The tragic death of Nido Taniam; the racism and xenophobia of Somnath Bharti and the AAP; the rape of a Danish tourist in central Delhi. These incidents highlight the delicate question of the relations between the insider and the outsider, citizens and aliens, the familiar and the strange, hostility and hospitality. What is this notion of the “stranger” that we encounter with such hostility in our cities? How does one deal with the otherness of the stranger? The ‘Law’ through its very act of naming, constitutes communities.
The performative act of naming the “We” in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution — “We the People of India…” — plays that role of constituting a “We” as Indians, in opposition to the outsider. We situate ourselves in relation to the boundaries and negotiate about who should be allowed to enter and who deserves our hospitality. Our common-sense notion of the ‘stranger’ is someone who is not known to us. But for Georg Simmel, one of the most significant commentators on social identities, ‘strangers’ are they who have been encountered but not fully assimilated into the community. For Simmel, they are the ones who are within the community and yet have not belonged to it from the start.