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SANJOY HAZARIKA
NORTH BY NORTHEAST

Sanjoy Hazarika is a columnist, author, filmmaker, Saifuddin Kitchlew Chair at the Academy of Third World Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia.

A young woman’s tragic demise raises old ghosts in Delhi

The question that comes up time and again is why is it that the worst incidents of sexual harassment and racial profiling take place in Delhi, and rarely elsewhere.

Mukul Sangma

The headlines of the Northeast have been dominated by two developments these past days: in the first, a political warhorse sounds his political war cry, heralding a return to centre stage. And in the second, a young woman from the Garo Hills district allegedly hanged herself after she was found reportedly copying during an exam at the private Amity University.

That could have ended as many of the ugly cases of discrimination and racism that young Northeasterners face especially in New Delhi and its neighbourhood usually do — in political and media silence after the initial headlines — but for the fact that her uncle is the articulate Chief Minister of Meghalaya, Mukul Sangma, no relation of former Lok Sabha Speaker and rival politician P.A. Sangma.

Assam's Prafulla Mahanta, balding at 56, but as canny as he was in his student days when he and his fellow agitators were catapulted from the streets of agitation to the power of office in a popular upsurge against the Congress party on the issue of illegal immigration, has begun a formal return to the heart of the state's politics. Winning the contest to the Asom Gana Parishad's presidency, Mahanta has earned the right to challenge the seemingly indomitable Congress and is not fazed by the tough task before him.

Mahanta is not particularly seen as a robust political figure; the former Chief Minister is remembered for his enigmatic leadership of the anti-Bangladeshi movement in the 1980s, ineffective terms in office, a sizzling extra-marital affair that forced him out of the party gaddi. Yet, he remains the only leader capable of rallying his party's dispirited forces.

Meanwhile, an old human rights issue has roiled the neighbouring state of Meghalaya and the region. Chief Minister Mukul Sangma has criticised the sudden death of Dana Sangma, a 21-year-old second year student at Amity University's campus in Manesar, a short distance from Delhi's sprawling megapolis.

What investigators need to look at is not just the issue of cheating or not, but whether Dana Sangma had been subjected to racial profiling that may have built up over the months there and whether it led to the kind of bitterness, humiliation and desperation that pushed her over the edge.

The incident, which triggered the reported suicide, appeared to be his niece's possession of a mobile phone in the examination hall; university officials say they have handed the phone and her answer sheet over to the police and that her phone was on the internet mode.

Dana Sangma

There are different versions of whether the girl was humiliated publicly in the examination centre. Sangma has waded into the fight saying that young people from the region are targeted, humiliated and regularly subjected to "all kinds of atrocities and discrimination". He has spoken to his Congress counterpart in Haryana, B.S. Hooda, and told reporters that such incidents can be investigated as violations of the law barring atrocities on members of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes.

I tried calling the university for its comments. A call to the reception sent me to the vice chancellor's office, which transferred me to the registrar's office, where, a person in great haste said he was not the relevant authority and I should speak to the dean of students' welfare. The dean of students' welfare, when he came on the line, was courteous, but said that the incident had happened in Manesar whereas he was located elsewhere and he too had got to know of the tragedy through the newspapers. There was no reply from the number listed for media relations.

What investigators need to look at is not just the issue of cheating or not, but whether she had been subjected to racial profiling that may have built up over the months there and whether it led to the kind of bitterness, humiliation and desperation that pushed her over the edge. They would have to look at the issue from all angles, including her own personality. Investigators would need the help of trained counsellors and psychiatrists. And

the question that comes up time and again is why is it that the worst incidents of sexual harassment and violence as well as of racial profiling take place in the national capital, and rarely elsewhere.

Old ghosts rarely rest and the North Indian belt seems to resurrect them with vicious abandon. That surely has everything to do with social conditioning and traditions — and the fact that Haryana and Punjab have the worst sex ratio in the country.

 
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