Could a better education infrastructure uproot racism in India?

India Jun 23, 2021

India prides itself on being home to diverse cultures; but where there is diversity, differences are bound to exist. These differences have become the reason Indians have continuously turned a blind eye towards the racism faced by Northeast Indians. Recently, YouTuber Paras Singh made some racist comments about Arunachal Pradesh MLA, Ninong Ering, which sparked outrage.

While reacting to a letter by Ering addressed to PM Modi, Singh said he doesn’t think the MLA is Indian. Pointing at Ering’s Twitter profile picture, he asked if that is how people from Arunachal Pradesh look. Then, while looking for Arunachal on the map, he said that the state is on “China’s side”. He was booked under IPC Section 124A, 153, and 505(2) and a court subsequently remanded him to six days in judicial custody.

After receiving backlash, he deleted the section of the video where he had made the racist remarks and pinned a comment apologizing to “those who were hurt” by them. But his apology didn’t dull the uproar.

Around 40 student organizations from eight universities in the Northeast created a ‘Twitter storm’ on June 4 to get the attention of politicians and lawmakers. The organizers asked the Centre and NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) to include a mandatory chapter on Northeastern history and culture to fight racism. The campaign began at 6 pm and lasted two hours, during which users tweeted with the hashtags #AChapterForNE and #NortheastMatters. The topics were trending on Friday and the movement garnered the support of many including Nagaland’s former Finance Minister K Therie, MLA Kuzholuzo Nienu, athlete Hima Das, MP Shashi Tharoor, and MP Gaurav Gogoi.

David Lalrinchhana, Student Council President of Mizoram University, deplored that people from Northeastern states have to constantly prove that they are bonafide Indians. He stated that adding a chapter detailing Northeastern culture would make people from mainland India more aware of the region.

In 2017, Ering had introduced ‘The Compulsory Teaching of North-East Culture in Educational Institutions’ in the Parliament in light of incidents of racism but the Private Member Bill was not taken up.

A day after the Twitter storm, NCERT said that the Northeast already finds “adequate space” in its publications, referring to the book ‘North East India – People, History and Culture’. It added that NCERT’s social science textbooks for classes VI, VII, X and XII have “interwoven contents related to North East in a different form”.

In response, Debonil Baruah, an advisor to the North East Student Union Vadodara, said that they were aware of and appreciated the book but pointed out that it was an optional supplementary reader and not a part of the main curriculum. Recalling the first wave of Covid-19 where people from the Northeast were mistreated and blamed for the pandemic, Baruah noted the discrimination towards people from the region isn’t an isolated incident.

The organizers of the Twitter storm in consultation with professors and intellectuals from the region are now writing a memorandum with constructive suggestions to the Education Ministry. Lalrinchhana hopes that through education, “Racism will be uprooted, and national unity will begin to flourish gradually.”

This article has been written by Pravallika Manju for The Paradigm

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