The death of Nido Taniam, who was beaten after an altercation that began with accusations that the north-Indian born teenager was from China, has sparked protests and gatherings throughout India. Taniams death has shed light on the racial issues faced by north-eastern Indians generally, many of whom face discrimination in their own country because they “look Chinese”.
In an interview with India Today, Taring Tawa, a student from Tania’s region who has experienced similar stigma due to his ethnic appearance, says:
Wherever we go, people call us ‘chinese’…they even taunt us saying ‘show us kung fu’! We mostly speak in Hindi, even at our home. Sometimes our parents say why do we not speak in our native language but we say we are more comfortable with Hindi as it is the national language. […]
Even we all have grown up singing the Indian national anthem…we feel bad…we may look a little different but we are a Indians too. We feel sad when people call us ‘chinese’!
It should go without saying, of course, that even if the people from Tawa and Tania’s region were ethnically Chinese, this kind of “show us kung fu” stereotyping and ostracizing isn’t fit for a multiethnic state like India’s. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the attack that led to Tania’s death as “shameful” and “most condemnable,” while Tania’s mother has said:
The police should have taken my son to hospital. But they left him at the mercy of the mob […]
Even I’ve experienced such discrimination when I was a student and used to go out of Arunachal Pradesh. They always ask us, ‘Are u from China..are u Nepali?’ [sic.] Every day we have to face such situation. I’m proud to be Indian. But where should we go? Should we be sent to China?
Nido Taniam’s case is complicated—exactly who is to blame for his death, what role did the police play (and what role should they have played) is still to be determined, and an exact sequence of events is still hard to pin down—and more developments are sure to come. Many students have joined in protests like the one depicted above, and it doesn’t look like Taniam’s name will fade from the headlines too soon.