People from northeastern states holding a protest in Bengaluru and shouting slogans against racism and beating up and killing of a student – Nido Taniam – in New Delhi. (PTI Photo)
The sad but inescapable truth is we are guilty of racism: not always but distressingly often, not all of us but, unfortunately, far too many. If this is to change we must begin by first and unreservedly accepting this fact.
Our mistreatment of African people is a direct product of our attitude to colour. We don’t like those who are darker than us whilst we ourselves hanker for a fairer complexion.
To be honest, colour consciousness also permeates the way North Indians treat South Indians. We dismiss Africans as habshis; we contemptuously categorise South Indians as madrasis. Colour leads us to deride their food, customs, language and behaviour.
I have lived in Africa and I know that Africans believe Indians are more racist than Europeans and Americans. I have lived in Britain where West Indians and Africans would say the same.
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I can’t think of many countries where Fair and Lovely creams do such roaring business. In England, for example, they would be considered not just unacceptable but an abomination. Certainly there can’t be many countries where the equivalents of Shahrukh Khan and John Abraham proudly advertise them. Yet our celebrities have no compunction about doing this.
Alongside caste, our marriage advertisements stipulate colour. I used to think Punjabis were the most guilty. I now accept the rest of North India is no different.
All of this is not just embarrassing, it’s shameful. Yet, we are blissfully unaware or, at least, unconcerned by the moral issues it raises. Wilful ignorance is our bliss!
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Our attitude to our own citizens from the Northeast is no less racist. Here, more than colour, it’s their different features that attract our obloquy. Once again, that extends to cover their language, culture, food, clothes and behaviour.
Not only do we call them ‘chinkies’ but often do our best not to mix with them. We prefer them to live apart, keeping their own company almost living their own lives, separate and away from us. For most of us, the Northeast is another country only accidentally and peripherally Indian. It may be geographically at an arm’s length from the mainland; in terms of acceptance and integration it might as well be another continent.
The worst part is that many of us are unaware of this hateful prejudice, several unconcerned, quite a few unwilling to change and most — yes most — unashamed when made aware of this horrible truth.
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Consider two other situations and you’ll realise how deeply compromised our moral attitude actually is. Watch us beside fair-skinned Europeans and Americans and we seem to delight in their company. When they visit, they’re honoured guests. When invited to their homes, we’re over eager to impress.
The other telling situation occurs when we go abroad. If mistreated we often, if not readily, suspect racism even when that’s patently not the case. Usually it’s the first explanation that comes to mind.
As potential victims we are very conscious of it, as perpetrators we’re disinclined to accept it of ourselves.
The truth is we in North India can be very nasty to people whose skin colour or features we don’t like, often just because they’re different to ours. The last few weeks in Delhi have held up a mirror and the reflection is unappealing. Monsters we may not be but angels we definitely are not.
I’m glad Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi have spoken out. Others need to do so too. On this issue, quite frankly, silence is unacceptable.