Like life, violence will always find a way. Only it will be far less welcome. The unthinkable death of 19-year-old Nido Tania of Arunachal Pradesh, after he was beaten up by shopkeepers and their friends in Lajpat Nagar Market in New Delhi, shows how murderous violence lurks in ambush at every turning of daily life in the city. If it is not manifesting itself in rape and sexual murder, it is taking the route of racial prejudice and ethnic discrimination. The first point of note in this horrifying tragedy is the smooth recourse to collective violence, something that has become a feature of India’s big and developing cities. As if aspiration, competition and insecurity have put everyone on edge. The second feature, however, is just plain unacceptable — a lethal prejudice directed at anyone seen as an ‘outsider’, in looks, lifestyle, colour, background, faith or politics. Delhi is not alone in such violent expressions of discrimination, but that the capital of a democratic and diverse country should allow racial abuse and violence against some of its own citizens is an immeasurable shame.
People from the Northeast have faced discrimination in Delhi for a long time, and that too of the crudest and cruellest kind. Anything from their looks to their cooking or dressing habits is fair game. The events leading to the young man’s death indicate that the prejudice is now frankly shared and fearlessly expressed. The police’s role, first in criminalizing and penalizing the victims and then in deliberately leaving Tania amid the hostile crowd — he himself had complained to the police of its behaviour — exposes a sinister complicity in prejudice and violence. Two girls from Manipur were abused and assaulted just a few days ago in the city. Is the capital now making outsiders of selected citizens of India? It was utterly shocking that the law minister should lead a reckless raid against some citizens of Uganda on the pretext that they were into drugs. He made a virtue out of racial prejudice. Now that hate crimes against other Indians have begun to occur, with the police’s connivance, it may be time to ask whether such attitudes are being actively encouraged. For these are the symptoms of a culture of ignorant, close-minded, smug and vicious righteousness elevated to power, and it augurs the destruction of all principles of plurality and accommodation that a democracy stands on.