Racism in Capital
Prof Kamal Chenoy is an academic at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
The violent death of 19 year old Nido Taniam, a student from Arunachal Pradesh is a crying shame. The Delhi Police evidently failed to register a case on last Wednesday, enabling the Lajpat Nagar shopkeepers to assault him a second time. While the police erred seriously yet again, there is clearly not going to be any improvement in policing until the Delhi Police is put under close supervision under the Delhi government.
Nido Taniam is no ordinary death. He was the victim of racial prejudice in the capital of India, a martyr of those who don’t appreciate what the maxim, “unity in diversity,” means, and why it is, if taken seriously, so very important. People from the North East have come to Delhi (and other areas), for years. Because they are an ethnic community with facial features different from us, they have been dubbed “chinks” (Chinese). This is a one sided racism. I taught in Manipur for a year, and was always treated with courtesy. Attacks on non-Manipuris were unheard of.
The moot question is why is there no racism in the North East, while there is so much in Delhi, the capital of pluralist India, marked by a cosmopolitan culture, and a variety of educational educations? This racism (and sexism) appears to have been transmitted through generations, from grandfather to father to son. There has basically no anti-racist sensitisation. Delhi citizens have not heard of liberators like Hijam Irabot Singh, or champion boxer Mary Kom (both Manipuris). There are hundreds of such examples.
There have been contributions to the other Indian communities across the board. In 1962, the Indians of Arunachal Pradesh (Nido Taniam’s homeland), carried tonnes of equipment and guided Indian soldiers, even across Chinese lines. So how dare racist, ignorant (of other cultures), brutal Delhiwalas tease, attack and even kill, Indians who look different? Delhi is supposed to be a ‘melting pot’), but is it?
It is true that Delhi (especially elite inhabited) is a privileged place compared to the rest of India, but some lumpen elements seem to be misusing these privileges. There is no option to have a mix of gender/racial/nationality sensitisation at the school and university level. For those in public contact from shopkeepers to bus conductors, all should get sensitisation classes including exposure to the pluralism of the Indian people and cultures.
Of course, a critical target has to be the police. Almost all have weapons, but many are shoddy in their work, often when dealing with people of other cultures. There should be exemplary punishment of policemen and officers being laggard or deficient in their duty, like the shocking behaviour of the Lajpat Nagar police.
Above all, this must be the responsibility of the educated middle class. We must not look the other way when someone from another racial community is being harassed. That is the time our nationalism, our culture, our civic manners should prompt us to counter racism (and if women–sexism). Then it is time to stand up and say s/he is my sister/brother/fellow Indian and I will not let you trouble her/him. Not enough of us have stood up when the challenge came. If we had Nido Taniam would be alive.