justice would be denied in the end, the protest for months keeps the quest for justice temporarily alive, thereby, making it a point of reference in future course of struggle for justice.
In the light of racially coloured discontents the official explanation and position of the PM and MHA on May 10 need to be reviewed:
1. Firstly, the official denial of racism cannot cover up multi-racial composition and inter-racial status quo in India. The denial is merely an excuse from taking an official position to positively address the racial question that exists in the myriads of social compartmentalisation in India, e.g., in social relation racial attitude promotes racism reciprocally. The denial cannot refute the institutional lacklustre that was raised in my previous article ‘Is India Serious about the Northeast?’ in Governance Now (December 16-31, Vol. 02 Issue 22, 2011, pp 26-27). [Read it here]
2. Secondly, economic grants and projects in the northeast (sic for defending the boundary of India) are misappropriated without restraint by the agents of the ruling party, i.e., unholy nexus among political barons, bureaucrats, contractors, and project dealers who invested money in electoral politics. Such cosmetic packages using the cloak of development cannot be a substitute for economic growth and justice at the grassroots. It is a structural crisis that has to be addressed by a democratic government. The people need not be confused by evasive jargons and false promises to divert away attention from misrule and deprivation.
3. Thirdly, the presence of migrant students, labours (employees), and job seekers from the northeast in other parts of India are not to be holistically perceived as the sign of integrity but seen as the syndrome of insecurity, displacement, and economic hardships in their home states. The temporary rented rooms, quarters, hostels, and hotchpotch flats in the midst of dominant others cannot be the substitutes for home that provided social and psychological security. Migrant workers (employees) are more vulnerable when exposed to the struggle for opportunity particularly in the contract job and unorganised sectors. Will the policing alone be able to provide with economic and social security to these immigrants so that they become emotionally integrated?
In summing up, the crafting of ‘mysterious’ death for the murder, thereby screwing up the criminal case and create another episode of ‘No One Killed Jessica’ will be at the cost of justice and generate humiliation. The protest had raised the banners of Richard and Dana to highlight the larger issue of racism and the quest for justice as well. The racism exhibited in this stage, although not as barbaric as institutionalised communal catastrophe unleashed for narrow sectarian political ends, is a social reality that needs to be recognised. On the other hand mere official assurance for justice as a safety valve tactics to defuse the immediate spark will not do away with raisons d'être for racial discontent in the long run.
For the immediate purpose we expect those who are in the power to be reasonable and capable enough in effectively dealing with the burning issue. ‘Mysterious’ Richard and Dana had carried forth a racial lingo demanding for justice. There should be justice!