30/12/2014 8:06 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST

For A More Representative Delhi Police

Two weeks ago, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, alerted Parliament to an astounding fact: In Delhi, instances of discrimination against people from the Northeast had increased by 226% over the previous year.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - FEBRUARY 2: Members of North-Eastern state of India during a candle light vigil against racism and the beating and killing of student Nido Taniam at Jantar Mantar, on February 2, 2014 in New Delhi, India. Nido Taniam, 19-year-old student lost his life after allegedly being beaten in South Delhi's Lajpat Nagar by two men. Nido Taniam, the son of an Arunachal Pradesh Congress MLA, succumbed to his injuries on Thursday, a day after being beaten up by two shopkeepers at Lajpat Nagar-1 market. Scores of protesters held placards, raised slogans against discrimination and demanded justice. (Photo by Virendra Singh Gosain/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Two weeks ago, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, alerted Parliament to an astounding fact: In Delhi, instances of discrimination against people from the Northeast had increased by 226% over the previous year.

Benighted private individuals--fellow students, colleagues, strangers--are behind much of this racism. More disturbingly, police personnel are held culpable as well. In this context, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pledge to recruit more Northeast youth into Delhi Police is welcome. A more representative police will help stem racism, and nurture a more cohesive national capital.

Nido Tania's death brought racism against people from the Northeast to the forefront; the issue was reported not, as is customary with it, just by the Northeast media, but by the national press as well. On January 29, 2014, 20-year-old Tania was attacked in Delhi. The reason? His hair was partly blonde and his trousers red: preferences that, in the eyes of his assailants, warranted derision. The exchange escalated and took on increasingly racist tones. Next day, Tania succumbed to internal injury to his brain and lungs. The tragedy, unlike many similar instances, caught attention partly because it involved death, and no doubt partly because Tania was the son of an Arunachal Pradesh Member of Legislative Assembly.

Activists, representatives, and reports suggest that other less fatal acts of racism, and against Northeast people less-well-connected, are commonplace in Delhi--even though they tend not to garner national attention. According to CNN-IBN, 78% of Delhi's estimated two-lakh Northeast population has faced humiliation for its appearance. Search for an apartment, and you're harassed for your "chinky" looks. Wear a sarong, and be mocked for your odd tastes. Girls from the Northeast are categorically labeled as amorous and buyable.

Statistics and student groups suggest the police, too, is discriminatory. According to the North East Support Centre and Helpline, between 2005 and 2011 Delhi Police registered just 36 out of 96 cases of crime committed against people from the Northeast. The Nending Anyung incident illustrates the perception of an unjust police. Anyung, a nurse from the Northeast, was subjected to racial, regional epithets at the All India Institute for Medical Sciences (AIIMS) on September 10, and was subsequently strangled. That was bad enough. But then Delhi Police, at least in the eyes of Arunachal Students' Union Delhi (ASUD), was negligent in its response. ASUD located the police's apathy in Anyung's identity. The police dragged its feet, ASUD reasoned, because Anyung is an Arunachalee, is from the Northeast.

The problem with all of this is threefold. One, obviously, is racism. Two, the perception (backed by at least some evidence) that the police--that is state machinery--is discriminatory. Whether Delhi Police is incompetent across the board is accessory for our purposes here; the perception that the state is discriminatory, itself, is serious and worrying. The broader, resultant problem is that, three, we have at hand a riven social fabric. Trust, between one group of people and another, and between the people and the state, is a prerequisite for the healthy functioning, and existence, of a diverse democracy. Clearly, there is a dearth of this in Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's plan to recruit Northeast youth into Delhi Police, a plan he announced on a visit earlier in the month to the region, is a useful corrective for restoring trust. (Data on the composition of Delhi Police is unavailable. But a 2011 article on an incoming group of 344 sub-inspectors indicates that not one of them hailed from the Northeast.) A police more representative of the city's motley population will likely mitigate discrimination--at least that from the state machinery, and perhaps slowly from private individuals as well.

Incidentally, the Prime Minister's announcement mirrors that of another head of state, of another diverse, divided democracy. In the backdrop of high-profile instances of alleged discrimination by white police officers against black individuals, United States President Barack Obama said he aims to recruit more people from minority groups into the police. "We know that makes a difference," he said.

A more representative police alone will not, to be sure, address discrimination in Delhi against people from the Northeast. And the Centre seems to realize this; along with several other measures, it has announced plans to include more content on the Northeast in a revised CBSE syllabus. And, to be sure, discrimination against Northeast people is not limited to Delhi. Nonetheless Delhi is the national capital, and so the stakes there are particularly high. If Delhi is to have a certain amity between those governing and those governed, and if its diverse population is to coexist, then a robust social fabric is a necessity. The Prime Minister's recent announcement is a solid step in that direction.

One hopes that if not in the next one year, or even the next five years, then perhaps in the next ten years the Minister of State for Home Affairs will have better news for Parliament: that instead of more than doubling, discrimination in Delhi against people from the Northeast has halved.