For a new law against racism

Tomojit Basu | Updated on March 12, 2018


North Easterners, Africans particularly vulnerable

YouTube footage of three African students being set upon by a large, armed mob shouting ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ at a Delhi metro station was odious for anyone who takes pride in India’s socio-cultural diversity.

The Bezbaruah Committee (BC), instituted after the death of Nido Taniam earlier this year, highlighted troubling numbers in its report. For instance, some 86 per cent of 15,000 migrants from the North-East in the capital over the last three years have felt racially discriminated against. Hence, the case for a holistic anti-racism law is worth revisiting.

Laws lay the framework for a civilised society by setting boundaries for individuals. Fresh legislation, even if it doesn’t promote immediate deterrence, would arm inclined lawyers with an important tool to seek justice.Existing equality legislation, in the form of Articles 15 and 371 and the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (1989), isn’t sufficient to tackle race crimes. The legal shortcomings were highlighted by Avani Chokshi in ‘The Racism Quandary’, an article published in NUJS’s Journal of Indian Law & Society last month.

An advisory panel for the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, set up by the previous NDA-regime, had recommended additions to Article 14 and 15 as part of the ‘Enlargement of Fundamental Rights’ and amending the defined ‘heads’ to include ‘ethnic and social origin’ and ‘colour’.

A comprehensive law would overcome existing lacunae. For instance, in 2011, the Ministry of Home Affairs had directed those guilty of uttering racial slurs to be prosecuted under the SC/ST Act, with a sentence of up to five years. . Many aren’t, however, a point brought up by the Bezbaruah Committee.

New legislation might not mitigate racism but it will certainly provide victims with a specific means of legal redressal. Development should encompass cultural tolerance and social accommodation as much as economic growth. Inclusive education to dispel stereotypes about cultures and regions is a long-term exercise. In the interim, a sweeping anti-racism law might ensure the well-being of an African guest standing next to Indian citizens on the train.

Senior Reporter

Published on October 06, 2014

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