The brutal killing of 19-year-old Nido Taniam, a young man from Arunachal Pradesh, in a south Delhi marketplace in broad daylight has once again underlined the racism and xenophobia that is rife in the national capital, and in the whole country. The incident was followed by an incident where two Manipuri women were molested by cops: a reminder of how women from the North East are routinely subjected to sexual violence and attacks in Delhi. Later, a minor Manipuri girl was raped in Munirka by a local landlord’s son. When protestors had the latter arrested, the Munirka village RWA held a ‘panchayat’, fueling fears of eviction of people from the North East.
It cannot be forgotten that the Indian State’s own discriminatory policy towards the North East, fosters bias and violence against people from the region. The draconian AFSPA continues to shield murder and rape of people from the North East by the Indian Army – marking off people from the North East as second class citizens. Rahul Gandhi addressed a protest dharna against the murder of Nido Taniam in Delhi, saying “There is only one India. And that India belongs to all of us. We are going to ensure you get respect in this country.” He should tell us how come murder and rape are protected by ‘Special Powers’ in some parts of India, if indeed all citizens enjoy the same rights?
Bias and police harassment of Kashmiris and people from African countries have also been common in Delhi. Kashmiris are branded as ‘anti-national’, and the BJP has been known to fan up xenophobia against Bengali speaking labourers (branded as ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’). Recently the AAP’s newspaper Aap ki Kranti also disturbingly mentioned a witch-hunt of ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’ as one of the key achievements of the AAP’s Delhi Government.
The Delhi Government’s defence of the Law Minister’s illegal and racially motivated ‘raid’ of African women in Khirki recently has further signalled support for racist policy – veiled as action against ‘drug and prostitution mafia’. The existence of drug and trafficking trade (in which Indians are just as complicit as people of other nationalities) cannot justify racist, sexist of homophobic politics – such as the leaflet by the Residents’ Welfare Association (RWA) of Khirki that called for ‘eradication of Nigerians and eunuchs’ by denying them homes on rent.
In Munirka, the RWA’s pretext to profile tenants from the North East was to brand them as ‘drunk and disorderly’. Much as in Khirki, the RWA leaders here, many of them with BJP affiliations, claimed to have complained against ‘boys and girls from the NE drinking together’ and wanted the police to act against them. The prompt intervention by activists from the NE and by the JNUSU and AISA, prevented the situation from escalating.
Is it inevitable for the Congress, BJP and AAP to all promote such racism and sexism? In the name of Congress’s bhagidari or AAP’s mohalla sabhas, will such a culture of exclusion and bullying in the name of resisting ‘moral pollution’ be strengthened? In Khirki, ‘drug and sex rackets’ was the RWA’s racist code for ‘Africans’; in Munirka, ‘drunk and disorderly’ is the RWA’s racist code for ‘people from the north east’, espesically after they dare get a landlord’s son arrested for rape of a minor; in Mumbai, RWAs have used ‘terrorist’ or ‘non-vegetarian’ as communal code to keep Muslims out of societies. RWAs are also notoriously biased against the poor and the working class, for instance against street vendors and domestic workers.
The BJP calls the AAP’s Delhi Government ‘racist’, while its Goa Government has actually perfected the practice of witch-hunting Africans in the name of cracking down on drug mafia. The BJP in Goa ran a campaign with the slogan “We want peace in Goa. Say no to Nigerians. Say no to drugs.” The Goa CM called for the eviction of all Nigerians from Goa, asserting that most of them are involved in drug trade. A BJP Minister in Goa equated Nigerians with cancer. It is hardly surprising, then, that the RSS leader Sheshadri Chari, speaking on a news channel, denied that the murder of the boy from Arunachal Pradesh was an act of racism. He tried to rationalise racism as a mere ‘perception of difference.’
Denial of racism is perhaps the most subtle and commonplace form of racism in India. It is high time that India faced up to the widespread racism and xenophobia – in social prejudices, but even more so in State policy and politics. The killers of Nido Taniam must be punished, as must be the police officials responsible for trying to suppress the case. Racist propaganda by political leaders must be sternly punished. Governments at the Centre and State must enact a law against racial discrimination. And the discriminatory and draconian AFSPA must go.
When Lajpat Nagar Was Occupied by Anti-Racism Protestors
(AISA activist from JNU, Shehla Rashid, reports on the massive protest in Delhi following Nido’s killing.)
Lajpat Nagar- a consumer’s heaven and a glimpse of what is generally understood to be “mainland” Indian culture- is visited by numerous students from the Northeastern states of India who are studying in Delhi. It is also frequented by Kashmiris, Afghanis and Punjabis alike for its culinary and shopping delights. When one thinks of Lajpat Nagar, one thinks of leisure, shopping, food and fun. However, this time it was none of those things. By the time the JNU Students’ Union reached Lajpat Nagar, hundreds and hundreds of students had already occupied Lajpat Nagar. The entire stretch from Westside to Lajpat Nagar police was occupied. Slogans ranged from “Punish them” to “We are Indians” and “We want justice”.
People were not thinking of shopping and they weren’t thinking about food. All they wanted was to be treated fairly, treated at par. The extremely unfortunate murder of Nido Taniam seemed to have sparked a revolt. The attack was seen not only an attack on Taniam but on the identity that is India’s “Northeast”. While anyone who knows the Northeast well enough knows that there is no homogenous “Northeast” identity. However, the perpetrators would not have known the difference between an Arunachali and an Assamese person. Taniam was mocked at because he looked a certain way. He was attacked because he challenged the racist slurs and fought back. Was he fighting back merely against the racist slurs directed at him? I would like to believe that he protested against decades of racial discrimination and injustice that the “Northeasterners” have been facing in what is termed “mainland” India.
One can’t help but think about the similarities between Nido Taniam’s murder and Nirbhaya’s murder. Both were targeted because of their identity. Both were attacked in South Delhi. Both sparked a revolution that was almost spontaneous, unrelenting and full of anger. This time, Jantar Mantar would not do. Assurances would not do. People wanted justice. However, it would be naive to think that the justice being demanded is merely legal. This was an assertion of citizenship, demand for social justice, equality and non-discrimination. While some scholars would opine that, for a Northeast student to shout “I am Indian” is similar to a woman shouting “I am chaste”, I would like to believe that these students from the Northeast also meant to assert and demand their citizenship rights rather than to reify the already problematic construct of nationalism.
However, the fight for dignity is only a baby step in the assertion of democratic rights by people of the Northeast. It will be several decades before Irom Sharmila gets regular front page coverage for her unmatched feat. It will be a while before draconian laws like AFSPA rake up the conscience of this nation. After all, these do not affect people in the “mainland” India.
AISA-RYA Initiatives Against Racism in Delhi
AISA organised a protest against racism in Delhi University where around 300 students participated; for three hours the DU north campus reverberated with one slogan ‘We are all Nido Taniam, Stop the racism’. A torchlight procession was held under the banner of the JNUSU in JNU.
Following the rape of a young Manipuri girl in Munirka, the JNUSU, AISA, and RYA were at the forefront of the massive protests at the Vasant Vihar thana, resulting in the arrest of the accused. This was followed by a march through the entire Munirka area.
Following the scare over eviction of NE people by the Munirka village RWA, AISA activists Shehla Rashid and Sandipan Talukdar, and JNUSU President Akbar Chawdhary attended a meeting in the Vasant Vihar thana on the issue of racism in Munirka with representatives from the North East community and RWA leaders. Plans are on to conduct a sustained campaign against racism in Munirka. .