Bangalore is in the dock again. Three college students from Manipur were attacked by three men at a roadside eatery on the outskirts of the city on Tuesday night. The Manipuri boys, who are studying engineering, were returning home after visiting a police station to secure permission for a cultural event. They stopped at the eatery for a meal and, according to some accounts, were talking excitedly among themselves. The other group, which was eating there and was allegedly drunk, asked the Manipuris to pipe down. They replied in English, and the argument became heated. When you live here and eat local food, why don’t you speak Kannada, they were apparently taunted. The Manipuris were then thrashed; when one of them tried to flee, stones were thrown at him, injuring him in the head. Luckily, the police arrived quickly and ended the students’ ordeal.
It is about two years since the exodus of Northeasterners from Bangalore sparked by stray incidents and rumours that they would face reprisal for attacks on Muslims in Myanmar. The government then went into action mode to restore confidence, and most of them returned. Since then things have been largely quiet, but the latent resentment towards “outsiders” often surfaces in subtle ways. And Northeasterners are the most frequent targets, as they are easily identifiable. This isn’t a problem limited to Bangalore: on Wednesday night, two youths from Nagaland were brutally beaten by a gang in Gurgaon. But Bangalore must take the lead in fighting it, because it has a lot at stake. Most vital is the reputation that though Kannada enjoys primacy as the local language, Bangalore is a tolerant, multicultural city. On the ground, quick police action helps but isn’t enough. Public figures with street cred must help spread the message that though we speak in different tongues, we are all human beings and that diversity is an asset to be treasured.