On most days, black underpants are sexy. These days, you might receive a beating if you dare reveal them. Blame the kale kachhe wale robbers. For the uninitiated, these are robbers, real and imagined, dressed in nothing but black(kale) underpants (kachhe) roaming every corner of our towns and minds.
The enormity of the kala kachha scare may be a figment of your imagination, or a reality much darker than imagined. Don’t worry, the Mohali police and the Punjab deputy chief minister are trying to settle that argument, even as the police in Panchkula would rather have you believe that there is no colour called kala.
What should really worry you, though, is the myth of The Negro Gang.
It’s the newest fad in a society that is online 24x7 but remains as regressive as ever, from so-called metropolitan oasis like Chandigarh to the Facebook-friendly towns of Ludhiana and faraway Abohar. Not many care about the slavery-age connotation of the N word, or even the fact that we, the brown people — for that matter, all of humanity — may have descended from the Africans. But let’s not even touch history. The anatomy of the rumour will say enough.
The Negro Gang rumour actually gathered steam on Facebook and through SMSes which claim that ‘Gangsters from the Dark Lands’ are hacking people by the dozen just for the heck of it, killing calves and dogs too, and only sometimes taking away money, since murder remains their primary motive. Such is the brutality of these theories that photos of some boys from Jalandhar — where a university has a large number of African students — are used in graphics that tell you what these so-called gangs are allegedly doing. Some of the students in the photos have indeed faced arrest, but for campus fights or street arguments, not for mass murder and robbery. Who cares for facts in the anarchical world of online media?
Mercenary, Negro, black have become synonyms. Technology and tribalism have got married.
This is the fair and lovely brand of Indian racism that is not so latent after all. And nowhere is it more pronounced than in the northern region, where people can’t stop flaunting how they might be the milk-andpeaches descendants of Central Asian raiders. What do you expect to breed in households where even bhajans, if translated brutally, have Krishna allegedly asking his mother Yashoda why he is black and Radha white?
But mine is not an argument just against the use of some words. In fact, the terms we employ have context that is unmistakably historical. That is why these words must be preserved as scars of injustice at least in literature. Even jokes, for that matter, have an ironical importance.
So, for years to come, words like ‘chinki’, ‘nigger’, ‘nigga’ or, closer home, ‘chooda’ may remain a part of our lexicon, and even acquire nonoffensive connotations on the way. For instance, there are Chamars who use it as a surname now, even singing reactionary songs glorifying the ankhi (self-respecting) sons of Chamars. And in an obvious counter-argument, the ankhi Jatt has made a jingoist return into the titles of Punjabi movies. Pollywood 2.0 — The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Mine is an argument against the psyche that refuses to leave us.
Why are we offended when a Sikh leader is asked to remove his turban for security checks in Italy, but turn blind when we refuse to give a room on rent to a Muslim or a ‘chinki’? In Chandigarh in particular, where students from the North East come for studies, what makes us label them as promiscuous and ‘easy’ just by looking at their short skirts, fancy glares and the fact that ‘their’ boys and girls stay together all the time?
I’m sure you are outraged at the recent assault on an elderly Sikh by a young white girl in the UK. What about Yannick Nihangaza, a 23-year-old student from Burundi who was assaulted by some ‘locals’, including a cop’s son, in Jalandhar? If you’d care to know, he remains in coma in a Patiala hospital and is likely to never fully recover.
Colour of the skin still sets rules of compassion. Perpetuated now in the dark, nameless corridors of the virtual world, the ghettoisation of the ‘other’ is now complete.
The problem is not in the underpants. Our minds are coloured.