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India does not need an anti-racism law

Ayushman Jamwal @Jamwalthefirst

Updated: February 12, 2014, 4:44 PM IST
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Assault cases against citizens from the North East have taken center stage in the national media. Within almost a week, a youth from Arunachal Pradesh named Nido allegedly succumbed to his wounds after being beaten up; and a minor girl from Manipur was allegedly raped by her landlord's son in South Delhi. The cases have highlighted the argument made by North East activists and student groups that people from the region are being specifically targeted, and that a majority of Indians continue to endorse discrimination against them. The debates and discussions have sparked demands for the passage of an anti-racism law, and the creation of North East specific units in the law and order machinery. However, in my opinion, this is a redundant idea.

Laws and reforms are necessary to tackle institutional racism, earlier practiced in the United States and South Africa, where the black community was denied the right to economic empowerment and the right to vote. Even after those historic legislations, the same communities, namely in the United States, face political and legal racism. Yet, extra legislation and additional bureaucracy has never addressed such issues. The social justice quotient is higher in the US as compared to India because pre-existing laws have been strongly enforced via an efficient redressal system and speedy courts.

People have been arrested in the Nido murder case as well as for the rape of the Manipuri minor. Demanding a new law to address racism or an investigation by the CBI, which has a minimal conviction rate, is a hollow political statement, riding a temporary wave of outrage. With the arrests made, the activists calling for justice should demand a thorough investigation and swift prosecution. It is the most prudent campaign for justice as compared to the process of drafting, negotiating, discussing and passing a new bill, and then hoping the law would be fully enforced.

It is easy to cite anti-racism laws passed by different countries as examples, but it is easier to forget the specific tenets of those laws and the political contexts in which they were passed. On Monday Times Now's Arnab Goswami made the argument for a new law by giving the example of Bolivia, which passed an anti-racism law in 2010. What he forgot about the law was that it gives the government power to close news organizations and arrest journalists for publishing content deemed racist. The media circles of Bolivia have been accusing the government of implementing a tool for censorship. After the passage of the Bill, major Bolivian newspapers published blank front pages titled, "There is no democracy without the freedom of expression."

Racism like patriarchy is one of the many social evils plaguing Indian society. But the strides made against patriarchy were not achieved through constant legislation, but by the enforcement of laws proclaiming equality. There are many laws in the IPC that can effectively prosecute all crimes including discrimination. The drafting of new laws and the sanction of investigations only delivers hope, something easily crushed by administrative apathy. Only the effective enforcement of laws can deliver results and initiate change in society.
First Published: February 12, 2014, 4:44 PM IST

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