RIP, Nido Taniam

Published February 3, 2014

A friend recently told me that people from North-East India don’t have an easy time in Delhi. Their easily distinguishable features make them stand out, he said.

“Someone I know went to a bar for a drink and got slapped. His crime – he just looked different,” my friend said.

Yes, instances of what can only be called racial abuse abound. But every once in a while something happens that makes you think about the state of our society.

The tragic death of a young man, Nido Taniam (18), from Arunachal Pradesh should make Delhiwallahs and others think about their attitudes towards persons just as Indian as any other.

This is how the Hindustan Times reported Nido Taniam’s death:

Taniam went to Lajpat Nagar [a South Delhi market area] to visit a friend on Wednesday, Arunachal Pradesh resident commissioner Avinash Mishra said while talking to a TV channel.

Unable to find the address, he entered a shop and sought the shopkeeper's help, Mishra added.

According to JT Tagan, president of the Arunachal Students' Union in the Capital, the shopkeeper and some people present at the shop teased Taniam over the colour of his hair.

Irked, Taniam broke a glass item in the shop, for which he later paid Rs. 7,000, Mishra said.

An altercation broke out and the youth was allegedly beaten up with sticks and iron rods by a group of around seven men. He succumbed to his injuries on Thursday, Tagan said.

As the number of students (and employees) from North-Eastern India increases in different cities across the country, the need to accept different cultures and practices has never been more acute.

I have argued with many friends that Delhi did allow for people of all parts of India to co-exist. But the death of Nido proves me wrong – Delhi like other Indian cities – is prone to prejudice.

Given that people from all parts of the country live in Delhi, one would think that tolerance levels for different cultures would have grown. But that hasn’t proved to be the case if the rampant abuse against people who look and behave different continues.

Last year, I wrote for Dawn.com about how a young Mizo, Kima, from the North-Eastern state of Mizoram decided to write about being abused in Mumbai.

Kima chose to engage the cops who suggested that since he was a “Nepali” his destination should be Kathmandu.

Looking back, it’s possible (perish the thought) that someone like Kima could have met Nido’s fate.

And, even as one was digesting the Nido story, The Times of India front-paged another story about two young women from Manipur being thrashed in full public view in Delhi’s Kotla Mubarakpur:

"There are many shops in the same lane but none of the shopkeepers came out to help. We are humans but here every day it's a struggle for basic things," said 25-year-old Tharmila. The girls say the same men, most of them in their late 20s, urinate on the shops' walls and drink in front of the girls. "They pass comments like 'Nepali dhandewali', 'rate kitna hai' etc." In the same narrow lane, with wires dangling on top, there are three more shops – a men's saloon and two grocery shops – but all the owners said they didn't see anything. Danish, who works at the salon, said, "We keep the door closed and scuffles are routine here. We don't know what happened here that night."

These shocking incidents in Delhi have happened on the heels of Ugandan women being targeted in a “raid” led by Delhi’s Law Minister Somnath Bharti and the disturbing justification that followed.

All these instances relate to blatant prejudice and bias. They signal the inability to adapt and understand.

While strong policing and prompt legal action against abusers is a must, there’s little doubt that societal pressure to curb such prejudice is missing.

Is it possible to apply societal pressure to ensure that such actions have no place in society?

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