Media has covered much about Richard Loitam, a 19 year-old Manipuri student who died last month mysteriously.This incident might have unnoticed if the campaign was not executed properly demanding justice for the cause of his death which created waves throughout the country.
The ‘Justice for Loitam Richard’ campaign started off as a small group on Facebook, when Monika Khangembam, a student of Mass Communication in Bangalore, saw his death reported in a Manipuri newspaper. However, as more and more people joined the group, the campaign started to capture attention nationwide and soon Loitam’s death became a topic of debate in every news channel and newspaper.
A Criminal Justice Petition that was started on the website www.change.org has gathered 27,366 signatures so far. According to Monika Khangembam, who launched the campaign, the initial purpose of the campaign was to ensure that the investigation into Loitam’s death was speeded up.
“In the beginning, it seemed like the authorities weren’t taking any action.We started the campaign because there was so much mystery surrounding Richard’s death and we wanted a proper investigation” she said. Now, the campaign has garnered so much attention that Khangembam recently met Union Human Resources Development Minister, Dr. Kapil Sibal in Delhi, to hand over a copy of the petition.
Ask Khangembam the reason for the overwhelming support that the campaign has managed to gather, and she says “I think it’s because at some point everyone has experienced discrimination, and now we have all come together.” Sibal has promised to set up a helpline for students from the North East and has agreed to extend his support on a jurisdictional level.
In the wake of Loitam’s death, several debates have taken place regarding the discrimination faced by North East students based in Bangalore. While several believe that discrimination does not happen, the students themselves admit that though not common, there are stray instances of discrimination that take place from time to time.
Jumnam, who studied in Bangalore for 3 years, is of the opinion that the city is very friendly in that sense. However, there have been incidents when she has heard comments like “Chowmein” in public places.
Meena (name changed), studying in a reputed engineering college in the city, feels that there is no outright discrimination in her college but from time to time classmates refer to her as “Chinky” and that makes her feel uncomfortable. She is astonished that a lot of her classmates do not know where she comes from.
“I feel like an outsider in my own country although we are also bona fide Indian nationals,” she says. Her friend, Konkan (name changed), says “because we are from the North East sometimes people think we are all prostitutes.” It is not uncommon to hear of girls from the North East being harassed, indeed, Khangembam herself narrates several incidents where she has heard comments such as “She is wearing a short skirt. Chinky girls dress like that only.”
She believes that even though harassment is something most women face on a daily basis, the problem gets aggravated in the case of women from the North East. Khangembam attributes the problem to stereotyping, and Priya and Sarah are quick to agree. They say, “First, stereotyping must stop.”
Even though Loitam’s death was not due to racism but the campaigners believe as such because the college management handled this delicate issue with lack of clarity.At some point rumors flew that Loitam was under influence of drugs.
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