The death of 19-year-old Arunachal Pradesh student Nido Taniam (also spelt as Tania) in Delhi on January 30 has once again exposed the deep racial hatred that some people harbour against those who come from the Northeast of the country. In an attempt to understand the level of racial discrimination that exists in Delhi, 701 Northeasterners were interviewed recently by researchers of Delhi School of Economics. Unsurprisingly, all 701 said that they have faced varying degrees of abuse/discrimination in Delhi.
The result of the study would perhaps negate the argument that racial discrimination in Delhi cannot be generalised and should be treated on a case-by-case basis.
The replies of the respondents showed that there was a lingering sense of fear and insecurity among those who have made Delhi their home. Some claimed that the Delhi Police and the government cannot be of much help either because there was not much action has been taken even after the home ministry decided in 2011 to make words like ‘chinki’ (which is often used to describe people from the Northeast) punishable.
In fact, in 2007, the Delhi Police had published a booklet advising migrants from the Northeast to avoid wearing revealing clothes and not cook their native foods to avoid upsetting their neighbours.
Why are the people from the Northeast targeted so often? Many in ‘mainland’ India feel that racially the Northeasterners are different and represent uncivilised and primitive communities. Tania was killed because he ‘looked’ different and that was a ‘problem’ to others. The truth is that there is no Indian law that can deal with racial abuse or related crime when it is of ethnic origin.
Such attacks also defeat the idea of multiculturalism. In India, caste-based divisions are deep-rooted and race will now be added to this segment. The national curriculum of the NCERT and the CBSE should include/add significant works/issues on the geography, culture and history of the Northeast and should exclude divisive forces.
The Northeast has also been suffering due to wrong political and development agendas: the policy of declaring forests as ‘restricted forest’ or ‘prohibited forest’ have uprooted many tribal communities and affected indigenous culture, history and identity. The many dams that have been built in the name of development don’t help the region because most of power that is generated is sold to other states. Yet, the government is hell bent on building new mega dams.
Politically, the region is under-represented: Except Assam, all other Northeast states have only one to two MPs. Thanks to the landlocked nature of the region, poverty and insurgency, people are being forced to migrate to other cities for education and job opportunities.
However, the rise in hate crimes, racial attacks and discrimination has made it difficult for Northeasterners to survive in other parts of India. The emotional and psychological gap between the young people of the Northeast and other parts of India is increasing and this will adversely affect our nation building efforts. If unchecked, this racial divide can ultimately paralyse the State.
Kamei Aphun teaches sociology at Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi
The views expressed by the author are personal