The riots in Assam and now its retaliation in Indian metros, which largely got instigated through hate SMSes that went viral all across, highlight the repetitive indolent behaviour 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 from 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 MMS of over 25 KB throughout the country. The government also blocked a total of 310 web pages, which provided morphed images of riots in Assam, which had been instigating hate sentiments among over 60 million Indian net users. Our ruling elites have perchance presumed that banning SMS texts and some social networking sites is enough to stem the trouble. 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. The government should have rather deployed and mobilised resources that could have traced the source of such hate messages, filtered them and brought the real culprits to task at the soonest.
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 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. It is an open secret that our central government has always given a step-motherly treatment to the marginalised 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 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. 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 distorted the map of Gujarat in their web page, the 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 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. 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 their own turf. But in India, let alone derogatory words like ‘Chinki’, even the word ‘Northeast’ itself is disparaging. We don’t call a Bengali an Easterner or a 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! 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 rather than impose a kneejerk blanket ban on web pages and texting services, which even in the short term is short-sighted!
— The author is a Management Guru and Honorary Director of IIPM Think tank