Every time Beijing lays claim to the whole of Arunachal Pradesh as being part of its national territory, New Delhi’s hackles rise. Arunachal, as indeed all the northeastern states, are indisputably part of the Indian Union.
Or are they? While political India claims sovereignty over them, so-called ‘mainstream’ India – another, and misleading, word for the Hindi-Hindu belt – treats them like foreigners.
The tragic case of Nido Tania, the young student from Arunachal Pradesh, who was beaten to death in New Delhi after he got into an altercation with ruffians who had cast a racial slur at him is just one of a long list of hate crimes against people from the northeast when they come to the Indian heartland.
Because Nido was the son of a Congress MLA, his case has drawn VVIP attention: Rahul Gandhi has publicly expressed his support and sympathy for all those from the northeast, and home minister Shinde has told the police to expedite their investigations.
Just four days before Nido was fatally attacked, two women from Manipur were assaulted by a bunch of goons, barely a few kilometres from where the young student from Arunachal was fatally beaten up.
In both these cases – and in all the countless such incidents that go unreported and unrecorded, precisely because they are so common that no one bothers to take note of them – the only provocation was that the victims looked ‘different’ from what Indians are ‘meant’ to look like – whatever that might mean.
People from the northeast are routinely labelled ‘Chinki’. They are frequently asked if they eat dogs, and are presumed by many so-called ‘mainstream’ Indians to be sexually promiscuous, particularly in the case of women who are made to suffer offensive physical and verbal advances.
Days after Nido’s death, newly-appointed Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal promised a number of measures to help fight such racist discrimination, including making a study of the history of the northeast mandatory in schools and the appointing of a special panel comprising people from the region to look into cases of such hate crimes.
Welcome as these and similar proposals are, the question that arises is: Why are such special protective measures necessary at all? Why is Indian society so hostile to anyone who doesn’t in appearance or custom fit into a cookie-cutter stereotype of what being an ‘Indian’ means?
Despite the national mantra of ‘Unity in diversity’, India is increasingly becoming more and more intolerant of any form of difference from the ‘mainstream’, whether that difference is of ethnic appearance or that of sexual preference, as shown by the Supreme Court’s recent ‘recriminalising’ of homosexuality.
Minorities of any kind – ethnic, religious or sexual – feel increasingly unsafe in an India which seems growingly allergic to any kind of heterogeneousness, any kind of diversity or difference.
Political India insists that the northeast is part of the Indian republic, ‘mainstream’ India rejects – often with extreme violence – all ‘foreign-looking’ northeasterners.
So, would our northeastern states be better off with China, or at least better off independent of India?
Nido Tania might have had an answer to that question. And he might have been alive today to answer it if he hadn’t been compelled to be part of a country whose self-appointed ‘mainstream’ hates all people like him.