Delhi’s shame

Nido Taniam’s death highlights the need to confront everyday prejudices in a multicultural city.

Published: February 3, 2014 3:42:49 am

 Nido Taniam’s death highlights the need to confront everyday prejudices in a multicultural city.

The death of 19-year-old Nido Taniam, a student from Arunachal Pradesh, has bared the pathologies of a multicultural capital. While the exact causes of his death are yet to be established, a racial slur triggered an altercation which ended in tragedy. Protests in Delhi and Itanagar have demonstrated that the incident speaks to the insecurities of being an “outsider” in the capital, which draws people from all parts of the country as well as foreigners.

Too often in the recent past, such people have been the targets of racially tinged prejudice, marked out for the way they look and speak.

The attack on Taniam comes shortly after two Manipuri women in Kotla Mubarakpur were allegedly assaulted and taunted with racist insults. Countless other accounts by students and professionals from the Northeast speak of varying degrees of discrimination — landlords refusing accommodation, shopkeepers refusing service, abuses hurled on the streets, a rigid distance maintained by older inhabitants of the city.

Such attitudes are not restricted to people from the Northeast. African nationals in Khirki extension recently became the target of a midnight raid, led by Delhi Law Minister Somnath Bharti, and the anger of local residents has started forcing other Africans out of the area. The worst cultural stereotypes inform such hostilities.

Delhi’s casual and unquestioned intolerance has to be dealt with at several levels. The police, for one, must show zero tolerance for incidents of hate crime, and be prompt in registering complaints as well as taking action against the accused. But more subtle changes must also be wrought, in social attitudes and public discourse.

This includes raising awareness about such prejudices and increasing the space for different people and communities in textbooks, in the media and in popular culture. Difference cannot become the grounds for exclusion in a national capital that thrives on, and constantly remakes itself through, its diversity.

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