'Foreigners' In Own Country

Violence against North East students especially girls is quite common

Feb. 14, 2014, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 07 No. -16 Feb. 14- 2014 (Falgun 02, 2070)

Earlier this month, a North East student was mercilessly beaten in broad daylight in one of the central markets in the Indian capital. Nido Taniam, a 20 year old student from Arunachal Pradesh was apparently poked fun at for his ‘different’ looks and hair colour. When young Taniam protested the abuse, he was beaten by local shopkeepers  leading to his death.

The incident once again brought light to the racial profiling of North East people in Delhi. Racial discrimination against people from the North East is not new to the Indian capital. Violence against North East students especially girls is quite common. Rapes, beatings, lewd comments and social denial; students from North East are subject to all of these. At a time when the outcry over Taniam’s death had not even died down, a Manipuri youth was beaten in the posh South Delhi area and a minor Manipuri girl was raped by a 19 year old in Munrika.

Time and again when these incidents come up, articles are written, protests and candle light vigils are held and politicians are approached. Nevertheless, hate crimes against North East people never seem to go down. They are repeatedly made soft target of attacks. The incidents underline nothing but one thing for sure: the persisting disconnectedness between the people from the North East and the rest of India.

Violence against North East students always ignites discussions on how there is a need among people to change their mindset, but it hasn’t actually happened in practice. Not only the ignorant masses, but even the educated masses are still stuck to general stereotyping something the North East students are regularly subjected to.

“The fact that they we hail from a culturally more permissive society than mainstream India is mistaken for us having ‘loose character’ ” said a leader from a North Eastern student group. “Leave alone the ignorant and uneducated mass, even our college peers typecast us as having no morals sometimes”, he added. The labelling, as a result, makes the life  hellish for these students; rented accommodations are denied, comments are passed on them on at public, they are looked down upon.

Ignorance among people about issues of North East is to be blamed for the discrimination and the resultant violence against them. There is almost no reflection of the North Eastern history in school syllabuses  and many Indians are unaware of the issues of the region. Because of their Mongoloid features the North Eastern people are quite often referred to as ‘outsiders’. 

“When Indian students are beaten up in foreign countries, we jump and shout slogans against racism. But when it comes to our own brothers and sisters, we don’t feel even the slightest hesitation in calling them ‘Chinky’ or ‘outsiders’”, says a student from the North East.

The authorities too have not been too sensitive to the case of the harassed and hapless lot from the North East. In its much criticized booklet in 2007, the Delhi Police, for instance,  advised people from the northeast to avoid wearing 'revealing' clothes and to not cook their native foods beans for fear of upsetting Indian neighbors.  Victims have also alleged that the police fail to take up their complaints and do not bother to register FIRs.

Even at the political level the discrimination faced by North Eastern students go unadressed. Time and again when such incidents take  place  politicians of different hues and colour do jump in to make a hue and cry of the issue and show solidarity with the victims. But they have proved nothing more than an exercise in reaping a political mileage.

The governments in North Eastern states, themselves, haven’t been able to raise the issue with the central government thanks to their bitter infighting and insurgency. “Despite such repeated attacks, our government is still not bothered. All they do is issue a press statement”, says one student from Mizoram. Although intervention of their own state’s government might not do much to improve the situation, the students feel that it could act as a pressure on the Delhi government to improve security.

Although the Indian constitution cites racism as a crime, it still continues to reside in the mind of Delhiites.  Behavioural change and sensitivity to North East, whether in Delhi or elsewhere, is key. Of course, it cannot be legislated. Until and unless this change arises, things are not going to change.

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