‘The government cannot do it alone.Society as a whole must assume charge’

MoS for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju is also known as the face of BJP in the Northeast. He tells Hardnews about the government’s intent to tackle racism 

Sadiq Naqvi and Lily Tekseng Delhi 

Activists have called the violence against people from the Northeast ‘hate crimes’ but the general public is still in denial. They’re saying it could be ‘regionalism’, it could be this or that but certainly not racism. What’s your stand on this? 

In the light of the attacks, a Northeastern Committee was formed at the beginning of the year. Headed by Dr MP Bezbaruah, the committee has submitted its report to me, which will take time to study. I have already told the officers to go into the details. Now crimes against the people of the Northeastern region are of a different dimension. Because they come from different cultural background, ethos and beliefs, there is a perceived distancing that happens between them and mainline Indians. We need to bridge that gap. The gap persists because of insensitivity and ignorance. The government cannot do it alone; it has to be society as a whole that must assume charge. I don’t see this as a problem of the Northeastern region alone; this is a national problem. If any citizens are being discriminated against in their country, it is unacceptable.

Activists say these incidents don’t take place in a vacuum. Instances such as the NidoTaniam are a symptom of the deeper problem, a build-up which leads to an angry outburst. Do you think there is a need for an anti-racial law? 

I can’t say now, at least until I see the whole report. But we certainly need to control it somewhere. Through legislative means as well as administrative action and awareness at the general public level.

Most states in the Northeast have some insurgency problem or infrastructural problem. How does one address that?

That’s why you have to fight for it. If 39 MPs from the Northeast do not speak in Parliament, who will recognise them? If you are vocal in Parliament you will be recognised. When I was recognised as one of the best Parliamentarians in the 14th LokSabha, I benefitted from that. Hence performing well is crucial. If you underperform, nobody will even bother to recognise you. It is, you know, ‘fight for your rights’. Not by illegal means but by democratic means. That is one aspect. The second aspect is that those who mistreat you, the people responsible for discrimination, they need to be sensitised.

How important is the development of the Northeast? Where does it figure in the Look East policy of the BJP government?

The fact is, Southeast Asia begins from Northeast India. India’s Look East Policy cannot succeed if you overlook the Northeast. In this geo-political scenario, your steps are decided by your geographic location. The Northeast is both sensitive and very strategic. We are part of South Asia, half of Bangladesh borders with Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura, we share borders with Myanmar. The Northeast is not the end of India. It is the beginning of India for the eastern part of the world. 

You talked about sensitisation of police and how communities are being discriminated against. Recently, there was a report by three DGPs who said Muslims don’t trust the police.

It’s because of the mistrust being created by certain people. It’s not even true. Muslims definitely trust the police. But some people with ulterior political motives create a situation to create panic and insecurity in the minds of minorities. 

And what about incidents such as a ShivSena MP force-feeding a Muslim caterer who was fasting?

We have condemned it. My Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, made a forceful statement in Parliament. We condemn such acts, but you cannot generalise either. I myself belong to a  minority. If minorities feel unsafe in their own country, what can be more unfortunate than that? But you know, in India, there are political parties that treat communities as vote-banks. That is the genesis of all problems, otherwise why are you making a particular community feel vulnerable? Suppose my Prime Minister says that we should look at everyone as an Indian first — even if you belong to some religious group — you will feel empowered. But the moment you say he is Hindu or Hindus form 80 per cent of the population, others will feel insecure. Minority classification might be alright, but in social terms, nobody should be treated as a minority. 

We have heard talk of including the history of the Northeast in the NCERT curriculum but at the same time, there’s also talk of introducing a Sanskrit festival in CBSE schools.

See, if there are Urdusammelans, Hindi weeks, there will be a Sanskrit week also. Every language must be promoted in the way and manner it deserves. I would also encourage an Assamese speaking week, a Hindi celebration week, a Manipuri week. 

But these languages are not being promoted like Sanskrit is.

There are bodies promoting regional languages, for instance, there is the Assam SahityaSabha. It’s just that some people make an issue of things. I keep hearing about committees to promote Tamil, or Marathi for that matter. 

AFSPA is a big issue in the Northeast and Kashmir. Do you think having Gen (Retd) VK Singh looking after  Northeast affairs has created mistrust in the people there? Don’t you think there could have been a better option? 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: AUGUST 2014