The brutal murder of a young man from Manipur in Delhi reveals a truly ugly side of the social life of Delhi and of the nation. It has been the boast of the Indian republic since its birth that it embraces the diverse elements that constitute Indian culture and society. Yet in practice the embrace is often found to be not a very affectionate one: the hands that embrace carry a dagger that can be used to perpetrate violence and death. This is not the first instance of young men and women from India’s northeastern states being humiliated and abused in Delhi and other parts of India. These instances empty the claim of Indian unity of any meaningful content. The north-east of India is not only geographically distant from the nation’s capital and what is called the Indian heartland, the cultures of its people are also very different and distinct from what is often mistakenly identified as the mainstream of Indian culture. This distinctness of the people of the Northeast make them easy targets when they move to other parts of India to study, to work, to live. This is particularly sad as young people from Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh move all over India to be active participants in the dynamic of aspirations that drives young India. They see themselves as part of India but in many parts of India they are treated badly because they appear ‘different’.
The idea of difference underpins most forms of prejudice. The dominant culture (read Indian mainstream) sees those who are different as inferior or as objects of appropriation or often as objects of eradication. Nothing reveals the hypocrisy embedded in Indian society more than the kind of prejudices that Indians articulate. Caste prejudice and the treatment of women are the two most common ones: the various forms of justification of these two prejudices are just beneath the skin of most Indians, even educated ones. But there are other prejudices that violate the claims of Indian culture of being inclusive and tolerant of diversity. Bias against certain kinds of physical appearance is one of these. It is assumed that an Indian should be of one type. Anyone who looks different is therefore a non-Indian. The rise of such feelings and their expression through violence is ominous for more reasons than one. It can only alienate the people of the Northeast; and this has obvious political and security implications. The denial of India’s cultural and social diversity is a threat to India’s political unity.