It was an attempt to emerge as the champion of anti-racism but how horribly it backfired on former BJP MP Tarun Vijay. In his foolish bid to prove that Indians were not racist, Vijay asked if this were so, why do we live with south Indians? We presume that Vijay in this impassioned intervention on Al Jazeera was speaking about us Madrasis who are all presumed to be black. Of course, the Twitterverse has exploded in outrage with just the odd colour commissar saying that poor Vijay was trying to prove India’s non-racist credentials.
Being from the south myself, I am not at all surprised by his remarks and there is nothing to be outraged about. He has just said what many people who should know better believe to be true. That south Indians, for whatever reason are black. I remember the decidedly odd views on this subject from a former edit page editor of mine, a man who presided over the opinions of a powerful newspaper where I once worked. He was outraged that I and another colleague from Kerala could look so different from each other. Why, he wondered aloud, was I not black and had straight hair while my colleague was, in the words of this eminent editor, black and had wiry hair. This question, which we did not deign to answer really perplexed the poor man who brought it up on a couple of occasions only to be met with silence from me and my colleague.
I also recall in my Madrasi mind a time when my son was at a very well known school and came home quite agitated one day. His teacher, he said, had said south Indians were black because of the weather in the south. My son, in what he thought was a valiant defence of his mother, informed her that I was not black and wondered if she might be wrong. She was not, she assured him, saying that his mother may be an exception. But before you think that we Madrasis are a noble and suffering lot, let me tell you that we are as racist as they come. The demand for fair brides is boundless with those of darker shades being looked upon with pity and their would-be grooms deserving of a higher dowry to soften the blow.
Have you ever seen a matrimonial ad in the south which said the bride in question or even bridegroom was dark? No, he or she will be wheatish, whatever that means. In fact, it is quite a compliment in the south for a woman to be told she looks like a Punjabi because that suggests that she is fair.
So, the government might dismiss incidents of violence against people from African countries as not being motivated by racism. But colour matters very much to us and many of our choicest abuses are based on this. How often I have heard this, again in the so-called enlightened south “she is not bad looking even though she is black.” The parents of girls who happen to be dark are commiserated with quite openly, “poor things, how difficult it will be for you to find a good match”.
So take heart Tarun Vijay. You have spoken out bravely about living with black people all around, of living with the whole, yes not parts, of south India. For this, the organisation of which you are an ideologue and whose magazine you edited for many years, the mighty RSS, that arbiter of Indian culture and tradition, will surely fete you. So bash on regardless, you are in the company of many like-minded souls even in the south, that bastion of blackness according to you.