On 31 January, a 19 year old student from Arunachal Pradesh, Nido Taniam, died of injuries he had received in an attack launched on him in a residential colony in Delhi. The young student had obviously protested against cruel taunts hurled against him as a person from the North East, and was severely beaten with sticks and rods in the process. The police was called not once, but twice. However, with utmost callousness, they did not do anything to protect the victim. They failed to detain his attackers or register an FIR. They did not take him to hospital to check his injuries. Instead, they forced this young student to pay 10,000 rupees for a glass counter that was cracked in the shop where he was attacked! MEL condemns the whole incident in the strongest terms, and expresses deep sorrow at the loss of the precious life of young Nido Taniam.
This tragedy cannot be seen as an isolated incident, but as one that is part of the daily experience of people from the North East in India. Ever since the end of colonial rule, the entire North East region has been treated by the Indian state as a virtual colony and its people have been consistently denied their national, political and human rights. Even while the façade of civilian rule has been maintained, it is the Army and the paramilitary forces that call the shots there. Every youth, every villager, in the North East knows what it is like to be stopped arbitrarily by armed paramilitary forces as they go about their normal life, to go through all kinds of harassment, and have their homes searched and privacy violated. So many youth in particular have been beaten, thrown into jail or made to ‘disappear’ for no reason and with no charge. Draconian laws like AFSPA ensure that the offending armed forces personnel are never punished for their brutal treatment of the local people. It is to escape this daily climate of terror and persecution, as well as to avail of job and educational opportunities denied to them in their home states, that thousands of young people from the North East are forced to go to live in other parts of India.
As part of its offensive against the people of the North East, the state and the ruling class does insidious propaganda portraying them as trouble-makers. They are portrayed as people of an alien culture, even while the state does everything in its power to deny them their own national identities or rights. There has been a longstanding portrayal of them as Chinese agents. All this is to keep the people of the North East isolated and to justify the especially brutal treatment meted out to them. This insidious propaganda against the people of the North East follows them wherever they go in India. So even when they go to study and work in the big metropolitan cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, and other places, they do not find security, they are looked upon with suspicion, and are more likely to face harassment on many fronts than other people. Two years ago, the Indian state organised the mass exodus of people from the North East back to their homes from all over the country. This followed the deliberate spreading of targeted SMS messages to people of North East origin that they would be attacked physically if they dared to continue to live and work in other regions. At that time, in Mumbai and other places, hate rallies were organized by ruling class politicians to whip up racist hysteria. Till date, those responsible have not been punished. This is the kind of state of siege that people from the North East live in all the time in India. Moreover, the way the police and authorities treat them in the rest of India is not so different from the way they are treated at home. Students, young women and others from the North East in Indian cities find that they can never rely on the police to help them. On the contrary, if they have any encounter with the police, they usually end up facing even more harassment and abuse.
The death of young Nido Tamian is thus connected with the overall situation in which people from the North East find themselves in India, for which the policy of the Central state is squarely to blame. Following the death of Nido Taniam, thousands of students and other people from the North East and other people of conscience, came out to protest in the streets of the capital and in his home state of Arunachal Pradesh. The working class and people must actively oppose the policy of persecution and discrimination against the people of the North East. We must condemn all such attacks on the basis of the principle “an attack on one is an attack on all!”, and demand full respect for the national, political and human rights of the people of the North East.