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Committee to address NE concerns

New Delhi, Feb. 6: The Union home ministry today set up a six-member committee to look into the concerns of people from the Northeast, particularly in metropolitan areas, and suggest remedial measures.

The move, which follows outrage over the death of a 19-year-old student from Arunachal Pradesh, Nido Tania, paves the way for legislative changes that could outlaw words like “chinky”.

Nido’s death is rooted in racial bias as he was allegedly beaten by some shopkeepers in south Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar following an altercation sparked by their taunts about his hairstyle.

There are five terms of reference under which the committee, led by former IAS officer M.P. Bezbaruah, has been set up. It will examine various kinds of concerns, including those of security, of persons hailing from the northeastern states, examine causes behind attacks/violence and discrimination against people from the Northeast, suggest measures to be taken by the government to address these concerns and offer legal remedies for the same. The committee, which will be provided secretariat assistance and facilities by the home ministry, will submit its report within two months.        

The panel will include retired IAS officers H.W.T. Syiem, Alemtemshi Jamir, Tape Bagra and P. Bharat Singh, besides S. Saha, deputy secretary in the home ministry, as member secretary. The chairman of the committee will co-opt members, one each from the other northeastern states, including Sikkim, and a woman member. Delhi police joint commissioner Robin Hibu, the nodal officer for Northeast, will be a part of the home ministry team to assist the committee.

Activists rejected the committee as they wanted one headed at least by a retired Supreme Court judge but government officials said its terms of references cover all necessary aspects.

Supporting legislative changes, minister of state for minority affairs Ninong Ering said, “Use of words like chinky should not be allowed”. Although Ering did not specify if the word itself should be outlawed, activists have for years protested the derogatory use of the expression referring to people with Mongoloid features. People from the Northeast or southeast Asian countries often encounter such jeers.

“As per my knowledge, the government has decided to make amendments in the existing laws to address the racism problem. Unless we listen to the children, they won’t spare us,” Ering, who was recently under attack from protesters for not saying enough on the Tania case, said.

He said Prime Minister Mamohan Singh, a member of the Northeast Forum of Parliament, today assured a delegation of MPs from the Northeast, who sought an end to the racial discrimination, that the government would leave no option unexplored to deal with the situation.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi also met Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde today and discussed with MPs from the Northeast measures to end discrimination against and harassment of people from the Northeast.

Former Arunachal Pradesh (West) MP Khiren Rijiju said students from the Northeast were often the butt of malicious jokes that have key words like “chinky, Chinese” or “Nepali”. “The US has anti-racism laws. We also need the danda (baton) to stop this ill,” he said.

India has a Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 to prevent humiliation and “indignities” to the vulnerable sections. However, this is the first time that a legislation has been sought to prevent bias on the basis of the way people look.

Protesters attempting to march today to Parliament were detained at the Parliament Street police station. Ering and a few other MPs and former MPs from the Northeast reached the police station and facilitated their release in the afternoon.

“We are nearing justice,” said Taba Doni, general secretary of Arunachal Students Union Delhi, in a marked departure from his angry tenor earlier this week. This was after a city court denied bail to six accused in the Tania case.

Activist Binalakshmi Nepram said they rejected the government’s committee of former bureaucrats, insisting it would be “useless”. Nepram is leading a protest for an anti-racial discrimination legislation. “Even our Indian history is racist. It has never looked beyond Assam,” she said.

A Delhi court today transferred the bail applications of two accused arrested in connection with the case to Special Court because of lack of jurisdiction to hear the cases registered under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes Act, reports PTI.