ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Nido Taniam and the Fraught Question of Racism in India

Racial prejudice against people from the north-east is most acutely felt at the institutional level where their Indianness is also questioned. Racism cannot be addressed unless the police force is reformed and sensitised.

The death of Nido Taniam, a 19-year old young man from Arunachal Pradesh, in Delhi on 29 January 2014 after a racially-inspired assault has brought the issue of racism into the spotlight. Historically, India has always taken a holier than thou position on the issue of racism and has positioned itself as a victim (of British colonial racism, for example). We love to recall our tolerant and accommodative cultural heritage and how we had firmly and consistently opposed the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Earlier discourses on racism in India were mainly framed around caste-based discrimination.1

However, the experience of racism by the north-east2 people of Mongoloid racial stock in mainland India is of a different order and much more in-your-face, because of observed ethnic/racial appearance in the form of different skin colour and looks, language, cultural barriers and alien-sounding, difficult-to-pronounce names. Secondly, dalits have been subjected to all imaginable discrimination earlier, but their Indianness has never been questioned. The north-easterners, as their slogans during the recent protests show, have to actually beg to be accepted as Indians. Nido’s death and all that followed have reopened, in this way, “the delicate question of the place of the North-east in India’s imagination” (Mehta 2014).

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