Racial prejudices deep-rooted in Indian heart?
The brutal killing of a Congolese national by the goons in Delhi brought shock ways among all the right thinking people in general and African community in particular who have been witnessing increasing racial slur against them in India in the past two years. Unfortunately two important ministers in the Central Cabinet felt that it was a minor incident. General V K Singh who is habitual of putting foot in his mouth said that this was a ‘minor’ incident blown out of proportion by the media. Sushma Swaraj too said that India can’t be racist though she must be knowing that the ‘fair and lovely’ has been most ‘successful’ brand in India because of the high decibel color consciousness where black is evil and sin and definitely is like an ‘impounded passport’, for marriage of a girl. Fortunately the External Affairs meeting worked better in this regard and acted fast and the call for a protest at Jantar Mantar was canceled at a late stage saving the government from a possible international embarrassment.
The question is whether these incidents are blown out of proportion or are we still a society suffering in deep-rooted prejudices. While most of the upper caste middle-class Indians will reject this suggesting that Dalits have got ‘everything’ after the government provided them ‘reservation’ in its services and hence things are ‘resolved’. This segment of the upper caste Hindus is highly avers to the idea of affirmative action and always claim those who get into it lack ‘merit’. The fact is the word ‘merit’ itself has become the biggest racist terminology of the powerful to defend and ensure their control on the levers of powers in India. The brahmanical system in India work through various ways and the biggest is controlling the popular discourse and cultural practices and the discrimination and prejudices are visible in not only humors but also in pains.
We all heard how the upper caste Indian reacted to the so-called humor on Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar by some Tanmay Bhat, evidently a Brahmin himself. The entire cinema fraternity came up to rescue Lata Mangeshkar. The argument was that we must not make fun of ‘Icons’ of India otherwise it would be too dangerous. There is no doubt that his making fun of Lata Mangeshkar was very distasteful but then what do you do in such cases? Should we file a case against Tanmay Bhat or just ignore his taste. Another important point that we must understand is whether we really have a sense of humor or we are habitual of joking at people on the basis of their color, ability, physique and caste? Can mocking at someone with racial, caste and gender prejudices be called humor? Now, we have seen these entire ‘humorist’ mocking at Gandhi and Nehru with later targeted with malicious videos and character assassination as if he was the worst person that India could have. How we treat our iconic leaders of the freedom movement is reflected in these ‘humors’ but then none ever bother to question under the pretext of ‘freedom of expression’ but with Lata and Sachin targeted all of us are seeking their ‘protection’ in the garb of ‘national treasure’ ? Is Nehru not ‘national treasure’? But then Nehru is the biggest villain today for this government and Amitabh, Sachin and Lata are the epitome brahmanical ‘morality’ today. Even when we know Nehru was a Brahmin but suddenly the Brahmins are realizing that he was not and ‘researchers’ and ‘humorists’ found that he came from a Muslim ancestry. The Bollywood never came for the ‘rescue’ of our national icons but it look that the only national icons that we have are either from the corrupt world of cricket or orthodox and conservative Bollywood fraternity which has become the ‘conscious-keeper’ of the country. Why is that people get agitated for Sachin and Lata when any one try to imitate them or joke on them particularly when we have mocked at all our icons of freedom movement who were unambiguously against RSS brand of nationalism ? The reason lies in the mindset and the targeted group of the upper castes feeling offended these days if you remind them of their ‘sins’ or any historical wrongs. They are the torch bearer of the brahmanical ‘success’ stories and ‘morality’ of our times hence any ‘humor’ in their name is questionable, though since the humor was done by another Brahmin so there are numerous supporting fraternity too otherwise if he were a Muslim or a Christian we would have been in a very difficult situation.
Haven’t we seen the ‘humor’ of mocking at a person on the basis of their color or physical appearance or his disability in the Hindi cinema? That reflect the popular mindset and the perception that it has. India is turning into an upper-caste Hindu majoritarian country now with people getting encouragement from those in power. It is difficult for certain communities to get a house at a relatively ‘secular’ place in any part of India. ‘Secular’ space means un-ghettoized upper caste dominated space with all the ‘modern amenities’ at your disposal but unfortunately these spaces are now being converted into ‘upper caste’ ‘ghettoes’ with more and more mobilization in the name of ‘festivals’ and ‘jaati’ to protect. So it is nearly difficult for a Muslim to get a house on rent in these places. Similarly the Dalits too face this discrimination based on their caste once they inform about their castes then it becomes difficult for them to survive in that locality. Friends from North East will not get house on cheaper rate at any good locality and definitely our African friends would find it difficult to get a house that easily as the ‘mainstream’ Indians get and here lies the prejudiced mind that we have allowed to happen. ‘People call us names like ‘blacky’, ‘blackberry’ and even ‘monkey’. It happens on the road while driving, at public places and even at the locality we live in,” says Faisal Dermane, President of the Africans Students Association in Telangana. The student from Togo in West Africa, however, notes that most students are good to Africans but it’s the few who use racial slurs that make them live in fear. Abdoul Gueye, a Senegalese student in Osmania University, says it’s difficult to be African and black in India. “There are lots of stereotypes about Africans. People think that we live in the jungle. They think Africa is a country. They say Africa is so hot that’s why we are black,” he says as quoted by ‘The News Minute’.
It is a well-known fact that Indians are highly color conscious. My father was dark in complexion and he faced a lot of comments due to that when he was a teacher. I was a child but I could understand senior students doing that. Most of the ‘humor’ that we have in our country comes from mocking at people’s color, physical appearance like disability, caste and religion. Many times you are mocked due to your accent of the language.
Our External Affairs minister Ms Sushma Swaraj felt that Indians must ensure that we shake hand with Africans telling them that they are welcome. Obviously, it is an important issue but do not try to suggest that we love ‘Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam’ and there are no issues in our society related to color and caste when our entire newspaper columns, Sunday supplements are crowded with caste based advertisement and the most of our boys and their families irrespective of their caste, color, religion or region want ‘fair-skinned’ ‘fair and lovely’ wife.
Just when the government was trying to ignore this issue, a new report by Walkfree Foundation in Australia informed that India has World’s highest number of ‘modern slaves’. Now, this issue is highly ‘controversial’ for many as they feel that government of India has done everything as there are laws in our statute books. Another official was questioning the statistics as how did they arrive at a figure of 18.35 million ‘modern slaves’ in India which was about 1.4% of its total population.
The interesting fact is that five biggest countries are China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan where 58% of the total ‘modern slaves’ of the world work under horrible conditions but still if you compare the figures India’s record shames us. China (3.39 million), Pakistan ( 2.13 million), Bangladesh ( 1.53 million) and Uzbekistan ( 1.23 million) are nothing in comparison to 18.35 million Indian ‘modern slaves’. A senior officer in the Ministry of labor was pointing out that we have all the laws and constitutional provisions to protect people so these reports are ‘questionable’ while another one in the TV studio wanted to ‘know’ the methodology of the process. The fact is that if a proper methodology is taken into account then we will find the number much larger in India. Why should we only point out to ‘economic aspect’ of the ‘modern slavery’ and ‘satisfy’ ourselves with constitutional provisions. There is a socio-cultural aspect of the ‘slavery’ and I can’t call it just ‘modern slavery’ when the things are historically proven that there was a caste system which ensured that certain people would do the most inhuman kind of ‘work’ on the basis of the caste and these ‘aajivaks’ were not allow to obtain ‘knowledge’ which was the sole domain of the Brahminms. How can one not call an ‘occupation’ which compel people to clean the human excreta by another human being? For so many years, despite best laws, we are unable to bring a full stop this heinous and criminal traditional practice worse than slavery. The fact is that people don’t even get money in lieu of it and they are virtually made helpless under this work.
There is a need to understand what exactly is ‘Modern slavery’ report suggests. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have commonality in terms of caste influence in our lives while China and Uzbekistan have remnants of feudalism in their societies which influenced Pakistan too. The report points out that China, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Bangladesh and several other countries are worst as they have not done anything to eradicate it. The reason why India is still better lies in our constitutional provisions while these countries mentioned as most problematic have not yet done anything to remove ‘modern slavery’ as most of states have not yet ratified many international covenants. There are issues of trafficking prevalent in our societies and yes the government is serious in handling them yet the biggest road-block is the prevailing mindset of prejudices and discrimination.
Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar often talked of contradictions in our society between the political and social lives and therefore pointed out that the best of the constitution in the hands of ‘worst’ people might turn out to be a nightmare which will force people to rebel against the same. Unfortunately the countries which have been named as worst have not been able to change their social system despite certain provisions made in their constitution. Most of these societies are still dominated by religious laws which are the biggest obstacles in creating a humane society but as far as India is concern our struggle is between the modern constitution and those status- quoists who have been benefitted from the feudal Manuwadi social order. The constitution can only break this order once it has fair representation at all level of the people who have been denied human rights for centuries and that too is possible if the people joining the government be made compulsorily to take oath under the constitution to protect it as caste minds are failing the republican constitution.
It is in these context one would be surprised to hear from our external affairs minister making a point that there is no racial discrimination in India and that Indian’s must ‘shake hand’ with African people and say ‘we love them’. Now this symbolizes the upper caste effort to ‘resolve’ the discriminatory Indian system through ‘tokenism’ and that too in a very patronizing way like the upper caste leaders ‘dining’ at the places of Dalits as if doing a great favor on them. The cruel reality is that upper caste Indians still suffer from Superiority complex and have not taken it seriously that the ‘others’ are now responding better. How interesting is the fact that now Dalit young boys and girls are faring better than caste Hindus in a very similar way as studies showing that black boys and girls are growing better than the American whites in term of education despite the fact that America is not really a better model for us in terms of representation and development of the blacks there but as far as arrogant and false pride is concern none can beat the caste Hindus and the way they are justifying all acts of historic wrong. The problem is not to even accept that there was a problem and we need to address it with all seriousness and concern. If anything is questioned about the ‘golden past’ of the upper caste Indians they come out with vengeance hurling abuses on the others. The track record of Indians in Africa is worst to say the least as they look down upon the natives and have colonial tendencies. Whether in Uganda or East Africa, Indians have rarely participated in the events and programs organized by the blacks of those countries. Last year in a visit to Senegal, a journalist asked me similar question as there is lot of caste discrimination in India and how do you handle it. A few years back, a friend of mine who happened to black from United States shared his horrible experiences in Delhi University where he was engaged in a Ph.D work. He was ‘influenced’ by Gandhi and thought India would be of Gandhi’s ‘idealism’ but to his horror he found a very different country and society where every ‘act’ of him was under observation. As an American citizen, he could not get the same respect which Indians normally give to American ‘whites’. I know it is difficult for people to keep quiet and accept the reality. Any white guest would also be looked but in great awe while any black international guest would be mocked. Everything from their ‘accent’ to eating habits, socializing is observed cynically. If you go visit Africa particularly Uganda, Kenya and East Africa the dominance of Gujarati caste Hindus in business is visible but the dirty facts are that they have no warm relationship with local people.
There is no denial the fact that our constitutional founding fathers were aware of the whole issue of discrimination and they did their best but what we have failed in India is to develop those understanding and not wait for law to guide us but strengthen our own resolve to fight against all kinds of prejudices and stereotypes. Our sports fraternity and cultural activist have no parallel of legendary boxer Mohammad Ali who had the courage to stand up and speak against racial discrimination in United States. We remained confined to glorifying our past and justifying all the historical wrongs.
Frankly the current government in India is encouraging those old stereotypes against all the dissenters, minorities particularly Muslims as well as Dalits. It play multiple games while on the massive propaganda machinery of paid media the government goes on with ‘make in India’ and Dr Ambedkar’s vision and mission while the main clientele of the ruling party are the orthodox upper caste Hindus despise the very word of reservation and equality. Not only in India but abroad too they are on distortion of history mission flatly denying any wrong of the past with the Dalits. Examples from UK and USA clearly reveal how Hindu Council there objected to Equity Law in UK and opposed mentioning of the word Dalit as if the problem never existed. The Modi government’s attempt to provide citizenship to Bangladeshi and Pakistani Hindus is an attempt to play with the communal fire in the entire subcontinent. It means that rather than believing in multiculturalism the government and its ideological master, the Sangh Parivar, are ready to deepen those stereotypes, which has created the whole crisis today. One need to understand as how will a narrow-minded leadership allow a healthy relationship between diverse faiths and races in India. Sushma Swaraj will have to seriously ponder over whether her government’s policies are not responsible for encouraging such elements who believe in their caste, colour and cultural superiority.
In the meanwhile, we would like to share with our African brothers and sisters the feelings of all those who have suffered here on the basis of their caste and other cultural identities from the hands of the same people who are today threatening them. Therefore, the need of the hour is not to think that all Indians are racists but share your solidarity with those Indians and vice versa who are victims of hierarchical and discriminatory caste system. Any kind of generalization and stereotyping of a vast country like India would be dangerous and detrimental to the interest of greater unity of all those victims of racist supremacist discriminatory order whose unity can break the monopoly of such forces over our lives.