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When racism raises its ugly head

When racism raises its ugly head
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What does hamara Hindustan think of foreigners, especially those from Africa, ‘woh kale  log’? What to speak of our ‘chinky’ brethren from the...

Call it racism, prejudice or xenophobia but India is an ocean of a strange mixture of prejudices, ignorance and centuries-old discriminatory practices, whereby communities keep unto themselves with loads of dos and don’ts based on caste and religion, but then, other countries in the world are no different.

In the UK, the local Brits have upped the ante against non-Europeans, while in America Republican Presidential hopeful and billionaire Donald Trump has voiced his animus against the Muslims. Israel yells blue murder against the Palestinians. Western societies are also very individual centric, wherein people are self absorbed and individual identity is placed above group identity. It is high time we Indians woke up and accept the fact that we have an issue that needs to be addressed.

What does hamara Hindustan think of foreigners, especially those from Africa, ‘woh kale log’? What to speak of our ‘chinky’ brethren from the North-East? You mean those with mongoloid features and slit eyes? Are they really Indians? They look like Chinese, though.

These answers say it all. Agonisingly, last week’s attack on a Tanzanian women student on the outskirts of Bangalore seems to have opened the Pandora’s Box of allegations of racism. All over, a Tanzanian woman was assaulted and allegedly stripped by a mob.

The story starts with a drunken Sudanese in a speeding car killing a woman and injuring her accomplice. Infuriated locals assault the driver but the police rescue him. The locals then pounce on another car with the Tanzanian and her friends. Although there is no connection between the cars’ occupants, the crowd seeing they too are Africans assaults them. While her male friends flee, the unfortunate woman is left to face the mob fury. Already, the incident has netted the scalp of three senior police officials.

Predictably, like always, all hell broke loose. Politicos and social activists yelled racism, reeling incidents and statistics, true or false, to underscore their point: Of how colleges were refusing admissions to Nigerians because they were all drug addicts and drunks. And North Easterners denied accommodation, Biharis living in desecrated ghettoes.

Raising a moot point: Are we racist in our attitude or is it an unwarranted conclusion? Is racism ingrained in the Indian psyche? Is the Tanzanian a racial profiling or an ‘isolated’ case? Is Indian society colour conscious and racist?

Notably, racism runs across class and region in the country. It is not a question of dark or fair, there is a racial question involved. There is also colonial prejudice. Then there are local stereotypes about African students, Biharis, Madrasis, Gujjus, Bongs etc in the last 10-15 years. So, unfortunately we are witnessing all these layers of prejudices and the end result is what we witnessed.

Rightly or wrongly, all Africans in India seem to be ‘Nigerians’ who peddle drugs and indulge in prostitution. Recall, the ugly confrontation in a New Delhi locality last year, when an AAP Minister led a mob that accused ‘Nigerian’ nationals of running a sex and drug racket and demanded that the people stop renting accommodation to them.

Alongside, students from the North East are asked if they are Japanese, Chinese or Korean. Alas, there is total ignorance in most parts of India about the ‘seven sisters’ culture, food and in fact, anything North Eastern, bringing to the fore the region’s remoteness, isolation, alienation and grave neglect by the Centre.

In October 2014 in two separate incidents, one North-East student was beaten by three men in Bangalore for not speaking Kannada and another beaten by seven men in Gurgaon. In Assam, six Bihari lads were shot at point blank range, three Nigerians in Hyderabad.

In Mumbai, the same paranoid party called for North Indians to be thrown out. Many poor, migrant UPites were beaten up, attacked and threatened as they went about their daily grind, often working for a pittance. In Bangalore there are rumblings of resentment over north Indian techies who have flooded the city with their loud, noisy, in-your-face manners.

Undoubtedly, our racism is a bit different from the western concept of, say, a Hispanic or Black American wherein kids are ordered to keep their distances from them. For one, India boasts of a deeply entrenched caste system, stereotypes and prejudices in our society. So, we not only have castes, we have sub-castes too (gotras): Brahmins, Baniyas, Dalits, and Kapus et al.

To make matters more complicated, we have further pre-conceived notions based on the place, language, cuisine and customs a person comes from. Due to a large regional diversity, we find communities pitted up against each other ideologically or for resources.

Like it or not, we have a national obsession for white skin. One only has to see the spate of ‘Fair and Lovely' matrimonial ads in the daily newspaper to understand our bias for the ‘fairer complexion’. Add to this is our fixation about a person’s place of origin.

So, while Northerners look down on the ‘Madrasis’ and their way of eating, rice with hands, the Southerners probably think that those from the North read ‘Panjus’ are loud, braggers and only good enough for the Bhangra! The Bengalis are supposed to be intellectuals, and every half-decent Bihari is supposed to crack IAS. There are the stingy 'Gujjus’ from the West and the 'Bhaiyyas' from UP.

Call it racism, prejudice or xenophobia but India is an ocean of a strange mixture of prejudice, ignorance and centuries-old discriminatory practices, whereby communities keep to themselves with galore of dos -and don’ts based on caste and religion. Don’t marry people not of your caste, communities and creed.

All these differences make people fairly suspicious of those who are not like them. And ‘people like us’ close ranks and bond. These closed communities are naturally full of prejudices towards the other, read outsider. Worse, Indian men stereotype blondes and other white women as ‘easy’ prey. And rarely perceive beauty in black or far-Eastern women.

Regrettably, racism is a global phenomenon wherein every race thinks of itself as superior. Last week in Sweden a gang of hooded people attacked a mob of Syrian migrants seeking asylum in this Nordic country. Russians are racist towards the people whom they feel are not ethnically and truly Russians.

In the UK, the local Brits have upped the ante against non-Europeans, while in America Republican Presidential hopeful and billionaire Donald Trump has voiced his animus against the Muslims. Israel yells blue murder against the Palestinians.

Western societies are also very individual centric, wherein people are self absorbed and individual identity is placed above group identity. One only has to listen to Polish or Italian jokes in America, or English, Irish, Welsh, Scottish parodies in the UK. The Brits talk derogatorily about ‘desis’. We stereotype each other mercilessly and there are funny stories galore about food, clothes and accents.

There are many reports of crimes against Indian students in Australia, the UK, politicians and business corporations discriminating against Indian brown skin, and in America, where Indian-Americans are constantly shunned. Also, Indian stereotypes are used to taint the country’s image.

Questions range from: Do you still have snake charmers? Do people in India go to school on cows? How come you speak English? Demeaning and infuriating to say the least. At one level, it is high time we Indians wake up and accept the fact that we have an issue that needs to be addressed. Sweeping the dirt under the carpet is not a solution, it is the malaise we seriously need to confront.

The government needs to put in place strong deterrence in instances of violence towards a particular community or racial abuse against foreigners who come to the country. A clear no-tolerance policy towards racial intolerance is the need of the times. The message should be loud and clear.

Time we looked beyond the black-white-Hindu-Muslim, Madrasi-Punjabi phobia. We are two sides of the great skin divide - all people. We need to sing along to that old Bollywood song: Hum kale hain toh kya huah, dil wale hain!

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