Shopkeepers at a busy south Delhi market are believed to have teased him over his appearance, hairstyle and clothes. An altercation ensued and Taniam was brutally assaulted. Taniam’s death on account of internal injuries has triggered immense outrage. He was a victim of blatant racism.
Terrible and tragic as his murder was, it is nothing new. A student from Manipur was bludgeoned to death in Bangalore last year. These ugly incidents are but a tip of the iceberg of routine violence that is unleashed on Northeasterners, who come to mainline cities to study and work.
A recent survey by the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research and Jamia Millia Islamia that was commissioned by the National Commission for Women provides a glimpse of the discrimination Northeastern women suffer. Sixty percent of respondents interviewed in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore complained of harassment and discrimination on a daily basis. Eighty per cent of those who were harassed did not go to the police as they felt it was of little use. This isn’t surprising as the police rarely register cases filed by Northeasterners.
This was Taniam’s experience too. The police prejudice against Northeasterners is well known. Sample this: a booklet titled Security Tips for North East Students issued by Delhi police in 2007 asked Northeastern women not to wear “revealing dresses” and to avoid cooking “smelly dishes.” Similar negative stereotypes abound among the general public. Northeasterners are looked upon as ‘fast’ and having ‘loose morals.’ They are called ‘chinkies’ and are routinely at the receiving end of racist slurs. Ignorance is to blame partly. Our history and geography text books are silent on the Northeast. Consequently, most know little about the rich cultural heritage, history and accomplishments of the Northeastern people.
Taniam’s murder must be investigated and the guilty punished swiftly. But the government’s response needs to go beyond a probe and punishment. Justice will be seen to have been done only if the country changes its behaviour towards its people from the Northeast. For far too long have we refused to admit that deep prejudice, even racism, defines our attitudes and treatment of people we deem different from ourselves. Taniam’s murder is a wake-up call that we must heed to now.