By Dipankar De Sarkar
In most cases of violence against people from NorthEastern states, police have come up with an “anything but racism” explanation.
On Boxing Day 2011, a student from Pune was shot and killed in the suburbs of Manchester for no apparent reason. Anuj Bidve, along with a group of friends—all Indians, visible minorities—happened to be in a housing estate known for its lawlessness. A man who called himself Psycho Stapleton walked up to the group, asked the time, and then took out a gun, placed it on Bidve’s left temple and shot him dead with a single bullet.
It was a numbing act of violence that led to an outpouring of shock and outrage in both India and the UK. After complaints from the grieving family, Manchester Police dispatched an officer to Pune to try and explain and apologise for delays in informing them of the tragedy. The unrepentant killer was found, arrested, tried and sentenced to life imprisonment.
It was a blot on Britain, a nation that to my mind has grown up embracing people of other races, religions and cultures. There was the determination not to allow such things to happen. In New Delhi this week, a former call centre worker called Shaloni, like Bidve in his 20s, was beaten to death by five men.
The man was from Manipur, one of eight states that are lumped as the North-East. Ignored for years by central governments and punished for rebellious insurgencies, the people of the North-East—visible minorities in most parts of India—have long complained of racism, especially in Delhi.
“Why don’t you people learn to integrate with your host communities?” ask some residents of Delhi in sentiments that are often heard in settings of conscious and unconscious racism, almost always from majority communities. I wondered what integration meant here: would they have to stop speaking English, stop listening to and playing Western rock music, swap skirts for saris?
India’s capital city has been deeply disturbed by several violent attacks on young men and women from the North-East. A 19-year-old student named Nido Taniam from Arunachal Pradesh got into an argument with some men in a South Delhi shop last year and they beat him to death.
A young woman was raped for four hours, another man was stabbed. Years ago in Delhi University, I discovered some fine musicians among students from the North-East—Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram.
I never thought to ask them about their experiences of Delhi—this after all was nobody’s town and it was everybody’s. No one gave a second glance. Or maybe they did. Things have changed now. Young men and women from the North-Eastern states are a much more abundant presence in Delhi.
They are university students, as well as workers in the service industry—call centres (partly because of their better English), shopping malls, hotels and restaurants. Forced by the poverty of their homeland to try and seek a living in the city, they have contributed to the economy and diversity of Delhi.
Puzzling about this spike in violence, I turned to Tungshang Ningreichon, a human rights activist from Manipur who has been a long-time resident of Delhi, to ask for her experiences. “This has always been there,” she said.
“But the trend is changing. Earlier we had regular abuse and harassment. Now it is much more violent. The record of the past few months shows people are being randomly attacked. Every day is a struggle for us.
“The daily racism comes out in small and subtle things people say. You feel disturbed. But you don’t want to pick a fight because you don’t want to spoil your day. “A lot of boys and girls live in rented houses.
Getting a gas connection is so difficult. If you go to Munirka, or Kotla where the killing (of Shaloni) took place, you will find variations in house rents within the same building. It’s Rs.12,000-15,000 for us but a little cheaper for the others.
We let it go.” Could she have integrated more? “There’s never been the space for us to integrate. It begins with your own teacher, right? ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Nagaland, Manipur.’ ‘Where is that?’
Now people are much more aware of this place called the NorthEast. The onus to integrate is not on us, the onus is on everybody.” Teenager Nido’s killing triggered a committee to “examine the causes behind the attacks/violence and discrimination against people from North-Eastern states” and suggest measures to be taken by the government. Its report has not been made public yet but if it doesn’t tackle the national capital’s notoriously uncaring police, it would have failed in its task. In most cases of violence against people from NorthEastern states, police have come up with an “anything but racism” explanation.
- When Kawilungbou Chawang, a 28-year-old man, was found dead in a drain, police said it was an accident, although locals saw him running before jumping or falling into the drain. • When 21-year-old Reingamphy was found murdered in her flat, a non-government activist said, “We have been told by the station house officer (a police officer)… that these girls from North-East work in spas and that’s why these incidents take place.”
- The explanation for Shaloni’s murder—so far—is road rage. The worst fear: “Maybe there’s a group of people who may think we don’t deserve to be here,” said Ningreichon. “How do I describe you,” I asked. “Oh just say another chinky, someone with a snub nose.”