Prejudices against those who appear different run deep in Indian society. This unfortunate fact has once again come to the fore in the murder of Nido Tania, 19, a college student hailing from Arunachal Pradesh. He died of possible internal injuries after being thrashed by shopkeepers at a busy market in South Delhi. It is an obvious hate crime that owes its origin to deep-rooted prejudice against citizens from the country’s northeastern States. And four days earlier, according to a belated report, two Manipuri women had been taunted and beaten up by residents in another South Delhi locality. In both instances, residents, traders and passers-by did not intervene. These incidents bring into sharp focus the fact that racist and discriminatory attitudes are rampant. In India’s public spaces, it does not take much to trigger indecorous comments and provocative taunts, and insinuations about the character and morality of the persons concerned: complexion, appearance or even the colour of one’s hair or style of clothing, is sufficient cause. In the case of Nido Tania, son of an Arunachal Pradesh legislator, his dyed hair seems to have invited some gratuitous remarks, possibly a racist slur, from those present at a shop as he enquired about an address. The remarks provoked an angry reaction from the youth, who shattered the shop’s glass counter. He was beaten up and handed over to the police. The youth paid up Rs.10,000 to compensate for the damage caused to the shopkeeper, and apparently did not want further trouble; he declined to give a formal complaint. In circumstances that are not clear, he was taken back to the market, and left there without protection. He was thrashed again and died later at a friend’s place.
The police seem to have treated it as a minor altercation and failed to see the larger underlying issue: the potential for violence in a neighbourhood that is obviously hostile to strangers. Even though the Nido Tania case is now being investigated as one of murder, the tendency seems to be to delay action and deny that these are hate crimes. Some may advocate stringent laws to deal with hate crimes like this, but the solution lies not in the domain of law-making, but in the heart of society itself. It is not enough if the country’s political and constitutional structure is pluralist. Its citizens must internalise the idea that we are a nation of diverse groups of people who need not necessarily resemble one another. Acknowledging the validity of the point made by students and migrants from the northeastern region — that discrimination against them must end in the rest of the country — will be a good start.