Dark Numbers

1) The Bezbaruah committee, that was set up to probe the rise in hate crimes against people from the northeast, found the incidence of such crimes to be the highest in Delhi. Why Delhi? From your experience, can you think of any reason why it is worse in Delhi than in other metros?

In criminology, there is the notion of “dark number”. This is the number of actual crimes committed, only a small number of which actually get reported. If the committee based their findings on official data, the reason that Delhi falls under the spotlight might simply be because it is the Indian capital, which is subject to more intense scrutiny by civil society and hence might be witnessing a higher number of hate crime reports. I prefer this explanation to the alternative, i.e. that there is something particularly wrong with Delhi-dwellers. An accusation of this sort, in fact, would be guilty of the same reasoning that makes people hostile towards “foreigners”, seen as a homogeneous, faceless group that deserves no respect. In fact, if my experience has taught me anything it is that it’s very important to respond to the simplification and stereotypes that drive hate crimes not with other typifications and faceless categorisations that chastise some and absolve others.

2) What do you think can be done to stop such violence from recurring?

Hatred towards people with a different skin colour, a different accent, a different culture, a different language is a constant problem in human relations. One of the rising parties in the UK, the UK Independence Party, is winning consensus precisely by blaming many of the problems that have been gnawing at Britain (such as widening inequality brought about by the London-centrism of Westminster governments, by the elitism of an Oxbridge-educated political class as well as by rampant privatisation of public services) on Eastern European immigrants. Racism, then, is not just an Indian problem, nor just a Delhi problem.

It is something that comes whenever people cannot embrace diversity. And diversity, for better or for worse, is something of which India has an abundance. The idea that you can traverse a city like Delhi or Bangalore and speak three to four different languages is unheard of in many parts of the world. The challenge this poses, then, is not so much to try and distil some purist and simplistic identity (around language, religion down to dress and appearance as in Nido Taniam’s case). But, rather, to try and embrace difference, starting from the everyday. On this, I am more hopeful about civil society initiatives than about formal government intervention. This is because many post-colonial states, of which India is one, have often become the bone of contention of different cultural or communal groups to assert their pre-eminence over others, thereby being part of the problem. The massacre of the Tutsis in Rwanda is perhaps the most glaring example. But India is no stranger to cases of government indifference towards violence against this or that group of supposed “undesirables” (like the Sikhs in Amritsar, or the Muslims of the Gulbarg Society). The best way I see to achieve this is to build alliances and grow an awareness of the dynamics at play in the game of insiders/outsiders.

When I first wrote my piece on Delhi, some responded saying that I had no right to complain, given the discrimination that “dkhars” are subject to in the North East. To that I reply that, instead of making me indifferent to the violence at home, my experience in Delhi makes me even more eager to listen to and speak out against the same treatment directed at other people who are treated as “foreigners” in what is my home state. And, more generally, it has made me more aware of the many dividing lines that are policed throughout India, not just on an Indian regional basis, but also on grounds of migrant status as well as caste. All these problems hold together, because if we learn to accept and appreciate, we learn to appreciate everything and everyone. If we learn to divide, on the other hand, there is no end to the borders we may build amidst ourselves.

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