Violence creates its own puzzles. When a 14-year-old girl from Manipur is allegedly raped in Delhi so soon after the death of Nido Tania, it is natural that young people from the Northeast in the capital — already angered by expressions of hatred towards them that appeared to have culminated in Tania’s death —should see the latest rape as another hate crime. But Delhi is also notorious for rapes, irrespective of region; the assault on Tania may have merely altered the perception of this particular one. Would the girl from Manipur been spared had she not been from the Northeast? This is a puzzle that cannot be solved. Perhaps it is less important to solve it than to acknowledge that the confusion of perceptions of the crime reveals the many faces of hate culture, ranging from gender to region. Untangling the strands is important when addressing the different types of hatred. Whether the administration and the police are willing to do that is a different question.
Even if they did anything, at best they could ensure strict penalties, leading perhaps to deterrence, or at least a reduction, and maybe even some prevention. So the last question is always about the supposed cure-all: education. Can education help? An expert panel set up in Jawaharlal Nehru University after an assault on a student by her colleague seems to think so. The experts suggest that a paper aimed to sensitize students to sexual harassment and discrimination based on gender, caste, religion, appearance and social and regional backgrounds should be made compulsory reading for postgraduate and research students. Should this suggestion be accepted, JNU would become the first university in the country to have a compulsory paper on the subject, as distinct from the women’s studies or gender issues courses in many universities. Welcome though this would be, such a move would be far from enough, for the seniormost students in an elite institution in the capital represent a barely visible fraction of India’s population. More important, as an official has said, these lessons must begin in school. Although many textbooks in school do bring up gender issues, these have to be related to everyday life and values and teachers trained to discuss them. So if ‘education’ is to help, the lessons must penetrate the vast multitude of schools at all levels throughout the country. Perhaps it is time that planners focused on this idea.