The other side of Hu Jintao's visit: racial profiling
National integration, unity in diversity. Forget all the civics lessons and ignore any government propaganda. It's all bunkum anyway, if anything is to be learned from my run-in with the Delhi police during the ongoing visit of Chinese president Hu Jintao. If you are wondering what national integration has to do with the visit of a foreign plenipotentiary to our land, read on.
Hu Jintao is visiting New Delhi to attend the BRICS summit, a meeting between representatives from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, mainly to discuss trade and economic issues. But before Mr. Jintao and the Chinese delegation's visit, protests regarding Tibet proved unavoidable. The desperate self-immolation of a Tibetan youth in the national capital sent the watching media and security apparatus into a frenzy.
This brings us to my personal experience, and in this case the personal is definitely the political. I was coming home by autorickshaw with a colleague. At this point, it is necessary to say my colleague happens to be from the North-East, Nagaland to be more precise. Once again, if you're wondering why it's necessary to clear her ethnicity beforehand, read on.
For those of you that live outside central Delhi, let me paint a clear picture of the massive security measures that have preceded this visit - police blockades, armed paramilitary personnel, hundreds of cops, miles of traffic jams. Our auto was crawling past a police security barrier somewhere between CP and the Oberoi hotel (where Mr. Jintao is staying), when a policeman looked in and - inexplicably - freaked out. Now, I don't use this word lightly, but given the circumstances I am at a loss to describe his behavior in any other way.
'STOP!' thundered the policeman. Our terrified auto driver ground to a halt, probably wondering what he was in trouble for. But we quickly discovered his driving wasn't the cause of this outburst. The policeman strode up to our vehicle and stuck his head in inches away from my colleagues face. Eyeballing her, he continued 'WHERE ARE YOU COMING FROM?' My colleague sat in shock, unable to speak. Two speechless women, clearly dressed formally as if coming from work, in an auto rickshaw, being yelled at by a policeman for no apparent reason. I was the first to find my voice, and said 'We were coming from CP, but what's the problem?'
'AAP KAHAAN KE REHNE WAALE HAIN?' he thundered. This sentence in Hindi can only be translated as 'Where do you come from?' Once again at a loss, I said, 'We live here'. 'I WANT TO SEE HER IDENTIFICATION' said cop, still glaring at my alarmed colleague. By this time I was getting heartily sick of the questioning and asked the policeman in equally loud terms to explain himself. 'I'LL tell you WHY', he replied. 'The Chinese PM is in Delhi, and THIS WOMAN LOOKS TIBETAN'.
Now, in general I have a healthy respect for law enforcement and also a healthy sense of self-preservation. But I was so overcome with disbelief and sheer disgust at this policeman's manner, that I rounded on him, demanding how he could make assumptions about a person based only on her appearance. 'She's an Indian citizen, she has an Indian passport!' I excalimed. 'SO, then show me her passport' he said with a triumphant sneer. This demand once again rendered us speechless, as anyone with an ounce of sense would know that citizens are not required or even advised to tote their passports around town.
By this time, what seemed like the entire police unit had come to watch the show, and approximately fifteen policemen were peering into the auto with their mouths gaping. 'I WANT TO SEE HER ID' obstreperous cop continued. My colleague wordlessly handed him her driving license, issued in Nagaland. He grunted, returned it to her and said 'You may go'. The alarmed auto driver made as if to take off, but I stopped him.
What followed was a barrage of words in English and Hindi, much finger pointing and gesticulating. To cut a long story short, I asked the cop if he was so ignorant as to not know that people from the North East are also Indians. Said cop defended this blatant racial profiling by saying 'I'm doing my job'. After a few more heated words from me, he said sheepishly 'Don't take it that way'. Now, this gem of a statement really left me stupefied. Here's what my puzzled brain can make of it. Our cop meant to say: Don't take me wrong. When I stopped you, all I saw was someone 'different' and that's naturally suspicious. How did I know that she could be an Indian citizen? And how did I know she would be accompanied by another Indian citizen who would make it such a big deal? Why does she care anyway, it's not like she looks 'different'.
That said, why blame a beat constable, when the words coming out of his mouth are really echoing the actions of the Indian state? What the Indian government is telling Tibetans is: Don't take it that way, I didn't mean it. Yes, we rounded you up and put you in jail, 'preventive custody' we call it. We wanted to stop you peace-loving Buddhists, not from hurting anyone else, but from hurting yourselves. Yes, we dragged your students - unarmed girls and boys - into our police vans and spirited them away beofre Mr. Jintao could see. But really, don't take it that way.
And you, Ms. Ichaporia, what happened to your colleague - just routine checks. What's that you say - racial profiling? Awww, don't take it THAT way!