New Delhi, Feb. 4: The Centre today proposed a five-member committee of former bureaucrats to look into the harassment of northeasterners, taking the cue from Rahul Gandhi’s suggestion yesterday, as the Prime Minister condemned the lynching of Arunachal’s Nido Tania.
Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde moved the proposal for the committee, breaking a five-day silence on the assault by shopkeepers in a Delhi market last week. He may announce in Parliament tomorrow a magisterial inquiry into the 19-year-old student's death.
The committee of ex-bureaucrats, including one each from Arunachal and Nagaland, is proposed to be headed by former Assam chief secretary M.P. Bezbaruah, home ministry sources said.
Nido’s family as well as students and activists from the Northeast have been protesting in the capital for the past few days, demanding a probe by a retired Supreme Court judge and an anti-racism law among other things.
Today, an Arunachal students’ union met the Prime Minister and was promised protection. “Our government will make every possible effort to punish the guilty and provide effective protection to students and citizens from other parts of the country, especially the Northeast, who visit or reside in Delhi,” the Prime Minister said in a statement after the meeting.
Yeshi Wangchu, the president of the Arunachal Students Union Delhi, said he had received a call from Narendra Modi condemning the assault.
The meeting with Singh came a day after Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi attended the protests at Jantar Mantar and promised such a committee. Today, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal visited the demonstrators and pledged justice.
Last night, Delhi police arrested three more people over the assault. The force has drawn fire for its handling of the case.
The panel proposed by Shinde will examine complaints of harassment and violence against northeasterners across the country, particularly in Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Mumbai, Calcutta Pune and Chandigarh that are home to hundreds of students from the region.
According to a recent study by the Centre for NorthEast Studies and Policy Research and sponsored by the National Commission for Women (NCW), 60 per cent of the women from the Northeast living in the four metros faced harassment and discrimination.
But with the lack of precise and reliable data on the extent of such incidents, the panel will be watched closely. “The committee will also look at a legal framework (to tackle harassment) and make recommendations on what steps can be taken to prevent such incidents,” a senior government official said today.
Asked if an anti-racism law of the kind being demanded by the protesters was possible, officials argued that the same purpose could be achieved by amending existing provisions.
Prime Minister Singh did not refer to any racial bias in the incidents leading to Nido's death when he met the Arunachal team today but did not seem to rule it out either. “While the actual cause of his death will be known only after the autopsy report is received, the violence which preceded his demise is tragic and shameful.”
Singh, a Rajya Sabha member from Assam, recalled that all parties had affirmed in Parliament earlier the need to ensure that citizens from Northeast feel safe in across the country. He appealed to citizens to work together and ensure that “our brothers and sisters from the NorthEast feel safe and secure in Delhi”.
The stress on Delhi drew attention. According to the NCW-sponsored study, discrimination against people from the region was the worst in the national capital, with 81 per cent respondents saying they had faced it.
Home minister Shinde is also preparing a response to a suo motu notice from Delhi High Court and a PIL in the Supreme Court on Nido’s death.
President Pranab Mukerjee also condoled Nido’s death today. Condemning the violence, Mukerjee called upon law enforcement agencies to arrest the culprits soon.