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India's silence on racial violence is deafening

Calls for anti-racism laws likely to fall on deaf ears

India's silence on racial violence is deafening
John Dayal, New Delhi

February 10, 2014

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Many years ago some of us founded the North East Center and Helpline as we thought we should do something to challenge the ingrained racism in many areas of New Delhi, and rampant racist violence against university students.

In quick time, our colleagues researched and documented the extent of the violence, and presented the findings to the national media and authorities, including the police. The Delhi government were not too keen to listen to us, but the police commissioner at the time, after one horrendous violent incident, agreed to create a single-window system for victims to register their complaints.

The helpline had, after initial hesitation, the enthusiastic support of many tribal, state and religious unions and organizations. Our phone lines operated 24/7, with volunteers offering counseling and advice. Our teams would rush from the scene of the crime to the police station to register cases. It was in such exercises that we discovered cases of rape not only in Delhi but also in neighboring towns.

There have been incidents of racist violence and behavior against people of African descent, mostly university students in Delhi. North India has always had a fascination for people of European origins with their fair complexions, but less so for Africans. But with the opening of the national economy, the number of African ex-pats has increased, as have social tensions that sometimes burst into open violence. The most macabre was a mob-molestation of two Ugandan women in the presence of a Delhi government minister, who thought the victims were drug peddlers or sex workers - as if this would justify the violent act.

State governments do not monitor racist and targeted violence and are therefore ill prepared to formulate any policies or practices to curb it. While there is lip service to secularism, and to gender justice, there is not a single thing in Indian school curricula or in government public service announcements against racism and racist violence.

The Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill, which was withdrawn this week from parliament's upper house under right wing pressure, had some measures against such violence. The bill invited the wrath of the Hindu nationalist Sangh Parivar and its front, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who felt its focus on preventing violence against Muslims hurt the interests of the majority community. If the bill had become law, it could have served as a deterrent to racist crimes.

In the previous meeting of the National Integration Council - of which this writer is a member - held in the wake if the barbarous violence against Muslims in Muzaffarnagar, the council did not refer to the communal and targeted violence prevention bill. In its meeting two years earlier, Home Minister P Chidambaram maintained silence as the BJP chief ministers butchered the draft bill. The government did not defend it at all, although the National Advisory Council drafted it with government concurrence.

The silence of the council in the recent cases of racist violence is deafening. Not that it has a system in place to react to such incidents.

And with national polity in a flux, there is little hope that the future will unfold some deterrent laws against such violence.

JohnDayal is the general secretary of the All India Christian Council and a member of the Indian government’s National Integration Council.

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