Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Will Nido Taniam’s death wake us up?

The murder of Nido Taniam is a blemish on Indian democracy because it shows that racism still exists despite repeated assurances by politicians to the contrary. What it has done is to confuse the minds of people who are actually taking national integration and the great Indian dream seriously. Nido becomes one more martyr in the big list of martyrs.

Home sweet home is what we all yearn for and we make a home of where we feel we have our loved ones. This will be a place where we feel loved, secure and free to do what we want, the way we want to do it as long as it does not intrude on the freedom of another. This is what India is supposed to be. The tri colour in its various ways assures us that we are all a part of this diverse and great country. That is what makes us look up to it. It is the feeling of being assured and wrapped up by the nostalgic and warm feeling of the flag.

We celebrated the coming into formation of our republic on Republic Day. The feeling of being children of the country we call our mother should be what keeps us assured that we all belong here because we are all connected to the same mother and umbilical cord. So every time we hear the news of a race, gender, caste or class related altercation we doubt whether we are true children of this mother. This is a mother who has children who have different opinions and beliefs. But the mother can’t have favourite children. Any narrative of a favourite child is one written by the child and not the mother.

Nido Taniam reminds us again about the country we live in. It is a country we have humiliated and ruined by what we do. Development can only be truly measured in terms of whether all citizens of this country can travel anywhere in the country, stay, work and be free to do what they want to do. With a national election round the corner, will racism in India be taken seriously? Or will it be shoved into a long list of poll promises and make an appearance in poll speeches across India for a week? It is so bad and yet we refuse to accept that it exists.

Racism in India is on many levels. It shows its ugly head against foreigners (here again colour also makes a difference), North East Indians, North Indians in South India, South Indians in North India and in many more forms. Diepiriye Kuku, a black Amercian says that “India is racist, and happy about it.” She puts her experience into perspective by recollecting that “Discrimination in Delhi surpasses the denial of courtesy. I have been denied visas, apartments, entrance to discos, attentiveness, kindness and the benefit of doubt. Further, the lack of neighbourliness exceeds what locals describe as normal for a capital already known for its coldness. My partner is white and I am black, facts of which the Indian public reminds us daily. Bank associates have denied me tea, while falling over to please my white friend. Mall shop attendants have denied me attentiveness, while mobbing my partner. Who knows what else is more quietly denied?" She further says "“An African has come," a guard announced over the intercom as I showed up. Whites are afforded the luxury of their own names, but this careful attention to my presence was not new. ATM guards stand and salute my white friend, while one guard actually asked me why I had come to the bank machine as if I might have said that I was taking over his shift.”

Pawan Gupta says that India follows double standards when it comes to racism. Few attacks on Indians in Australia where reported in the media and it lead to unprecedented reactions from the government and people here. All this when racism is being openly followed in India!

Madhu Chandra identifies the migration of people from different states of North East India due to a push and pull factor. The push factor includes internal conflicts, lack of enough educational facilities, lack of enough jobs and socio-cultural factors. The pull factors on the other hand are that states like Delhi have better infrastructure, educational facilities, and employment opportunities. According to Chandra social profiling, weak political will and lack of law enforcement are the reasons for racism related attacks.

Mari Marcel Thekaekara says that “Racism, prejudice and xenophobia are rampant in India” and that “differences made people fairly suspicious of those who were not like them. And ‘people like us’ closed ranks and bonded. These closed communities are naturally full of prejudices towards the other, the outsider. Every state considers itself superior” and “as migration takes place, across state borders within India, a kind of xenophobia begins.”

The amount of taunts and problems North East students go through is horrific. Dr. Renu Naidu in her research on North East tribal girl students in Delhi came across the following observations. "For a student from the Northeast, irrespective of whether she or he is from an urban or tribal background, Delhi is like an alien land," says Naidu. The language is unfamiliar; the cultural and social terrain is unknown. Even getting a letter of introduction to open a bank account is a mammoth task. What is more, their distinctive physical features immediately mark them out as outsiders among the local populace." Being cheated as a matter of course is one direct fallout of this situation. “Even rickshaw-pullers, auto-drivers, vegetable vendors and bus conductors cheat them because they know that they are not aware of the price of things here, and are not in a position to drive hard bargains." She further found that “for girl students, the situation is worse still: in the conservative Delhi milieu, their Westernized style of dressing and easy camaraderie with the opposite sex - owing in large part to their liberal tribal culture - they are seen as 'fast' or 'of easy virtue'. This wrong perception exposes girls from the Northeast to the worst sorts of sexual harassment, both within campuses and without. Diana, a Mizo student at Indraprastha college, said, "Delhi men believe that north-eastern girls are easily available. They look at us with only one thing in mind: sex. If we protest, they warn us to clam up, because we are alone and there is no one we can turn to for protection."” Rented accommodation is also a problem because high deposits are demanded, sometimes repayment of these deposits does not happen, and unprecedented rent hikes are the order of the day.

It is no wonder that women and men from various states of North East India do not feel that they are a part of India. The feeling of being a foreigner wherever they go haunts them. It is important at this juncture that schools, colleges and religious institutions come together in a serious exercise of true national integration. Without this the very concept of a republic is very hollow and unrealistic. To say that we are a lose formation of several states and we are one country are two totally different things.

A few reasons of racism are xenophobia or the fear of people who are different, a need socially, politically, and economically dominate other groups, it serves to "rationalize the hierarchical domination of one racial or ethnic group over other group(s), and maintain psychological, social, and material advantages for the dominant group", it is used by governments to excuse systemic and systematic oppression and human rights abuses, it is due to the ignorance of other cultures, religions, and values and it is because of a fear of sharing power with other groups of people.

Can we reverse this trend? Of course we can and several people in India are already doing it. As I remember the celebration of republic day I salute the real Indians of this country. They are the ones who do not practise racism, who suffer racist taunts from several quarters and who continue living in the midst of violence and humiliation. The rest belong to the category of living out of the concept of the Indian republic without ever practising it. I am sorry if I have ever belonged to the second category Nido Taniam. Rest in peace Nido, even as we make sense of how to carry your spirit forward.

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