An exclusive approach
To ensure security and safety of people from the North-east in Delhi and other metros, early this month Union home minister Rajnath Singh said the government was considering the introduction of two new sections in the Indian Penal Code, Section 153 and Section 509. This comes after the government accepted the recommendations of the MP Bezbarua Committee that was formed in February last year in the aftermath of uproar over the death in January of Nido Tania, a teenaged student from Arunachal Pradesh.
Other recommendations being considered include an exchange programme, special police units and helplines, the inclusion of North-east history in the curriculum of schools and universities and recruitment of North-eastern youths into the police services.
The pros and cons of the proposed IPC amendments are being examined and, once finalised, a bill is likely to be introduced in Parliament.
While not much positive changes are expected, the measures are definitely not a new concept. It is worth recall that in May 2012 the MHA had issued an advisory to all state home departments, chief secretaries, DGs/IGs, Union ministry of social justice and empowerment, DoNER, National Commission for STs. The said advisory on discrimination and racial profiling faced by the North-eastern people in some parts of the country and the measures needed to curb the same stated that the duty and the responsibility lay with the state and its home departments to implement and monitor the advisory. It also underlined the role of the police as the first respondent and hence the need for immediate action by state governments and recommended sensitisation of police personnel and punishment of government employees found lacking in discharge of their duty. Besides, the MHA advisory laid out a strong measure — zero tolerance on crime against weaker sections, such as the North-east communities.
It had recommended other security measures and prevention such as social networking, helplines and an outreach programme with North-east communities. It also advised that Section 3 of the SC and ST (Prevention of atrocities) Act should be invoked if any of the victims were found to belong to the ST category.
Helplines 1091 and 093 have been set up. Following the 2010 Dhaula Kuan gangrape rape case of a North-east woman BPO employee, the Delhi police had asked all BPOs in Delhi and the NCR to drop their women employees home safely and provide them security during the night. Meanwhile, mention of the North-east is also found in the text books of the National Council of Educational Research and Training. Moreover, several festivals were held to “showcase North-eastern culture and traditions” in the cities.
IPC Section 153, clause A and B says, “Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc, and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony — by words either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, or commits any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, and which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquillity”. IPC Section 509 mentions: word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman. Under the two said sections, the punishment is a jail term of five and one year, respectively.
Apparently, the move is cosmetic and appears to be one to counter a possible protest on the death anniversary of Nido Tania (30 January), what with Delhi elections round the corner.
It is a welfare approach, where issues and problems were considered from the viewpoint of “grievances” rather than a problem that need to be tackled in the larger issue of crime and violence. Moreover, the approach is “exclusivist” in the sense that the matter or issue is considered under special provisions as a “special case”, such as exclusive “helplines” or special units.
Rather than integrate or “mainstream”, such measures would further exclude and alienate people from the North-east in the mainland. No doubt, being a minority in “mainland” India they are vulnerable to discriminations and assaults, further aggravated by the indifference of the “mainlanders”. Yet, as far as violence is concerned, which is the basic problem here, the most important thing to be noted is that “crime” should not be dealt with only from the “victim’s” perspective but also from the angle of those who commit crimes and the locations, and why and how such crimes happened in a particular area. It is also important to underline that the North-east populations in metros are not or should not only be considered the “beneficiaries” or stakeholders of such security or safety measures or such “goodwill acts” but also the locals themselves (the mainlanders) and society at large.
Another much-talked about important issue is “misunderstandings” of cultural difference and the need for interactions and awareness initiatives. Therefore, any issue should not be tackled from one direction alone but considerations and involvement of both communities should come into play so as to bridge the gap and facilitate a cordial relationship and mutual coexistence.
There are enough laws in India, the loopholes lie in their implementation. It is also a fact that many cases disappear in the long-drawn judicial process. Many accused have been acquitted or given bail. If crimes are to be tackled, there is need for stringent punishment and fast-track trials. This will create a safer environment and security not only for North-easterners but also for all citizens and eventually help promote harmony among different communities.