The death of 20-year-old student Nido Taniam has caused many in Delhi to address the question of whether racism has become more prevalent in the city. Taniam was found dead in his room the morning after allegedly being beaten in a fight in a Lajpat Nagar sweet shop.
Taniam hailed from Arunachal Pradesh, a state in the northeast of India, and was in Delhi visiting friends when he stopped to ask for directions from shopkeepers in the market. According to Taniam’s friends, the shopkeepers made fun of the student’s hair, Taniam asked them to apologize, and they beat him with rods and sticks.
Since he was from the northeast, allegations of racism have spread like wildfire, sparking protests and demands for justice. In the wake of the tragedy, officials took to the air to discuss whether or not racism was increasing in India’s capital.
Ninong Ering, representative of Arunachal East in Arunachal Pradesh, neatly sidestepped the question of whether or not he believed the attack was a hate crime. Ering did bluntly state, however, that people from the Northeast of India do tend to style their hair differently and wear different clothes from people in Delhi, and that these differences are often commented on.
In contrast, Binalakshmi Nepram, writer and activist, fiercely condemned policy makers in India for ignoring hate crimes against youth from Northeast India. Nepram emphasized that the deaths of five other young men and women were evidence of an epidemic of racial violence throughout the country.
In a country with the second highest population in the world, practically countless different languages, and the reported highest illiterate population in the world, combating stereotypes is a formidable challenge. The fact that officials addressed racism and talked about it openly in the wake of the Delhi attack is commendable. Whether these discussions will motivate change has yet to be seen. Even if the political will for change existed, what could be done effectively in a country of 1.2 billion with vast diversity is another looming question.
Ved Marwah, former Delhi Police commissioner, hinted at possible solutions to existing racism. Marwah spoke frankly about misconceptions amongst people in Delhi about those in northeastern states. Marwah prefaced his comments with the assertion that the northeast is one of the most attractive places in the country, and went on to say that it is also a markedly different place. Since the language and cultural norms diverge from those in the country’s capital, people in Delhi tend to label those from the northeast as backwards.
Marwah recommended that political and social organizations take on the task of bringing the northeast to Delhi, so that ignorance can be dispelled. Many people in Delhi don’t know anything about the northeast, explained Marwah, so they need to be educated about the different culture in order to foster understanding.
The attack instigated outrage that police had not done more to prevent the beatings, but Marwah cautioned that police cannot be expected to be everywhere at once. Delhi has a much lower police to citizen ratio according to the 2013 crime and safety report on New Delhi, with only 129 to 100,000 as compared to a worldwide average of 350 to 100,000.
The other question that exists is whether racism is increasing, or whether coverage of attacks with a possibly racist component is becoming more commonplace. Regardless, the tragedy in Delhi brought questions about racism to light, and officials have stepped up to address the issue.
By Julia Waterhous