This article will not delve into the many different forms and manifestations of racism in India, which I have already discussed in this article on this portal and this one. This is to focus on introspection and digging deep into oneself. In this article that I mentioned, I have even explicitly stated that we, Indians, have always thought of racism to be a Caucasian (white) affair and felt that South Asians, like African blacks, have only been victims of racism, not its perpetrators. The reason for this is that racism exhibited by many (though certainly not all) of us is subconscious; thus, often our reaction to the assertion that we exhibit racist prejudice is one of denial. Interestingly, some of the readers’ comments angrily directed at me only proved my point.
I would like to cite two other examples of this phenomenon of denial, one from my own personal experience and the other from how some people are known to have reacted to a recent piece of news reported in the media.
On 4th February 2016, I attended a seminar in the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in Delhi, which was in the memory of Indian freedom fighter Rani Gaidinliu from Nagaland. A Malayali researcher Dr. P. Ramesh Babu gave a presentation highlighting the problems of people from the northeast in other parts of India citing his research that led him to obviously not-so-pleasant findings about the discrimination northeasterners face and he added an interesting point about how northeasterners forget their ethnic tensions among each other when in other parts of India. When the floor was opened for discussion, very many mainland Indians either adopted a stance of denial vis-a-vis racism, by citing other instances of regionalism among non-northeastern Indians or whataboutism citing problems faced by non-northeastern Indians in the northeast, and almost accused the researcher of having conducted the research! I spoke, acknowledging that while many northeasterners believe in self-segregation, while many non-northeastern Indians have faced maltreatment in parts of the northeast and while not all non-northeastern Indians maltreat northeasterners (many make close friends with northeasterners on university campuses, in workplaces etc. and intermarriages also do occur), none of this should take away from discussing the unfortunate fact that northeasterners do sporadically face maltreatment, and even considerable housing discrimination, other than being ignored largely in the national imagination when it comes to the media and school textbooks (though we are recently seeing some improvement in school textbooks on this front), and them being alienated is definitely more widespread and lethal, even if unintended and subtle, than any regionalism among non-northeastern Indians, and we shouldn’t seek to invalidate discussing their problems even if we hypothetically assume that others face equally serious problems, nor does citing the problems northeasterners are themselves aware of create a divide or further alienate them (of course, there should be no exaggeration, and the researcher here, in fact, cited empirical data to prove that things were improving, which we should welcome!), but refusing to discuss their pain or brushing it under the carpet or denying it is surely something that increases alienation and does little to bridge the gap. Northeasterners and even some others in the audience clapped when I spoke.
As for the reaction of very many people to a certain news item, it has been summed up beautifully in this article on Scroll (I don’t entirely agree with the analysis of casteism in that article, but that’s a different story)–
“A couple of weeks ago, a car driven by a Somali expatriate ran over and killed a person in a neighbourhood in Bangalore. An hour later, when a vehicle driven by a Tanzanian expat was passing through the same neighbourhood, a mob attacked her, beat her, burnt her car and stripped her, while the police looked on.
That wasn’t even the worst part. When she went to register a first information report, the police told her they would only register one if she produced the Somali man at the police station. You probably know the guy since you’re both black, so why are you hiding him? Use your telepathic black people radar to locate the man, and then convince him to come to the station. Do our job for us and then we might do you a favour and register your complaint. Now go away. We need to tweet some sick puns for all our fans on Twitter.
So when this incident became international news, and various government agencies were shamed into doing their job, everyone and their uncle came out to deny that there was a problem. Miscellaneous politicians, current and former policemen, and assorted busybodies whose sole purpose in life is to find convoluted intellectual explanations for our culture of bigotry told us that the mob which stripped a human of their humanity and reduced them to a mere object of hatred wasn’t really racist, just angry. Well, someone with similar skin colour did something criminal, what were they supposed to do? Stand by and not take the law into their hands? If the Tanzanian national didn’t want to be lynched by an angry mob, she shouldn’t have been doing dangerous and provocative things like driving while being black.”
I remember going to a French language learning centre in Delhi, where we had an African student who was unnecessarily teased and irritated in the recess by many of my fellow middle-class English-speaking Indian students, who may not have consciously realised they were being racist.
Just think – when you encounter an Indian mongoloid or black guy or girl you don’t know personally, do you feel they are as Indian as anyone else (yes, the Siddhis of Gujarat are blacks with roots in Africa and are Indian citizens) and can be socialised with as you would with any other Indian? And if he or she is a foreigner, do you subconsciously think that he or she, in general, is as an equal of any white? Would you be as willing to mingle with and befriend them and wish to convey a positive impression of India to them? If not, rather than exhibit the hollow and blind nationalism of denial, exhibit a meaningful nationalism of introspection and a genuine desire to make India better. Problems don’t get solved by way of self-righteousness and denial. And no, I am obviously not saying that racism among non-whites is an Indian monopoly. In fact, the contents of this article would apply in many ways to Pakistanis as well.
(Image Courtesy: Flickr)