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Murder Of A Congolese Youth In Delhi: Racial Prejudices Deep Inside Our Heart

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

04 June, 2016

The brutal killing of a Congolese national by the goons in Delhi
brought shock waves 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 cancelled 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 latter 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

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 programmes 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 relationships
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.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist.
He blogs at www.manukhsi.blogspot.com
twitter @freetohumanity Email: vbrawat@gmail.com



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