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Death of 19-year-old sparks calls for anti-racism law

Protesters target parliament amid heated debate among MPs

Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

February 7, 2014

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Protesters have put India’s parliament under increased pressure to outlaw racism following the high profile death of a 19-year-old man from the far northeastern province of Arunachal Pradesh.

More than 300 students protested close to the parliament buildings on Thursday evening calling for a swift investigation after Nido Taniam died from lung and head injuries following a brawl outside a New Delhi shop on January 29. Three men have been arrested.

“This is our country and we can go anywhere we like without fearing anything,” said Binalakshmi Nepram, a social activist representing the rights of people in India’s northeastern states.

Tainam’s friend, who was with him when the attack took place, said the alleged assailants called both men “Chinki,” a derogative term for people with Chinese-Mongol features from India’s border regions close to Tibet, Bhutan and Myanmar.

Use of the word is a criminal offense in India punishable with up to five years in jail, but demonstrators have called for the government to go much further by enacting a racism law.

“We have to ignore it and walk away. If we respond, it would be a war,” said Phurpa Tsering, one of the protestors, who say they will continue their action until lawmakers pass legislation outlawing racism.

India’s parliament has seen heated debate over the racism issue this week, establishing a committee to look into racial attacks, but there is no sign it will draft a bill as yet.

“Racial discrimination against our children from the northeast is a very serious thing. We must stop it,” Ninong Ering, a ruling party MP from Arunachal Pradesh, said on Thursday.

Sushma Swaraj, leader of the opposition in the lower house, warned parliamentarians “it is our duty to protect every child.”

There have been a series of attacks targeting minorities in recent years in New Delhi, the primary destination for migrants from the country’s seven northeastern states. Few cases have led to arrests.

A girl from Meghalaya next to northern Bangladesh committed suicide in April, 2012 after she was accused of cheating and publicly humiliated in Gurgaon, a satellite city of Delhi.

In October 2011, a girl from Nagaland on the Myanmar border was sexually assaulted in the capital and her rescuer was beaten up. No police complaint was registered against the assailant.

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