Nido Taniam, the 18-year-old son of a local politician from the Northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, died on Thursday, Jan. 30 after being allegedly beaten by a mob in Delhi due to an altercation during which he was teased about his hairstyle.
Family, friends and activists have alleged that Taniam's death was the result of racial discrimination directed toward people from Northeast India.
Taniam reportedly visited a crowded spot in Delhi with his friends and was looking for an address when some shopkeepers began mocking him about his hair, which was colored blonde. Relatives claim that the shopkeepers hurled racial slurs at him.
A fight erupted during which Taniam broke the shop's glass window. A group of six to eight locals then allegedly beat him up with iron rods and sticks.
After the police arrived, they reportedly took Taniam away and settled the dispute with by fining the shopkeepers. But they later dropped him off at the same spot of the fight, where he was allegedly beaten up by the men again.
The next day, Taniam's friend found him unresponsive at home. He was rushed to the hospital and declared dead. His family claims that he died of injuries from the brutal beating.
The initial post-mortem report did not reveal "much injury or aberration." The autopsy indicated that his death may have been caused due to internal injuries, but sources said this wasn't conclusive.
The police have detained three people for questioning.
Taniam's death sparked a huge racism debate, highlighting the rest of India's perception and treatment of people from the Northeast region of the country.
Several cases have been reported of discrimination against young people from the Northeast. The differences in their features compared to a majority of Indians, coupled with the rest of the country's general ignorance of the Northeast's geography and culture, often makes them easy targets of ridicule and other forms of racial discrimination.
"Ironically, most Indians see racism as a phenomenon that exists in other countries, particularly in the West, and without fail, see themselves as victims. They do not see themselves harboring (potentially) racist attitudes and behavior towards others whom they see as inferior.
But time and again, various groups of people, particularly from the north-east have experienced forms of racial discrimination and highlighted the practice of racism in India."