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New law can mean jail terms for using racial slurs

New law aims to stop racial discrimination

New law can mean jail terms for using racial slurs
File photo of a group of people from Northeastern India getting ready to perform at Delhi jubilee celebrations in 2009
Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

June 14, 2012

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The use of racial slurs has been classified as a criminal offense by India’s federal government. Describing someone from the country’s northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim or Tripura as a “chinki” can now be punished with five years in jail. “Chinki” is a slang word used for people with Mongolian features, as opposed to the more? Aryan and Dravidian features found in other Indian states. While the move has garnered a great deal of attention and controversy, it has been widely welcomed in the north-east. “This has vindicated our long-standing complaint, that the rest of India does not consider us part of? India,” says Madhu Chandra, a Protestant Christian leader from Manipur. Chandra, spokesman for a support center and helpline in New Delhi for northeastern people, says he comes across scores of cases of attacks on them. According to the center’s statistics, there have been 131 cases of atrocities since 2005 against people from that region, 77 of them against women. A total of 21 crimes of rape and assault in the last six months alone have been recorded, coming from all parts of the country. A girl from Meghalaya committed suicide in April after she was accused of cheating and publicly humiliated in Gurgaon, a satellite city of Delhi. In the same month, a boy from Manipur was found murdered in his hostel room in Bangalore, India’s cyber city. In October 2011, a girl from Nagaland was sexually assaulted in New Delhi and her rescuer was beaten up. No police complaint was registered against the assailant. Soma Chakraborty, from Assam, lives and works in New Delhi. She believes that people from other parts think northeastern girls are easy targets, due to their liberal ways of dressing and thinking. She does not see the threat of a five-year jail term as an effective deterrent or a solution. “Until and unless the mindset is changed, sexual violence against girls from our region will not stop,” she says. Ranjana Kumari, who directs a center for women and girls in New Delhi, says “northeastern people are used to a more open and democratic society. They are targeted when they leave their region.” However, there are opposing views. Kanchan Dass, a Delhi-based journalist, says northeastern people are “looked after well” in New Delhi. “The city has other communities but when something happens to the northeastern people, it’s blown out of proportion,” she says. She also accuses the northeasterners of having a superiority complex and looking down on people of other regions. “They don’t want to mix with others,” she says. But Madhu Chandra says opinions like this are a legacy of India’s rigid, caste-based social structure. “Dalits  - the former untouchables - suffer discrimination because of their caste, Christians because of their faith and northeastern people because of their looks and culture,” he says. “Let’s hope the new law will help to change attitudes and make the country a safe haven for people.” Related links: Students demand justice for Delhi rape victim  
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