Nido Taniam - as he appears in the profile picture of the Facebook group Justice for Nido Taniam - seems like any average 19-year-old experimenting with the bible of cool.
Bleached blonde hair puffed up, a steel blade for a pendant accessorizing a plain black tee hugging his bony, slight frame. Nothing that could ideally set him apart from or make him look like an oddity among thousands of boys trooping into India's colleges every day.
Only, he became an unlikely martyr - the face of racial inequality and animosity that has been simmering in India for decades now. Tania was allegedly beaten up in Lajpat Nagar in South Delhi and died due to internal injuries sustained during the incident. According to reports, the altercation began after a shop owner in Delhi said something derogatory about how Taniam, a student from Arunachal Pradesh, looked.
What followed was outrage and surprisingly, even some shock at the manifestation of prejudices that country has nurtured for ages now. Similar stories of harassment surfaced, and the political class clamoured to condemn the incident and each blame the other for letting such biases thrive. And in that hurry, most of them revealed how wretchedly incapable they are of addressing the issue, let alone find a remedy for it.
Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal turned up at the protest held for Nido in Delhi and turned it into a platform to verbally bludgeon his now sworn enemy - the Delhi Police. "The role of police is questionable, very strange," he chortled, as if the declaration would be reassuring to the community which has lost one of its own in a case of targeted violence.
Then, social activist Binalakshmi Nepram who was on the same stage as Kejriwal had to request the Delhi CM to speak in English, after the latter launched into a tirade against the police in chaste Hindi. While Kejriwal's move was perfectly in line with what the state's chief minister should formally do in a occasion like that, his decision to speak Hindi to a gathering that obviously did not understand it, spoke volumes more. It revealed how the Indian political class' concern is at best cosmetic. It is not too difficult to see how governmental intervention in the matter will be fraught with problems galore. In fact, Kejriwal declared, "Tell me what you want to do. I will try to do it." While he gets brownie points for earnestness, he lays bare how removed dominant political narratives of India are from the trials of north east India.
Indian politicians' lack of empathy was then underscored yet again by leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha, BJP's Sushma Swaraj. While taking the AAP government to the cleaners for not responding suitably to the situation, she sought to emphasise how there's unity in India's diverse noses. Yes, noses. She preached, "Not just people with sharp noses, people with flat noses too are Indians." The fact that she found it necessary to mention the 'chapta naak' of the citizens of north east India to appeal the rest of India to be tolerant to them, that she has a dangerously flawed understanding of north east India's tortuous and long politics of identity, their conflict ridden relationship with the rest of India - often referred to as 'mainstream India' in popular parlance.
Now, it has been reported that the Bangalore University, shaken by the recent incident of violence in Delhi, has set up a separate hostel for students from northeast India. CNN IBN quotes the vice chancellor of the university:
"We will build the hostel, install CCTV cameras, make security arrangements and put security also. That's how we can protect the safety and interest of the north east," said B Thimme Gowda, Vice-Chancellor, Bangalore University."
Now, the move has invited its fair share of criticism. When the biggest challenge faced by students from the northeast is to mingle with people from the rest of India, it becomes necessary to ask how putting them in isolated social spaces like a separate hostel is a step forward in that direction. How, in fact, does it help extending the narrative of equality, restricted to intellectual spaces so far, to a real social paradigm?
Delhi education minister Manish Sisodia, while reacting to Nido's death, said that history text books should include the history of northeast India. He also suggested text books include chapters on how people from the northeast should be treated by the rest of India. The idea itself defeats the purpose it intends to serve. Has the education minister questioned, how a child, who learns 'how to treat people from northeast' ritualistically alongside learning how to care for his teeth and plants in his neighbourhood at school, will stop himself from discriminating against the said ethnic group? He won't be told how to treat a Tamil, a Gujarati, or a Punjabi in a text book. He will only read about the northeast and grow up believing in the same exoticised, erroneous stereotypes that the text book wants to bust. The northeast will formally be the 'other' - dissociated from the rest of the country thanks to the immaturity of India's policy makers.
Nido Taniam was not a willing martyr. His story will also probably turn out to be futile.
Updated Date: Feb 10, 2014 20:58 PM