On March 6, Higio Gungtey, a 22-year-old man from Arunachal Pradesh studying in Bengaluru was allegedly beaten up by his landlord and forced to lick the landlord’s shoe, in an incident of physical assault, criminal intimidation, and apparent racism. Gungtey alleged that the landlord hurled racial slurs against him and hit him continuously, making him bleed, because of a dispute over usage of “excessive water”. Gungtey filed a complaint on March 9 regarding the physical assault and criminal intimidation, and on March 13, he filed an additional complaint regarding the racist attack, alleging that the perpetrator made derogatory remarks regarding his tribal identity and caste.
The Chief Minister of Karnataka tweeted that the police had arrested the perpetrator and the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, himself from Arunachal Pradesh, also stated that his Office is inquiring into the incident. This incident is one among many recent allegations by members of the Northeastern community in Bengaluru. On March 16, Arunachalee students and those from other Northeastern states staged peaceful protests outside Karnataka Bhawan in Itanagar, Arunachal Bhawan in New Delhi, and Town Hall in Bengaluru
In August 2012, thousands of people from the Northeast region living in Bengaluru fled the City after rumours of attacks billowed in the wake of violence in Assam. Mr. Shiyeto from Nagaland, resident of Bengaluru, was attacked by a group of people who threatened to kill him if he did not leave the City before Ramadan. He stated that the police took a long time to respond to his call and when the police did finally show up, they did not arrest the accused assailants. Cities of Pune, Chennai, and Hyderabad also witnessed an exodus of people from the Northeast at the time.
In December 2016, neighbours allegedly assaulted a person from Mizoram over a parking dispute. The 24-year-old was slapped and beaten and three persons were arrested over the incident. On 13 January 2017, a woman from the North East was allegedly molested in a pub in Brigade road, in the city centre of Bengaluru, and, in another terrible incident on January 7, another young man from Arunachal Pradesh was assaulted, which left him in a coma. The All Arunachal Students Union Association of Karnataka (AASUAK) stated that they believed that the comatose Arunachalee was racially attacked.
In January 2014, Nido Tania, a young Arunachalee student was beaten to death in Lajpat Nagar, Delhi, after a fight broke out between him and some people who made fun of his hair and clothes. Post Tania’s death, India saw widespread protests and discussionsregarding the treatment of Northeast Indians in mainland India.
The distinct facial features and cultural differences, including food habits, have resulted in an “othering” of people from the eight northeastern states of India, a region so rich in natural resources, culture, and heritage, but of which few in the rest of India know much about.
It is telling that, in 2014, the Bezbaruah Committee recommended that anyone making derogatory slurs relating to “race, culture, identity or physical appearance” be made punishable with imprisonment up to five years, by amending S. 153 of the Indian Penal Code, and therefore, calling someone “chinki”, “momos”, “Chinese” or “chichi chuchu”, all common terms related to external appearance and facial features, would come under this provision.
The Committee was set up in 2014 to “look into concerns of the persons hailing from the North-Eastern states who are living in different parts of the country, especially the Metropolitan areas, and to suggest suitable remedial measures which could be taken by the Government”. In its report, it made various recommendations, the most important ones relating to strengthening law enforcement agencies, sensitizing the police, and creating awareness and reducing misunderstanding regarding the Northeast and its people. It looked at the main concerns of Northeastern people, found to be a “sense of insecurity and vulnerability”, discrimination in daily life and at the workplace, apathy by law enforcement agencies, and being subject to verbal abuse, racism, and violence.
The Asian Human Rights Commission condemns the racist treatment of Northeastern people in India and calls for the speedy implementation of all the recommendations made in the report; most urgently, the state government in Bengaluru must ensure that the recent case of assault and alleged racism against Higio Gungtey is investigated thoroughly and quickly, bringing perpetrators to justice. While the Bengaluru Police have promised a dedicated email id where people from the Northeast can send in their complaints, it is hoped that this becomes a reality soon.