By Paritosh Chakma
We Indians and our government are red in anger and frustration as the Australian government refuses to acknowledge the racist attacks against Indian students in Australia. The attacks are unrelenting even as the Australian Prime Minister has promised to take prompt actions to ensure security of the foreign students. The Australian Police revealed that there have been at least 1,447 attacks against Indians in Australia in 2008-2009.
That the Indian students, and for that matter all foreigners staying in Australia with valid papers, must be given protection of the law and treated equally without any discrimination cannot be debated.
But there is a twist to the tale. Following India’s claims of racist attacks on its citizens in Australia, an high ranking official of Russia too has suggested that Russian citizens were as vulnerable in Goa (India) as Indians are in Australia. What the Russian official meant perhaps was that India was no different in terms of racist treatment towards foreigners.
Like Australia, India too never will accept accusations of racism. After all, “racism” is a forbidden word and ironically, “caste system” is India’s contribution to the lexicon of racism.
What is India’s and Indians’ take on racism in India? The debate on whether racism also exists in Indian soil or not has emerged now and then, the latest public debate I can remember being the one after alleged racial abuse of Bollywood actor Shilpa Shetty by co-participant of TV reality show Big Brother, Jade Goody who has now died of cancer.
Racism is very much part of India’s social veins. Some acts are visible while some are not; they are too subtle to be visible. Nonetheless they exist.
Racism in India is manifested in the matrimonial columns where the preferences for bribes or bridegrooms of particular castes are openly flashed in the newspapers; when dalits are punished for drawing water from the village well also used by socalled Brahmins; when fair-skin is the agenda in the TV commercial advertisements; when non-tribal teachers think teaching tribal boys and girls is like teaching to donkeys; and when people from the North-East are called 'chinky' or ‘Bahadur’ in Delhi and other metros.
India may be trying to send a positive signal by electing a dalit woman, Meira Kumar, as India’s first woman Lok Sabha Speaker, but the ground realities shall not change much in the years to come. Meira Kumar may be a symbol of women empowerment but it is unlikely that the atrocities against Dalits and women would change unless racism is accepted and attempts made to eradicate from our societies.
Every people of North East has surely encountered racist treatment in other parts of mainland India. However, racial discrimination also thrives within the North East itself.
Outsiders (meaning of course long-nose plains people) are called “vais” in Mizoram. “Vai” is a Mizo word and the term is used in contempt towards the people who look “different” from “us” in Mizoram. The people of Mizoram may contest my claim but I have seen how the socalled “vais” from Silchar and elsewhere are asked to take seat in the backside of the MST bus by the Mizos or for that matter even the Chakmas in Chakma dominated areas.
Prior to award of Bodo Territorial District Council in Assam, a Bodo friend of mine had told me how the Assamese majority discriminated against the Bodo tribals. Even the Mizos of Mizoram had similar grudge against the state of Assam prior to formation of Mizoram.
Now Chakmas allege discrimination of various kinds by the Mizoram government. For example see, “Chakmas face discrimination in Mizoram”, Merinews.com at http://www.merinews.com/catFull.jsp?articleID=15771276
In my previous post available at http://paritosh-chakma.blogspot.com/2009/05/outright-discrimination-against-chakmas.html , I have mentioned about one incident in which my friend (a Chakma) was asked by the Chairperson of the Interview Board to sing a Mizo song and harassed him on the ground that he did not speak Mizo during an interview for selection of Hindi teachers in Mizoram. I think this is purely racial discrimination. The European Commission's anti-discrimination website gives the following example of a more subtle form of discrimination: "An example of indirect discrimination is requiring all people who apply for a certain job to sit a test in a particular language, even though that language is not necessary for the job. The test might exclude more people who have a different mother tongue." http://www.stop-discrimination.info/46.0.html
Certainly, the requirement to speak and sing Mizo songs by non-Mizo candidates in an interview for the job of Hindi teacher in Mizoram ("even though that language, i.e. Mizo, is not necessary for the job, i.e. Hindi language teacher) is an act of racial discrimination.
Chakmas also face racial discrimination in Arunachal Pradesh. So says the Election Commission of India. Over 14,000 eligible Chakma and Hajong voters in Arunachal Pradesh continued to be denied enrollment in the electoral rolls. On 23 March 2005, the Election Commission of India passed specific guidelines (No 23/ARUN/2004-PLN-II of 23 March 2005) for enrollment of the eligible Chakma and Hajong voters during Intensive Revision. Instead of complying with those guidelines, the Electoral Registration Officers and Assistant Electoral Registration Officers and other electoral officers who are also employees of the State Government summarily rejected the applications of the Chakma and Hajong citizens for inclusion of their names. With regard to the exclusion of the Chakma and Hajong eligible voters from electoral rolls in Arunachal Pradesh, the Election Commission of India in its order No. 23/ARUN/2003 of 3 March 2004 held that they “have not been included in the electoral rolls mainly for the reason that they belong to the Chakma tribe/race (emphasis mine)”.
These are not my personal allegations. This is the finding of the Election Commission of India.