Monday, June 22, 2009

Did you say Racism?

For long, Australia has been counted as a country with greener pastures but of late, it has been more in the news for the repeated racial assaults on Indian students than anything else. Yesterday I was watching this fierce debate on NDTV that addressed the issue of these recent assails on Indians abroad, but the one hour episode actually left me with another, rather more significant and challenging question – “When there is so much discrimination going on in our own society how then can we label another country as racist?”

The golden rule for us is – We Indians are not racist. If we said something racial, it’s just the cultural and linguistic differences. However, when somebody does it to us, we feel really bad, get onto the TV and protest and cry till you apologize. [Refer to Shilpa Shetty’s case on Big Brother] . As an Indian and human being I strongly feel that what happened in Australia and then later in Canada was very unfortunate but what about us? Are we innocent of such malicious practices? We’re not at all racist , are we ? Simply victims of discrimination based on ethnicity?

Talking about India, I think our brand of racism is as colour-based as the West, or perhaps even more. We always have something nasty to say about the "goras," or, "kalas," or, "chaptas." It usually isn’t anything remotely flattering but they wouldn’t know! Would they? Since it’s always muttered in hushed whispers behind their back in languages that they have a 0.1% chance of comprehending. Has anyone ever noticed that we have the most sweeping generalisations and the harshest stereotypes pertaining to every single ethnic group- from the Whites to the Blacks & right down to the Chinese- no one’s spared our wrath!

What’s worse if that we are no better even in our own native land. In India, it’s a common sight to see “chinkis” (someone please sue me for using this word) from the North Eastern states waiting on us or cleaning up in restaurants. Why? Do we secretly believe that this is their core competence? Then you have the so-called representatives of the oppressed class – the political parties, spreading messages like “Tilak, tarazoo aur talwar unko maaro juthe chaar” – which means “Hit the brahmins, businessmen and warrior class with shoes”! “Sardarji” jokes are the most popular e-mail forwards. It’s not hard to spot a trader at a tourist location charging more for a bottle of water from a “foreigner” than he would from a fellow country man. Reservations for “SC/ ST / OBC / MBC/ BC” – Oh my God! What blatant admission of our racist discriminatory behaviour!

Even within our own race and our own country, we’re so fond of discriminating based on community or colour of skin. Just take a peek at the matrimonial columns that feature in the Indian newspapers, they’re awash with ads for potential brides being touted as having, "fair complexion." Ever seen any that proclaim dark skin? At best, you’ll see, "pretty girl with wheatish complexion." [Wheatish, of course, being the local euphemism for not being too dark] & I have to admit- nothing I’ve ever read has been funnier than these matrimonial ads. Then you have these fairy-tale promotions for fairness creams where a dusky girl opting for such-and-such fairness cream turns as white as a ghost and ta-da! There’s a bunch of swooning guys banging into the lamp-posts.

If the attacks against students in Australia are being termed as brutal, then what about the attacks against people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in Mumbai by the local residents? Why so much hue and cry if we get discriminated against when we leave the borders of our country? Everyone saw what happened in Australia but what about the diabolical racism and casteism that’s seen for centuries in India and is nothing but continuing unabated.

To pretend that ours is a land free of divisions or dissensions is to me- absolutely risible. Let’s face it - when it comes to viewing the fellow inhabitants of our planet and judging them on the basis of their race, caste or community, we Indians are no less. Let’s not blame other races for being racist toward us when we haven’t succeeded in putting out the fires in our own backyard as yet!

But then again, I am of the belief that racism isn’t born, it’s taught. Very few of us realise it though. For most of us it’s just a subconscious reaction that’s a natural result of years and years of thinking that way. And being taught to think that way. But this is the twenty first century! A vast majority of the educated and cosmopolitan citizens aren’t so interested in your race or the amount of melanin in your skin anymore. It’s out of vogue you see. People are now more concerned with your intellect, your personality and how can I forget, your bank balance!


  1. An absolutely fantastic post - you have hit the nail on the head in bringing out the simple truth that racism is ingrained in most Indians throughout their lives.
    One place where you may have erred is in believing that educated citizens aren't racist - I can say from bitter personal experience that that unfortunately is not completely true - which makes the situation in India seem all the more worse because if education can't change this mindset, I don't know what can!!!!

  2. @ Varun


    While that may not be completely true, it's not all that fabled either for I in my own experience, have also seen people altering their debased and penitent outlook when it comes to such ethnic discriminations.

    And I know this equally well that it's not easy to change somebody's mindset just like that! At times one needs to muster a lot of strength to accomplish that, and it'll be nice if we try to understand that at times, even "educated" people may fail to do so for reasons equally appropriate of their own, if not necessarily logical.

  3. absolutely prudent topic taken n well justified..
    Well i think the same as you do...
    According to the article from TOI the CM of one state was also claming to be racially abused in can some light on that part too n highlight the basic aspects of that...

  4. @ swet

    Thanks dear!
    Looking forward to having another plush discussion with you, like the one this evening :)

    & dare you forget about the weekend next week!