Ending discrimination and populism is a must to eliminate racial discrimination

Dr. Divya Padmanabhan *

March 21 marks the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination worldwide. The day was first observed in 1966, and continues to be observed annually since then. The theme for this year is 'Mitigating and countering rising nationalist populism and extreme supremacist ideologies'.

While many countries are fighting the recent surge in supremacist ideologies, India is one of the countries facing immediate and long lasting implications of the dangerous surge. Set to elect a new government in the summer of 2019, it is a make or break moment for the country.

India is a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination, and has ratified it with some reservations. The question of race in India often translates into issues of discrimination based on caste, ethnic groups, minority groups and perceived racial differences. Though discrimination on the basis of birth has always been very evident, requiring laws like The Scheduled Castes And Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 to protect the victims, the Indian government has always tried to differentiate it from 'racism', insisting that it is an internal matter.

That debate aside, in the age of social media, the discriminations have become far more evident- both in the form of hate speech and real hate crimes and violence, like mob lynching in the name of cow protection, which serve to intimidate and create or deepen animosity between groups/ communities.

This deeply resonates with a 2018 report by the UN Special Rapporteur highlighting the increasing nationalist ideologies that 'pose a sobering threat to racial equality by fueling discrimination, intolerance and the creation of institutions and structures that will have enduring legacies of racial exclusion' (emphasis mine) and that 'in its most dangerous variants, populism deploys a monolithic, exclusionary vision of who qualifies as "the people."'

The real dangers of the ascending nationalist populism thus include direct threats and intimidation of people who do not fit into the 'right' category, as well as institutional weakening of those bodies meant to protect and provide justice. Furthermore, nationalist ideology also creates the notion of a suffering majority. It propagates the idea that in a multicultural setup, by trying to accommodate everyone, the people who get the least are the majority.

The interests of the minority are hence set up as oppositional and disadvantageous to the self-proclaimed majority. Hence, 'when nationalist populists appropriate the language of democratic legitimacy and representation of "the people", this language masks exclusionary and typically racialized conceptions of the nation that are at odds with liberal conceptions of democracy'. Think of all the 'at stake' slogans and the rift is abundantly clear.

It is easy to sit in your comfortable apartment and think that you don't have a role to play in this at all. But all it requires is to look at the names of your neighbors. As it is, our buddies and partners are not just a matter of chance. They are picked from a given set of people, often a homogeneous same caste-class-religion group in India.

If one goes further, it becomes very apparent that micro-aggression has become part of our daily lives. In cases of road rage, all the verbal abuse will be racist and gendered. As I write this piece, there are media reports about authorities removing certain chapters- including one on caste struggles for rights- from a class 9 history textbook.

This is followed by another news that funding for Women's Studies programmes in Indian universities is already shrinking, and won't be enough for them to even survive. If you are wondering how this is relevant to racial discrimination, the answer is that ultimately it all comes down to visibility and representation in societies- who gets represented, and why.

We have seen attempts to erase and re-write history, and a fundamental part of that is whom we see as belonging to the nation. While the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination ensures that all human beings have equal rights, it allows states to have autonomy when it comes to making different rules for its citizens versus non-citizens.

In the Indian context, this has become contested with the recent citizenship register in Assam, which puts the future of the Muslim minority groups at stake. With no clear roadmap ahead, the coming elections will only add to the uncertainty and risk. With a possible image of a non-citizen created, it will be easy for populist groups to argue that the lack of jobs, overpopulation and all sorts of problems are created by the 'other'. Though this is not a new strategy in itself, the easy access to online media today presents significant dangers.

To arrive at any solution to this, both state and non-state actors have a role to play in either generating or legitimizing, even if by silence, a continuing process of non-discrimination. In cases of violations, it is often difficult to find consolidated information to make sense of an overall picture.

Campaigns such as halt the hate or the lesser known ones such as #colourmeright, #unstereotype by Brooke Bond Red Label (I do have issues with Unilever, as a side note!) are significant in that they allow us to understand in a nutshell the magnitude of the problem. One can argue about the representativeness or credibility of sources. Yet, such platforms offer us a comprehensive picture of what we're facing today.

We definitely need our institutions to work towards equality and justice, which is what they are there for. We need them to be responsible, transparent and quick. But expecting that from over-burdened, pressured, under-staffed institutions, even if they had the best of intentions, would be unrealistic. A complete overhaul of the system would be ideal, but till then we must create our own inroads- whether it be through protests, writings or just by not being silent. By being our own gatekeeper, we could choose to reclaim our rights and voice out our needs.

The significance of a day such as this, is a reminder to voice out our opinions. In an age where our timelines, twitter and blog feeds suggest to us stories that we may be interested in based on tracking our reading history, even the simple reiteration of equality and justice is significant. The more we reiterate, the more our voices and words get visibility. We encourage others along with ourselves to stop and think for a moment about the mainstream populist narrative, and the problematic notion of society that it springs up.

In the present Indian context, with emerging vigilant groups and collective mobs, it's becoming clear that a collective oppositional voice needs to be heard.

It is through collective action that we can be a part of the solution to the problems of human rights violations and discrimination. Racist attitudes are a vicious cycle- from perceiving skin color and features as inferior, to viewing certain population sharing looks, religion, gender as the 'people', to lack of representation of minorities and ultimately policy level discriminators such as refusal to recognize caste as a form of racism.

Racism hence needs proactive action from all sectors. From the everyday acts of resisting discrimination to calling out policies, politics, institutional lapses and biases, the ways to combat racism are multiple. Rather than framing it as an issue which should be solely a matter of policymakers and human rights defenders, by viewing racism as an ongoing issue in everyday life, we can recognize its pervasiveness, and that would be the first step towards its elimination.

* Dr. Divya Padmanabhan wrote this article for Asian Human Rights Commission which was forwarded to
Divya Padmanabhan is an academic based in Hong Kong
The writer can be contacted at padmanabhandivya(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on 24 Marh, 2019.

* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.

  • LS : Voting for Inner : Gallery
  • Ahingbi, Chareinu :: eMing
  • Thang Ta @Sangai Festival #4: Gallery
  • The current status of Naga-Kuki relation #1
  • Traditional warfare technique of NE native #1
  • Cry Of A Dying River #72 :: Poem
  • Looking forward to May 23
  • Judgment day
  • Meekap Thokpa Numit #1 : Gallery
  • CC Meet Final: NEROCA Vs SU #2: Gallery
  • Floriculture : A booming industry in Mao
  • Positivity is the soul of life
  • Basic health competency by patients
  • Inner Line Permit (ILP) Demand :: Timeline
  • 7th Woodpecker International Film Festival
  • Cracking the repoll whip in Outer
  • Dirty game is a threat to Democracy
  • Ibendhou Kounu Haraoba #2: Gallery
  • Indo-Naga & other peace talks #1
  • Civil Society Forum Manifesto for Election
  • Life and Me :: Poem
  • The Killing Fields 2013-18 : News Timeline
  • Election jamboree & voters bonanza
  • Suspension Order for 7 MLAs : NPF
  • Chin Woman Dies after Tatmadaw Bomb
  • A reference to the party in power
  • An idea without fear
  • Sajibu Cheiraoba at Mysore #2: Gallery
  • Artillery Regiment in Battle of Imphal
  • Appraisal on LS election (Outer) #2
  • Minimum Income Guarantee is a promise
  • Northeast Fiesta 2019 at Jalandhar
  • Cyber Security - the need of the hour
  • Sunset Unplugged, Agartala: Event Report
  • Reality of casting vote in Outer PC
  • Real face of Indian election
  • Tributes to PLA killed #1 : Gallery
  • Khomlen Manglanda : Play synopsis
  • Download: Meetei Mayek Keyboard
  • Voting (PC) @ Kangpokpi #3: Gallery
  • Letter from a river most polluted
  • Truth commission in Manipur needed..
  • Vacancy at Makok Tech, Bishnupur
  • Cheirao Chingkaba #2 : Gallery
  • The sky is the SIYOM of the stars
  • An introspection of roots of AFSPA
  • A note on Cheiraoba ..
  • A well-known paradox :: Poem
  • The saga of EVMs
  • Festival of Democracy hypes
  • 14 girls sold to persons in Saudi Arabia
  • Took up boxing after watching Ali- Mary
  • Sajibu Cheiraoba at Mysore #1: Gallery
  • Mittong Khunou: The Battle Honour of INA
  • A Lifeline for the Assamese
  • Multiple posts at PiCaSoid, Imphal
  • NE Annual day of CNESPR , JMI
  • Essential summer travel tips
  • Discussion : Myanmar's Democratization
  • Violating election model code of conduct
  • Catapulting AFSPA in the limelight
  • Revisiting CAB issue
  • Voting (PC) @ Kangpokpi #2: Gallery
  • Voting (PC) @ Kangpokpi #1: Gallery
  • Bloody Phanek at Paris Film Festival
  • Homoeopathy, a revolutionary science
  • The goodness of good fate does not smile..
  • Outer Constituency has voted
  • Helpless indignation
  • CC Meet Final: NEROCA Vs SU #1: Gallery
  • Yengkhom Roma : Lifetime Award
  • Appraisal on Lok Sabha election (Outer) #1
  • Cyber Crimes - Crimes by finger tips
  • Research Support Officer @ Amethyst
  • Condemns militarization of NEHU Campus
  • Shadow of CAB on Lok Sabha elections
  • "CAB" Factor Faded
  • Thabal Chongba @Khurai : Gallery
  • Military Sociology: Present, Past & Future
  • Know your MP - Election 2019
  • Dirty Dancing :: Poem
  • Democracy needs time for good admin
  • Travel at U-Factor
  • Shadow of NSCN (IM) in Outer PC
  • The great escape
  • Arambai Exhibition Show : Gallery
  • View of Premier State College Senior Assn
  • Distant One :: Poem
  • The hysteria of a first time voter
  • Course in Folkloristics & Semiotics
  • NDPP is 'Entertainment Govt' : Zeliang
  • On issue of "Letters signed by Neiphiu Rio"
  • The visit of PM Modi
  • If BJP win, people of Manipur support CAB
  • Cheirao Chingkaba #1 : Gallery
  • sekeN heN :: Seireng
  • Yangnu Golmei : Sangeetbhusan 2018
  • Victimizing only the Women & Children
  • Lest The North-East Fall Asleep
  • Naga Peace Process :: News Timeline
  • Driving a dangerous feat on Indian roads
  • Need to be democratic in a democracy
  • Cheiraoba Chak Katpa #1 : Gallery
  • Selfie da track :: e-pao Radio
  • Demand for ILP :: Articles/Photos...
  • The legend of the Laiyyars : Election tale
  • Sports for peace & development
  • What is peace ?
  • Rongali : Celebration of Assam & NE
  • Manipuris celebrate New Year
  • Imphal security beefed for Modi's visit
  • Sajibu Nongma Panba Shopping: Gallery
  • Sajibu Cheiraoba: Ritual festival of Meiteis
  • Sajibu Cheiraoba Meitei New Year Day
  • Stop War with Nature :: Artwork
  • Cry of a Dying River - 71 :: Poem
  • Pulmonary Valve Balloon dilatation
  • Supping with an ally of the foe
  • Deflected focus: The dress debacle
  • Nipalsuba Mapok #2 : Gallery
  • Running for LS polls: The candidate
  • Gift :: Poem
  • Architect/Architectural Designer @R-Square
  • Little things that help to enhance beauty
  • Congress Manifesto for Repeal AFSPA
  • Social Media - a boon or a curse?
  • Anti-CAB stand: Interesting take from PRISM
  • AFSPA on Congress Manifesto
  • Bamboo Cooking Competition #1 : Gallery
  • April Calendar for Year 2019 :: Tools
  • Yaoshang Sports @Keishampat #2 : Gallery
  • First Wave Feminism
  • JRF wanted at NERIST, Arunachal [Upd]
  • Cheiraoba Thabal 2019 at Bangalore
  • NPF to support Congress on issue based
  • Jyotishmita to represent Assam in Miss India
  • Paothang : Newsletter from Pune
  • Eyeing votes with promise on AFSPA
  • Together let's save the future
  • Shirarakhong Village, Ukhrul :: 360 View
  • Journey into Nature of Human Culture #4
  • Candidate accommodation at Aligarh
  • The globe is in your fist
  • Heartless :: Poem
  • Condemn Killing of Manjur Ahmed
  • Indifference bordering on arrogance
  • Modi's visit: Will it restored BJP image?
  • Yaoshang Halankar #1 : Gallery
  • No Budget at International Mime Festival
  • In defence of the "Meira Paibis"
  • Post-Doctoral fellow @ NEIST, Jorhat
  • Attributes for vibrant career #2
  • Against Custodian Killing of Manjur Ahmed
  • Revamp Sajiwa Jail : The great JN escape
  • LS Poll : CAB factor and Manipur
  • Dont trust anyone: Pune police to NE
  • Muhammad Abdur Rahman Khutheibam
  • Yaoshang Fancy Dress : Gallery
  • Urmila Chanam on menstruation myths
  • Meetei Tribe Bears More Tribal Characters
  • Dear Happiness :: Poem
  • MP election issues & non-issues
  • Augment credit flow to farm sector
  • Fresh approach of Sangma
  • Phayeng Koubru Haraoba #3: Gallery
  • TabLlE :: Seireng
  • The Naliya Queen
  • Distress Relief at various districts
  • Bedtime Blues :: Poem
  • Babies who are born deaf
  • The approaching day of redemption
  • Yaoshang Marathon Race: Gallery
  • Abok :: Artwork & an Essay
  • Eyek Tamba :: Learn Manipuri script
  • Yaoshang Pichakari #2: Gallery
  • Utlou incident & of Nupi Khongoinaba
  • Understanding failure & how to face it
  • Responsibilities of voters : 5 years stake
  • Nando escaped from custody is a threat..
  • A New Dawn Awaits Tusom & Somra
  • Yaoshang Cooking competition: Gallery
  • Symposium on Dance & Music : Speech
  • Journey into Nature of Human Culture #3
  • Problem of Substance Abuse in Children
  • Morality must defeat religion
  • Noting approach of Dr Lorho
  • Revisiting BJP's stand on CAB
  • The Innampei festival of Chothe #3
  • MSAC Literary Meet @Chandigarh : Gallery
  • Time for Meiteis to stand for ST
  • Yaoshang Mei Loukhatpa #2: Gallery
  • Lamtagee Thabal @ Pune : Gallery
  • Yaoshang Sports @Keishampat #1 : Gallery
  • Yaoshang Sports @ Khongman : Gallery
  • Abdur Rahaman : Gopal Sharma Award
  • Yaoshang Mei Thaba : Gallery
  • Thokchom Sanatombi : Sangeetratna
  • AEgi puNsi :: Seireng
  • Babloo Loitongbam at UNHR Geneva
  • View of Ukhrul Town #2 : Gallery
  • Nipalsuba Mapok : Shumang Leela
  • Mukna Kangjei #2 : Gallery
  • Sory Wahengbam : eRang Actress Profile
  • Phayeng Koubru Haraoba #2: Gallery
  • Saroi Khangba @Imphal : Gallery
  • Featured Front Page Photo 2019 #1: Gallery
  • Maharaj Kumar Priyabarta Singh : Profile
  • Manipuri Calendar for 2019 : Download
  • List of Restricted Holidays for 2019
  • List of Public Holidays for 2019
  • List of General Holidays for 2019