Race issue heats up in India after man's death

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NEW DELHI — He was a slight young man who sported hipster eyeglasses and a wispy moustache. He dyed his spiky hair blond, but that wasn't the only thing that made college student Nido Tania stand out in the Indian capital.

Tania was from northeastern India, a narrow strip of territory wedged between China and Myanmar, whose people say they face discrimination here for having "Asian" facial features. When Tania, 20, stopped in a dairy to ask for directions Tuesday, a shopkeeper's taunt about his hair color quickly escalated into a violent altercation in which several men thrashed him with sticks and steel rods, friends say.

He died in his bed the next day, succumbing to severe injuries to the chest and brain, according to preliminary medical results provided to his family.

The incident has sparked fresh outrage in New Delhi, which was already reeling from a spate of high-profile rape cases, and has added to a growing sense of insecurity in a capital that is aiming to be a showcase for India's growing economic might.

"This happens every day in Delhi. Each and every one of us has experienced discrimination because of our physical features," said Sophy Chamroy, 22, a student who was among hundreds of protesters rallying Saturday in Lajpat Nagar, the market where the beating took place .

The protesters are callingit a hate crime and demanding that the assailants be prosecuted.

India's 1.2 billion people comprise a vast tableau of languages and customs but — as with the rape cases — racially motivated assaults seem to occur in New Delhi and other major cities with grim regularity. Many victims from the northeast are young people who have migrated to the capital for school or job opportunities lacking in their poorer home areas.

Last year in New Delhi, three students from Manipur were brutally beaten by neighbors. In a separate case, a 21-year-old beautician from Manipur was found dead in her apartment with severe injuries to her face and toes. Police labeled it a suicide and dropped the case but many suspected she was slain.

So widespread is the discrimination against people from northeastern India that the federal government in 2012 passed a law that punishes the use of a racial slur with up to five years in prison.

Still, activists say, authorities rarely enforce such laws and police are as likely to participate in discrimination as intervene to stop it.

The case sparked a swift outcry across Indian media and websites Friday, with many criticizing the response by the Delhi police.