‘Colleges should show more sensitivity towards students’

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Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, whose niece recently committed suicide in Amity University, tells Shonali Ghosal why he is seeking a legislation to ensure security on campuses.

Mukul Sangma
Mukul Sangma, Chief Minister, Meghalaya

EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW

Did Dana Silva M Sangma ever communicate to any family member or friend in her two semesters at Amity University about instances where she or her friends were being discriminated against?
Not friends. Apart from being the uncle of the victim, I’m also the Chief Minister of Meghalaya, so I don’t want to focus too much on the nitty gritties as that would compromise the proceedings. An FIR has been lodged. My focus is to expedite a thorough investigation to ensure that the process is completed at the earliest.

Can you elaborate on the new law that you have suggested for students from the Northeast?
No, I never asked for a new law meant only for Northeastern students. I demanded a new law to ensure that colleges show more sensitivity to students to prevent such episodes from happening.

Why do you think people from the Northeast are particularly targeted?
Go through the Scheduled Caste and the Scheduled Tribe Act (Prevention of Atrocities), 1989, and you will know why it was passed. The tendency to discriminate exists and you cannot rule it out. This is not specific to India, but happens even in the US. They addressed it by coming up with a strong law that was also stringently enforced. Our current law is strong enough but laxly implemented. Our youth probably don’t even know it exists. I hope this tragedy forces us to take appropriate measures to sensitise everybody.

‘There is a tendency to discriminate. Our current law is strong enough but it should be utilised properly’

What is the root cause for this tendency?
India is too big. Remember how we dealt with untouchability. Gandhiji called them the harijans. But, in the present era, when people assert themselves, it’s not tolerable to many. ‘How can you speak to me like that?’ That is the attitude these days.

But why is the focus on the Northeastern people?
I feel that there is a lack of knowledge. Another reason may be the feeling of contempt. They are perceived as helpless people, who’ve come from far away; they look different, they don’t have any relatives here. It is not confined to the Northeastern people in and around Delhi. Ugly things of this nature happen elsewhere, even in Maharashtra vis-à-vis the North Indian youth.

Seeking justice Students at a protest march for Dana
Seeking justice: Students at a protest march for Dana

Personally, do you see racial discrimination extending beyond the education system into politics?
It’s not confined to just the educational institutes. It definitely exists in politics, although not in my party. However, I can’t vouch for other parties.

Leader of Opposition Conrad Sangma recently stated that Dana’s case might have a personal angle and not all cases involving Northeastern students are related to racial discrimination.
Many people will have their own opinions. I would not like to comment on that. We have filed an FIR based on prima facie evidence. What is important is to unearth the truth. It will send out a strong message, have a positive impact and serve as a deterrent for future offenders.

Can one complain of victimisation even before the cause is ascertained because of one’s Northeastern identity?
When I talk about prima facie evidence, based on which we have drawn this conclusion and lodged the FIR, it is for further investigation to uncover the truth. Plus, racial discrimination does not only refer to physical abuse. Even verbal abuse can create a sense of alienation. People think even if there’s a problem of integration in the Northeast, how does it matter to them? But anybody who understands the basic importance of integration, the strategic importance of the Northeast and the fact that the Northeastern people must always have a sense of belonging to this nation, will try to address this issue.

What is your response to the argument that Northeastern people don’t make the effort to mingle with others because they have their own sense of alienation to deal with?
Those are certain personal choices that people make about who to mingle with. And mingling comes out of comfort, that’s human nature. If that comfort is not there, how can one mingle? If a girl in a mini skirt starts mingling with a boy, he might think that she is provoking him. You have to understand that the culture of the people from that part of the country is different and that they are not familiar with other cultures. It is for the people outside the Northeast to understand that the Northeasterns come from different cultures and different lifestyles.

Shonali Ghosal is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
shonali@tehelka.com

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