On the Lynching of a North-Eastern Indian Student in DelhiBy A K Biswas
In July-August 2012, attacks on people of the North-East in Bangalore and threat calls to students in Hyderabad forced workers and students from Pune, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and even Goa to go back to the safety of their homes out of an intense sense of insecurity. The State of Karnataka alone had witnessed in two days the exodus of 16,000 North-Eastern Indians.1 This belied the preten-sion and contention of harmony and unity in diversity of India, underlying a deep-rooted malaise. Official figures are always conservative, if not deceptive and less than the actual, if these are not used for bolstering up the image, individual and/or institutional.
People hailing from Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in quest of avenues for higher or better facilities of education or livelihood face hostilities from the mainlanders. In the 1990s, a North-Eastern girl student travelling by the Guwahati Rajdhani Express to Delhi was outraged in the Munger district of Bihar. A senior Indian Forest Service officer of Madhya Pradesh cadre, a co-traveller, recounted the grim tragedy in writing to the Chief Secretary, Government of Bihar. Glaring incidents of such dimension are galore all over India. In August 2012, Diana Silva, a 22-year-old First-Year MBA student of Amity University and Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma’s niece, committed suicide in her hostel room at Gurgaon after an altercation with a teacher.2
Diana’s friends alleged that a teacher accused her of cheating during an examination and when she protested, the former tore up her answer-sheet. A shocked and humiliated Diana locked herself up in her room and hours later, after a forced entry, the authorities recovered her body. Such teachers are rarely held accountable for their despicable crimes despite complaints to the appropirate authorities. Dons in high temples of learning, who were in occasional media focus for crimes against underprivileged students, have walked free with full impunity.
Chuni Kotal, a Lodha tribal girl, doing M.Sc. (Anthropology) in West Bengal’s Vidysagar University, to cite one instance, was harassed, humiliated and hounded as a member of the criminal tribe in the campus for over three years by one of her teachers, Falguni Chakraborty. Her complaints to the Vice-Chancellor during the period went unheeded. The malefic teacher’s manipulation debarred her from taking the first semester examination. Deeply depressed and frustrated, she ultimately committed suicide on August 16, 1992. The West Bengal Police did not even invoke the provision of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989. Nonetheless retired Justice S.S. Gangopadhyaya, as head of an inquiry commission appointed by the reluctant State Government, gave a clean-chit to Chuni’s tormentor. The Commission observed:
“On a consideration of all the materials on record we are constrained to hold, therefore, that the allegations brought against Falguni Chakraborty by Chuni Kotal were not sustai-nable and further that Falguni Chakraborty never practised nor he had any reason to discriminate against Chuni simply because she was a Lodha. It may be that on occasions Falguni Chakraborty took Chuni to task for her let or non-attendance or for some such reasons. These were mere trivialities which occur as a matter of course between the teacher and the taught without any personal involvement from either side.
“These trivialities were blown big beyond all proportions to transform them into the items of the petition of complaint. On the findings arrived by us, we conclude that the behaviour meted out by Falguni Chakraborty was not as to cause intense mental pain to Chuni so as to break her heart and lead her ultimately to commit suicide.”3
So, the victim of the harrassment was herself responsible for her suicide! When the judge becomes a defender of the criminal, who can punish him? And why on earth should the tormentors of the underprivileged be at all afraid of the law-enforcing authorities? With inbuilt insularity in position, the aggressors of the dignity of the Dalits or tribals have nothing to fear.
The question is not limited to the unfortunate Lodha girl, who was the first-generation learner. The majority of lawyers and advocates, even judges presiding over law courts where victims of atrocities seek justice, have to contend with such men luxuriantly endowed with filial loyalty. Miscarriage of justice in their cases is unfailingly a foregone conclusion. This is why the Dalits and tribals as a whole entertain an overpwoering perspective that they would not get justice if and when the accused belong to the supremacist club as that of their judges.
Since decades North-Eastern Indians have been subjected to persecution and atrocities by the Indian mainlanders because of their different lifestyle, looks, features, cultural traits etc. One cannot readily remember a case involving them in which salutary and exemplary punishment has been awarded to the criminals. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, in a report on reservation in the higher judiciary, bemoaned: “Unfortunately the composition of the higher judiciary shows that judges continue to be drawn mostly from the very section of the society which is infected with the age-old social prejudice. In most cases, social inhibition and class interest of such judges do not permit them full play of their intellectual honesty and integrity in their decisions.”4
Profligacy with intellectual honesty or professional ethics never tormented any of them. The acquittal of 26 Ranvir Sena men, convicted for the massacre of 61 Dalits in Laxmanpur Bathe, Bihar, by a Bench of the Patna High Court last year, underlined the same age-old inhibition and prejudice. One of the judges of the Bench is said to belong to the same stock that furnished the recruits of the private militia. Lack of intellectual integrity and honesty failed the judge to recuse himself from the Bench. Besides, why did the government advocates, appearing for the victims of a massacre, not without strong vested interest, fail to agitate the issue of conflict of interest with such a judge sitting on the Bench to hear and acquit the convicts?
Hasn’t Delhi Forfeited its Right to
remain the Nation’s Capital?
The barbarous lynching of Nido has come as the proverbial last straw provoking the North-Eatern Indian students and activists to launch a peaceful and sustained agitation in Delhi against the racial discrimination they routinely face and suffer. Repeated instances of discrimi-nation and intolerance in Delhi alongside other parts of India must be viewed in a broader perspective. A question must be asked: Hasn’t Delhi forfeited its claim to remain the national Capital where Indians irrespective of religion, race, caste, place of birth—Arunachal to Gujarat and Ladakh to Kanyakumari—are unwelcome?
Insecurity coupled with racial discrimination disqualifies it to be the nation’s Capital open to polyglot, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural con-course of the countrymen. Delhi has actually become a haven for the fascist forces, like the barbarian Ku Klux Klan, over whom the writ of the authorities does not run. The political masters and executive authorities have not confronted them with all the might of the state when their victims belong to margins of the society. Their incompetence to put down the dark forces with an iron hand might unobtru-sively engulf the North-Easterners into a centrifugal torrent which ultimately can be a movement for secession from India. The Chinese in the neighbourhood do not lack fanciful designs to make matters worse for India.
Has Caste made the Crucial
Difference in Attitude?
Following the gangrape and subsequent murder of a paramedical girl student in a school bus in Delhi on December 16, 2012 thousands of women, who were pejoratively described as highly dented and painted5 alongside students, and the common man from all walks of life thronged the streets of Delhi and elsewhere demanding justice. In the Capital they fought with the police, gheraoed Parliament, marched right upto the Rashtrapati Bhavan, had instantaneous audience with the Prime Minister on demand, abused
the Union Home Minister and Delhi Chief Minister, and almost uprooted the Delhi Police Commissioner. It was hailed as the power of the people. At subzero temperature at 3.30 am December 29, 2012, the Prime Minister and the UPA-II chairperson were at the international airport to receive the dead body and pay homage to the departed soul of the gangrape victim brought from Singapore. These were touching gestures of sympathy of the agitationists as well as the authorities. We were reassured of a new era.
Many have noted with sadness the absence as also failure of those agitationists to join in sympathy and solidarity for the North-Eaterners under attacks. [Some students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University did come, however, in the end to express their solidarity with the North-Easterners.] Why have they failed to turn up in their crisis and where have they gone? We know the answer. The caste of the Delhi rape victim made the crucial difference. This is xenophobia. It is immaterial whether the authorities and/or the countrymen of the privileged class agree or not. To the dented and painted agitationists, the caste of the rape victim was the trigger. The deprived, discriminated and marginalised know well why they have no support from the privileged.
1. The Times of India, August 18, 2012, news item captioned “Fresh attacks in Bangalore keep NE exodus going”. The State Home Minister quoted this statistics to the media.
2. CNN-IBN, April 25, 2012.
3. Suman Chattopadhyay, Ananda Bazar Patrika, Calcutta, June 6, 1995.
5. “Those who are coming in the name of students in the rallies, sundori, sundori mahila (beautiful women), highly dented and painted,” Abhijit Mukherjee, an MP from the Jangipur seat that the President of India had vacated before his election, told a vernacular news channel.
The author is a former Vice-Chancellor, B.R. Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur, Bihar. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org