Shame and redemption

Modi, Rahul, Kejriwal have spoken on discrimination against Northeast. They must stay with the subject.

Published: February 5, 2014 12:34:28 am

Modi, Rahul, Kejriwal have spoken on discrimination against Northeast. They must stay with the subject.

The chronology of events preceding the death of Nido Taniam, a 19-year-old student from Arunachal Pradesh, in Delhi leaves no doubt about the vicious prejudice that came his way. Last week, in a busy Delhi neighbourhood, he was assailed by discriminatory remarks, reportedly on his hairstyle, leading to a fracas.

The Union home minister has promised to speed up the investigation into the death, and determining who specifically are culpable should be left to the authorities. Equally, there can be no getting away from addressing the hate and prejudice at the heart of the confrontation Taniam was incited to, and one from which he reportedly sought to retire as amicably as possible by refusing to file a police case against the shopkeepers who mocked him and beat him up.

Exclusion operates in India in multiple ways, and Taniam’s death, in itself a horrifying incident, is a reminder of the particularly pointed barbs and menace citizens from the Northeast negotiate while living in and travelling through the rest of the country. That this is so must shame the country, sicken it into acknowledging widespread prejudice and stamping it out. Therefore, for all the shrill theatrics of different politicians to be one up on their opponents in protesting Taniam’s death and hate crime generally, they need to stay with the subject to exploit the enormously persuasive power of an election campaign to underline what is just not acceptable.

Rahul Gandhi showed up at a protest gathering at Jantar Mantar on Monday to pledge himself to getting a proper grip on issues facing the Northeast. Arvind Kejriwal joined the protesters the next day and has threatened to hit the dharna route once again to seek speedy justice from the police in Delhi. Narendra Modi breathed fire at his Meerut rally and embedded Taniam’s death in a recent spate of xenophobic incidents and questioned whether Delhi has the openness expected of a capital city.

It is not just that the heat of political attention should galvanise the police to be properly attentive to hate crime. Politics is a necessary instrument to change attitudes and update the red lines on what is kosher in casual social encounters. It is crucial to not only reassure minority communities, but also to demonstrate internalisation on behalf of the rest that barbs, exclusion and gratuitous advice, whether they fuel physical threat or not, are simply not on.

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