Racial Profiling in India: Special Reference to the Northeastern States


India is one of the most diversified countries. From different religions to castes, from a wide range of cuisines to dressing styles, India has a complex and versatile cultural identity. This has been a major drawback and has led to high rates of violence based on racial/cultural diversity. The act of looking and discriminating against people based on their caste, religion, race, and gender and engaging in violence to depict their hatred or disinclination towards that bunch or class of people or an individual has been defined as profiling. Racial profiling in India comes into the picture on the basis of old unconscious beliefs, prejudice nature towards a group of society by the people in the majority.

Discrimination is no new phenomenon introduced in human society. It has been seen and carried for a long period of time across the world. This act of racial profiling in India is spread throughout the world and can be clearly seen by some of the recent incidents. The recent case of the institutional murder of George Floyd in America, the case of Jayaraj and Fenix in Tamil Nadu, and the racial discrimination against North-East Indians seen even during the world-wide spread pandemic are few of many such racial profiling in India cases.

Racial Profiling in India- North east

The issue of discrimination and violence against North—East India has been going on for quite some time now. Each year witnesses thousands of young people from the northeast migrating to New Delhi and other cities for higher education and jobs. India’s Northeast region is home to several tribes like the Nagas, Mizos, Garos, Tripuris, Bodos, Kukis and Meiteis, who are large of Tibeto-Burman. The seven states known as “Seven Sisters” are linked to India with a tiny landmass that spans over the northern tip of Bangladesh, and are fraught with chronic underdevelopment and embroiled in separatist conflicts. It is a common practice for the people from the northeast to be called “Chinkies” – a word so common that most of us have become immune to it but derogatory and demeaning enough for being punished. Harassment from landlords, employers, and assaults on the street is common. Now India’s northeastern community is campaigning for stringent anti-racism legislation. But they say that most Indians including the government is of the belief that India is not a racist country.

In 2014 happened an incident that stood out and started an active movement against the discrimination against northeast Indians. A 20-year-old student named Nido Tania from Arunachal Pradesh was lynched in the famous market of Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi. He was taunted for his hair color and hairstyle and when he protested against them, he was beaten up by several shopkeepers. The very next day he was declared dead by the doctors at AIIMS. This incident outraged a lot of people and hence the case was filed before the CBI. Although the convicts were granted bail by the CBI on the ground that the death was caused by the altercation and was not planned. The final verdict in the case of Nido Tania was given after 5 years of the incident. The four convicts, Farman, Pawan, Sunder, and Sunny Uppal were convicted under Section 304[1] of IPC in the court of Additional Session Judge Sandeep Yadav. Farman was sentenced for a time period of 10 years with a fine of Rs. 20,000, Pawan, and Sunder for a time period of 7 years and fine Rs. 20,000 and Sunny Pal was given imprisonment for years with a fine of Rs.20, 000.

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Time to recognize the problem

Ironically enough, most Indians see racism as a phenomenon that exists in western countries and is oblivious to racism as a phenomenon in India. They automatically see themselves at the receiving end and fail to see that they themselves harbor potential racist attitudes and behavior towards their own counterparts simply because of a deep seated prejudice.

For north-easterners who have particular looks, life is an everyday struggle in Indian cities; be it the mundane experiences of overcharging by autorickshaw- wallas, shopkeepers and landlords, a slew of verbal abuses on streets or seemingly innocuous remarks of colleagues, friends, teachers or the more extreme experiences of physical, mental and sexual assault. It is often a saga of never-ending the misery, a chronicle of repetitive experiences. The sad truth is that the states in the North East lack job creation and the right amount of educational opportunities.[2] Due to a lack of engineering and medical college students are pushed to leave their hometown for their brighter future. But the irony being, they have showcased hatred and intense racism except of the acceptance.

Visible but Unseen

Since it is a lived experience, racism is difficult to prove. Quite often, the victim cannot even recount exactly what was wrong about the way in which a co- passenger behaved or it is difficult to articulate a sneer, cultural connotations that can infuriate when personally experienced.

How does one prove that when an auto-rickshaw driver enquires a north- easterner if she is going to Majnuka Tila (which is a famous Tibetan refugee colony in Delhi) that he is falling prey to a common attitude of racial profiling? How does a north easterner prove when her fellow passenger on metro refers to her as ‘chinese’ in his conversation with friends, who are sneering and laughing in her direction? Racism is most often perceived, like an invisible wound and it’s quite burdensome to articulate it in the language of evidence or law. In this sense, everyday experiences of racism that are so prevalent are difficult to be proved objectively as required by the law.

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In a study conducted by National Human Rights Commission of India it was seen that over 54% of North-East Indians do not feel safe in the capital of the country and around 67% of them have face ethnic and racial discrimination in New Delhi[3]. The living and working conditions for them in North India are horrible and in violation to the constitution of India. In the case of Karma Dorjee & Ors. V. Union of India[4], the Supreme Court promulgated that the conduct of racism and violence against the North-east Indian community is inimical and in violation to the sociological constitutionalism. In the case, the petitioner argued for people who move from their hometowns in the north-east in search of better opportunities are subject to taunts, hate crimes, continuous violence on different factors like their appearance, accent or tradition.

Similarly, comedy-drama films directed by Nicholas Kharkongor, Axone, follow the story of fellow north-eastern migrants in New Delhi attempting to organize a wedding. It clearly depicts the struggle they go through each day in order to peacefully stay and lead there life.

If we are serious about fighting the menace of racial profiling in India we need to solve the larger problem which is the flaw in attitude. Of course, there will be incidents of extreme, outrageous violence that will be easy to fit in the pigeonhole of racial profiling in India. But it is the everyday forms of racial discrimination that go on build-up.

Insufficient Legal Framework

One of the ways is to sternly implement laws to deal with harm and injustice. But we know the state of implementation of laws in India so we have to go beyond laws, by influencing the most difficult and sensitive of tools: the human mind.  The need of the hour is to address this as a sociological problem. This can be done by using multiple tactics: Curricula changes, sensitizing mohalla and RWA groups, training police and administrators, MPs and political leaders.

It has been argued for a long time that the North-east citizens should be given protection under Article14 and 15 of the constitution, under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrrocities) Act, 1989 and under Section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code. But the problem lies in the fact, that not all the north-eastern citizens are the member of SC/ST Act. Only 4.6% of Sikkim population belongs to SC category and 33.8% to ST Category[5]. If we look at the Bezbaruah Committee, they observed that despite being many laws in India, a precise law to cover the nature of incidents committed is still not there. In the short run various amendments in the Indian Penal Code was made like Section 153-C[6] and Section 509-A[7], although for a greater picture an Anti-Racial law is needed. The committed recommend for such law to be implemented with offence being cognizable and non-bailable with an investigation to be completed within 60 days by a special cell.

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Another imitative taken in the protection of such matters was by the introduction of Anti-Discrimination and Equality Bill by M.P. Shashi Tharoor. This bill did not deal exclusively with the racial discrimination but included matters related to sexual orientation, marital staus etc. 

Another way is to develop incubation centres where students of the north eastern region who plan to study and live in other parts of the country get an orientation of the cultures and social atmosphere that they will inhabit. Thus both potential victims and perpetrators have to be educated. Unless we talk about it how would everyone know that there is a need for change. When large population from the North Eastern states have moved to various other parts of the country and made their homes and careers it is imperative that they be accepted and assimilated into their new neighbourhoods, but the sense of being different looms large. Cases of mistreatment of the people of these areas are reported very often than not. One of the reasons for this is the lack of knowledge about the region.

As the natives of the north- east argue, “why can’t the good aspects of our culture be highlighted in the other parts of the country; the most apt example being how much our society respects women. When such positive aspects are brought to the fore, the ignorance will automatically recede and the respect for our region will grow.”  Thus racial profiling, especially in the case of citizens of north east is an all pervasive problem which needs immediate attention however a lot depends on whether there is a general will to bring about an attitudinal change.


The author is of the view that the courts should acknowledge the hate crimes committed against the North-Eastern citizens and should implement a separate act and stricter rules to protect them. The Model National Legislation released by the United Nations can be considered as a guideline for the government in enactment of the legislation against such discrimination. India being a signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination has a duty to prevent these practices in order to build an racial segregation free community.

Also read Criminal Victimization & Justice Administration in India

[1] Punishment for Culpable Homicide not amounting to murder

[2] Spit Personality, article available at https://bangaloremirror.indiatimes.com/bangalore/others/spit-personality-with-the-covid-19-pandemic-people-from-the-northeast-are-facing-a-rise-in-racial-attacks-across-the-country/articleshow/74867081.cms

[3]Racism in India: equality Constitutionalism and Lego-Institutional Reponses, available at – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320243889_Racism_in_India_Equality_Constitutionalism_and_Lego-Institutional_Response

[4] Karam Dorjee & Ors. V. UOI, W.P. (Civil) No. 103 of 2014


[6] Use of Criminal force against people of any particular racial origin

[7] Word, gesture or act intended to insult a member of a particular racial group or of any race

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