The worst criticism by my media friends about what I said was “Tarun Vijay says, south is Black, we live with them, hence (we are) not racist”. One may keep denying it but the damage is done. It becomes completely irrelevant to question how I could have said this when Tamil and the glory of the South is a part of me. Witnessing such anger against me is akin to watching my own death helplessly.
But I regret the moment when in an effort to counter an onslaught on Indians for being racist I tried to say we are weaving a fabric of togetherness -- different people, colours, shades, and religions, but we live as one. It came out as suggesting just the opposite. This is indefensible and for this I sincerely apologise. But, what about the many commentators? Aren’t they behaving like those who prescribe death by stoning for blasphemy?
That I invoked Gandhi, Mandela and King to guide us and urged the panelists not to spread poison is lost in the din. Whether the perpetrators of the violence on Nigerians or the discussants on channels and social media missionaries, we are increasingly resorting to the vocabulary of revenge.
There is no denying that we are becoming a ‘fair and lovely’ consumer society. Those who sell and promote such products must be booked for creating divisions in society on the basis of skin-colour. Matrimonial ads too expose our obsession with fairness. It suggests some sort of mental disorder which leads to wanting ‘fair and beautiful’ bahus for sons.
Nationalism doesn’t mean denying the malaise -- it means acceptance and finding corrective measures.
Each election proves that considerations of caste carry more weight than merit and performance. Yet we tend to deny this. We speak of a harmonious , well-knit Indian society. But, Dalits are still not welcome in many areas of decision-making. The crowd that hurled stones at me in Uttarakhand, enraged over the entry of Dalits into a temple were educated government employees and college students. The parents who objected to Radhamma in Kolar because she was a Scheduled Caste woman who was cooking school meals for their children were educated. I took up this case. The main opposition to the Thiruvalluvar statue at Haridwar came from priests and the sadhus. The number of tribal and Dalit editors and bureau chiefs in the media can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Yet, we deny that there is a hidden bias against them. The challenge is to change this mindset rather than deny its existence.
We, as Indians, have woven a fabric of racial harmony through the ages. All races merged into one Indian identity. Ugly behaviour based on caste or cultural differences can’t be termed racism. The Thiruvalluvar statue may have been opposed in Haridwar but governments of different political persuasions in Punjab, Himachal, UP, Bihar and J&K readily accepted Thirukural’s greatness. Shouldn’t that figure in our public dialogue on ending discrimination? Godavari Pushkara is as important to us as a visit to Rameshwaram and Guruvayoor. For each incident of discrimination, there are a million stories of inclusiveness. We fail to read highlight them because they don’t make for a good story. That’s exactly what I told Al Jazeera.
The case of violence against Nigerian students hit the headlines after the unfortunate death of Manish Khara, reportedly from a drug overdose. Mob frenzy is often fuelled by perceptions, not facts. How do we treat this malaise? We shouldn’t go into denial mode, but accept there is a problem and look for a solution. We are indebted to our African friends as I have always said -- we sent a Gandhi to them and they returned a Mahatma to us.
Creating a media sensation over such an issue will create more hurt than heal.
The best succour to me in this critical time has come from those I hardly knew. Dravida society embraced me as one of their family. Their incessant calls, tweets and Facebook support have assured me that whatever trash comes out in the media, Tamil annai never deserts her children.
(Tarun Vijay is a former BJP MP)