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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2040

Racial Slur On India

By Atul Cowshish - Syndicate Features

There was a countrywide uproar in India when about five years ago following a series of ‘racial’ attacks on Indian youth in Australia. The outrage in India is equally strong when there are reports of attacks on people of Indian origin or Indian nationals living in the US. Some of these attacks resulted in death. The host countries generally refuted the allegations of a racial angle in the attacks on Indians. But few in India were willing to accept that.

Something similar seems to be happening in India. The manner in which a young African woman and a few other African men were treated by the police and violent mob in Bengaluru, the so-called Silicon Valley of India, has brought India the opprobrium of practicing ‘racism’. The country’s image as a ‘tolerant’ and ‘secular’ democracy has already been under strain in recent months. The Dalits in the country are up in arms after the suicide by a young scholar in Hyderabad who thought he faced discrimination because of his low caste.

It hurts India badly because India was actively involved with the long drawn out battle against racialism in South Africa. In fact, it can be argued that Gandhi would not have become the great freedom fighter and the ‘Mahatma’ but for a personal experience of racialism when he was in South Africa.

The Bengaluru incident has another worrisome aspect to it. The attack on African youth came after the southern metropolis’ worldwide reputation as a high-tech city came under threat because of increasing number of rapes. The city and the state of Karnataka had also got a bad name for ‘intolerance’ towards ‘rationalists’; and the vigilante groups as moral police have been attacking young couples in public places. Now on top of all that comes a glaring example of ‘racism’.

Worrying as it must be for Bengaluru, the fact is that ‘racialism’ has existed in India for a long, long time. Most Indians have a thing about ‘fair’ and ‘dark’ skins. The Dalits have suffered discrimination, another name for racialism, for centuries. The people of the North-east are subjected to humiliation and sometimes violence in many parts of India because of their ‘Chinky’ looks.

About five years ago, there was mass exodus, luckily temporary in nature, of people from the North - east from Bengaluru and other towns in Karnataka because of a fear of violence against people from the North east. The problem was caused by a ‘rumour’ but that rumour was taken seriously because it looked plausible in the prevailing atmosphere in the state.

True, ‘racial’ violence in India is condemned by both the civil society and politicians. Political parties lend their strong voice though only to derive political mileage in some form or the other. And that seems to be the problem and perhaps explains the reason why ‘racialism’ or whatever you call it continues to thrive in the country.

Most forms of protests and condemnations in the country are in danger of looking like sham exercises because the acts they denounce go on reoccurring. That makes the protests somewhat of a meaningless ritual—maybe hypocritical.

What has been missing is a concerted effort by various segments of the society all across the country, explaining not only the harm caused by the unacceptable acts but also initiating some ‘action’ that makes integration and easy acceptance of people who look ‘different’.

It is doubtful if the people in Bengaluru who attacked the African women and men were aware of the damage they were causing—to their city, state and the country. One can bet that they were even less aware of the importance of having Africans as friends of India. That is because most of the elements who indulge in ‘racial’ and similar undesirable activities have very narrow visions and have no chance of being better informed, much less being enlightened.

There must be not many Indians, for instance, who realise how important the continent of Africa is going to be in the years to come. Outside India they are already talking of the ‘African century’ because of its vast hitherto unexploited mineral and natural wealth. Trade links between India and Africa go back centuries. Today’s trade with these countries runs into billions of dollar.

Idi Amin of Uganda had come to be seen as a villain when he expelled thousands of people of Indian origin in the 1960s because they were not Africans. There have been instances of violence against people of Indian origin in some African countries, inviting much.

So, if we are upset with ‘racial’ acts outside India when Indians or people of Indian origin are the victims, we can be sure that we are seen no differently when similar acts happen in India.

Indians in cities are used to seeing Africans but not many of them will probably know that India is one of the most popular destinations for higher studies in African countries, especially the countries where English is spoken. There are other developing countries waiting to attract the African students.

Indians have invested heavily in many African countries. Their business cannot thrive if the locals turn hostile towards them. India also sends many skilled people to work in Africa who by and large earn a good name for the country.

If the emphasis here appears to be too much on Africa or Africans in India that is because they are apparently the most frequent victims in India. But racialism or discrimination of any form is to be deplored—and ways found to eliminate the practice.

There is insufficient interaction between the large population of African students and Indians in the country. The Africans do not open up when they find an unfriendly atmosphere. It then becomes the duty of the Indians to find ways for regular meetings and interactions. This, however, can be done better at the institutional level.

There can be no doubt that the job of making the society more equitable and just is tough. Discrimination of one form or the other has been in vogue in the country for generations. It may be surmised that it has not gone because so far efforts to eliminate it have been inadequate. That kind of complacency must be given up.

- Asian Tribune -

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