Hema Is From Tanzania and Sonia is From Timbuktu

Minority lumpen logic must stop Indians need to deal with racism ingrained in us
Voices Racism Friday, February 05, 2016 - 17:21

Let’s just skip the nonsense.  Indians are amongst the most racist in the world  - ‘most’ because our national skin colour palette runs from blue-black to white. How successful would a black Sonia Gandhi or a Hema Malini be – penny dropped?

Stripping and parading naked a Tanzanian student in Bengalore this week made international headlines - another ugly reminder of how thin our ‘civilised’ ways are. Even animals don’t behave like this we were told.  No, they don’t. Animals also do not rape, torture and kill each other for pleasure. Let us keep this to humans.  

It is not easy to be a foreigner – black or white – in India. When we are not fawning in front of one colour, we discriminate against the other. A legal adviser to the students in Bengaluru said cabs turn back upon seeing black customers, autos avoid them and there is now a fear psychosis among African students in the city. Bengaluru police has advised them to stay indoors and take certain roads. Like it was in South Africa – one road for Indians, another for blacks said the legal adviser on News Hour.  He didn’t say one for others and one blacks. In the same programme author and commentator Advaita Kala summed up racism as a lived and felt experience, from the way people look at you in restaurants and on the streets. The otherwise articulate Rahul Easwar was mealy-mouthed calling it the work of a minority in Bengaluru while Lumpen elements said one chorus concluding with the signature “spread love not hate” candlelight vigil in the city.

What must rattle Bangloreans beyond the barbaric act is the official response with ministers calling it a random and not racial attack. Two self goals here – one condoning the criminals and the other alienating the African students. Tensions are rife in the city and they are not going to vanish. Read here.

Here is the bad news. Indians are not alone. A poster campaign in Switzerland has white sheep in an enclosure with a lone black sheep standing outside.  There were racist attacks in Sweden recently and US Presidential hopeful Donald Trump is on a racist roll. Colour can never be an excuse for violence, arson and murder, no matter where. The Tanzanian lady was pushed out of a bus she ran into and a bystander who offered her something to wear was shooed away. How can Bangloreans help reclaim their city when the government is in denial?

This ‘minority lumpen logic’ must stop at once if we are to prevent all of India from coming across as lumpens. We can no longer stick our heads in sand saying it is happening in a fringe, to a fringe, by a fringe. Dadri and Malda were not the work of lumpen elements – it was murder and mob violence with state complicity. In Bengaluru too, the police watched the escalating violence, then refused to register an FIR. Criminals cannot be allowed a free run in a country where caste, class and colour are worn as a mark of honour and dignity and the slightest challenge is beaten, burnt or murdered.

Human beings’ obsession with colour is a bag of contradictions, worsened by money, desire and opportunities. It has even become an excuse for business. Five years ago India’s whitening cream market was valued at $432 million and growing at 18% annually. Among the promoters of the fair and lovely business are some of India’s most famous film and fashion faces. In other parts of the world, tanning creams rule the roost.

Black and white have also entered our language and distorted our perceptions. Black is linked with failure and white is successful. Black Monday and Tuesday (US stock market crashes), blackest hour in Indian history (Emergency) and black money (colourless) are some of the common baddies. In contrast, someone is white as a Lilly and it’s a white economy. The only interloper is a white lie.

Linking poverty and racism is a myth. If that were true, why is John Abraham promoting whitening creams? What can however be said is when economies nose-dive and jobs disappear, the first port of call for thugs and politicians playing to the gallery is to discriminate on the basis of the most obvious – colour and facial features. Students from India’s North Eastern states studying in Bengaluru are called “chinky” much like Indian students in America or Australia get called “Paki.”

And here comes the really bad news. At a time when India is seeking investments from abroad, news of racism, rape, destruction of public property and random violence from around the country makes it to international headlines regularly. India’s image is taking a beating and PR campaigns cannot succeed where Indians have failed.

Colour is a Hydra – chopping off one snake will not suffice. The battle has to be constant in our homes, place of work, schools, public and political offices. Beyond the public humiliation of the Tanzanian student was a society that stood around and watched. This is what will prevent all other ‘Indias’ from getting ahead. Making common cause with other economies dealing with racism may make intellectual sense, but a country that cannot bring law and order under control risks losing investments from international finance and industry.


Money will not come where it does not feel safe.  Ask the Swiss. 

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