North Easterners don’t have it easy in the capital. They might be flocking to Delhi in greater numbers than ever before and employers might prefer them because of their reliability and command over English, but that doesn’t mean life in the crime-ridden city is any easier for those who look different.

Now a panel that was given the task of looking into the difficulties faced by North Easterners in Delhi want violence against people from the region to be grouped under a new law and is also demanding special hate crime units to handle investigations.

Up to 78% North-Easterners said they faced racial discrimination in the capital, according to a survey by the North East Support Centre and Helpline. Aside from the obvious problems, such as having difficulty renting houses, the discrimination has also turned into violence on regular occasions.

Growing number of incidents

Whether it is sexual violence, in the case of women from the North East, to alleged hate crimes, such as the murder of Nido Tania, the number of crimes has been rising. Delhi Police has received 416 complaints on its North East specific complaint numbers between February and August. The NESCH’s records showed that molestation counts for 34% of crimes against North Easterners, with human-trafficking, beating, non-payment of salary and murder following.

For many, these are no ordinary crimes. Just as illegal speech of a communal nature is not considered the same as an ordinary incitement to violence and caste-based crime is treated more seriously, there is now a demand for crimes against North Easterners to be treated differently. The government-appointed Bezbaruah Committee, set up in February, has recommended that the government create a new law under which those who commit hate crimes against North Easterners can be prosecuted.

“The concerns of the people from the North East and incidents involving them cannot be viewed in isolation of the conditions and situations that prevail in the various cosmopolitan cities of India,” said the report, which was submitted to the Home Ministry on July 11.

Two years ago, concerned about the growing number of attacks against those from the North East, the home ministry had written to all states asking them to book such crimes under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act). In the Nido Tania case, this is what was done, but only because he was a member of a scheduled tribe. Many from the community however, have argued that the law needs to acknowledge that these crimes are based on race here, and not within the caste-arbiter that underpins the SC/ST act.

“It is beyond doubt that there is a need for a law that covers the type of experiences that north-easterners have,” the Bezbaruah report said.  It recommended a new law that would ensure all such crimes are immediately cognisable, investigated by a special squad within 60 days featuring a senior police officer and then sent to a fast track court.

Barring the creation of a new law, the report suggested the amendment of section 153 of the Indian Penal Code, which covers provoking enmity between groups of people and instigating riots. “A few cases settled quickly with deterrent punishment would go a long way in preventing recurrence of such incidents,” the report said.

Help line is popular

Delhi Police already has a separate unit overseeing crimes against North Easterners, with a nodal officer to handle problems faced by the community and a representative for each of the states. The separate number that the police has for crimes against North Easterners has also been popular, but at the moment it simply directs callers onwards to the appropriate department, rather than having the power to take action.

The committee recommends instead an empowered separate hate crime unit that can register and investigate crimes under a new anti-racism law. “Home Department of Delhi should issues notification giving jurisdiction to North East Special Police Unit for whole Delhi for investigation, arrest, etc,” the report says.

The government has yet to respond following the submission of the report, although it can be sure that the Delhi High Court — which had taken suo moto notice of incidents against northeasterners and asked the government to ensure their safety — will be paying close attention to whatever comes of it.