‘Racism and prejudices are the exhaust fumes of damaged egos.’
As protests erupt in America, over the injustices inflicted on black lives after the institutional murder of George Floyd, we are finally forced to look closer into out own country for similar patterns of systematic and institutional racism that exists in our own country. At a time like this, it’s essential to introspect and heck our privilege in the everyday. When we start looking for their stories, it comes barely as a surprise that their voices are muffled amongst the clamour of noises. This begs the question- ‘Is there racism in India?’ Yes, there’s racism in India, but not just to other races, we are also racist towards our own race. It is almost like we hate ourselves, so much that we’d trade in our hide to be a white without batting an eyelash.
There exists racism on the basis of place a person belongs to which is nothing but an ugly truth of this nation. The hatred is such that people have died in thousands. People from north east are considered as aliens and those who belong to states like Bihar, Jharkhand are considered to be illiterate , mannerless, untouchable in metro cities like Delhi, Mumbai, etc. Just an example, that happens everywhere in this country. Not only metro cities but every state have their own reasons to hate one from other state. There’s racism on the basis of language we use. We are blessed to have hundreds of languages all with their own unique identity and importance and yet we have failed as a nation to give every language its due respect which includes one of the oldest languages of human civilization. There’s also racism on the basis of culture and colour. India is blessed with a rich variety of cultures, yet we leave no stone turned to mock each other’s culture, well, that’s how we show admiration to some of the oldest cultures in the world. And as of racism based on someones skin colour, all that can be said is that it’s extremely disheartening. Lastly, there also exists racism on basis of religion. As unfortunate as it is, this is probably the time when it’s most prominent.
People from Bihar have been subjected to racism from several decades. Everything about them from their looks, language, culture, accent is ridiculed pretty much all over the country. The term ‘Bihari’ itself is being increasingly used as a curse word in the northern parts of the country If there is ever a rape somewhere in India, the convict is automatically assumed to be a Bihari . If someone speaks Bhojpuri, he is assumed to be a ‘gavaar’ (illiterate). But this issue is never shown in the media, neither it is ever taken seriously, because according to some folks in our society these people are meant to be bullied. Whether someone is from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh, he is no more than a “Madrasi” to a North Indian. Abusive comments on their skin colour, food habits, culture are quite prevalent among the North Indians.
People are so ignorant about their own culture that they even forget that their is an integral part of India called the “seven sisters” or the “North East”. Recently in an interview, the child actor of the movie “Tubelight”, who hailed from Arunachal Pradesh was asked by a reporter, “How do you feel after coming to India for the first time ?”.
It’s worth mentioning that with the outbreak of the pandemic, the situation of racism became more vivid and more clear as the people of North-eastern region were told to vacate their apartments or other accommodations. Some were beaten up, some were prevented to enter the grocery stores to buy their basic necessities and some were even abused on grounds of internalised racist assumptions around the virus. Well, they can’t really change how they look, can they? Can anybody suggest a ‘guru’ who can teach them what ‘Indian-ness‘ means without having to lose their identity?
To top it all off, there’s the whole conundrum of white skin versus dark skin, with underlying tones of colourism and casual racism. Being a dark-skinned Indian woman is significantly harder. The sexism endemic in Indian society is such that the beauty standards for women are stricter and less fluid compared to men. You do occasionally find the odd dark-skinned south Indian hero, but they are largely relegated to the roles of comedians or villains; dark-skinned Indian women are lucky to be cast as extras or auxiliary dancers. It is even more prominent during matchmaking. In Indian culture, aesthetics and beauty are said to be the jurisdiction of women, whereas work and wages tend to define men-or as the adage goes “udyōgam puruśa lakśańam”. My mother remembers when she had to stand up for one of my aunts during matchmaking negotiations when the groom’s parents demanded more dowry to compensate for my aunt’s dark skin. Even today when brides are in demand from decades of a skewed sex ratio, dark-skinned women fare poorly in the Indian marriage market; a cursory glance at any matrimonial ad using the search term ‘fair’ can substantiate this.
Essentially, every non-Hindustani Indian has a difficult time in India. They can find themselves obligated to learn more languages than their Hindustani counterparts, unable to take exams in their mother tongue or face difficulties accessing state services. None more so than the Northeast Indians. Lacklustre investment in their states has meant that youngsters move seeking greener pastures elsewhere in India. It is incredibly heart-breaking to hear the harrowing tales of men and women being treated so harshly, often disproportionately subject to molestation and harassment and called racist slurs within their own country. Government funding towards languages and other infrastructure is skewed in favour of Hindi, and even Sanskrit. This has resulted in several languages and tribal identities in India facing extinction, especially in the South and the Northeast. Northeast Indians, compared to their South Indian counterparts, have poorer representation in Indian media.
We have a long way to go to become a country where we learn to accept all cultures, religions and habits. after all, the first step in solving a problem is realizing that there is one. If Indians do not collectively admit that we have a problem with racism, we’re going to be in serious trouble. We have several ethnicities in India. This simple fact seems to be lost in the hullabaloo about religion in the mainstream. Media is not a passive entertainment industry. It is a projection of culture and aspiration for many. It directly affects our choices, preferences, tastes, fashion, trends and even politics. Young Indians, especially girls, consuming this diet of cultural crap from media and society will mean that a generation of Indians will emerge with serious physical and mental issues. An unregulated industry of face whitening products often containing dangerous carcinogens like hydroquinone makes medical risks very real. What makes this even more remarkable is the warm reception that dark-skinned people of South Asian heritage have received elsewhere in the world- Kunal Nair, Romesh Ranganathan, George Alagiah, Naga Muchetty, Aziz Ansari and the list goes on. Thus, the Black Lives Matter Movement should be wake up call for India.
‘Let us make it our purpose to listen deeply to those who suffer racism so that we may better comprehend what it is, how they feel and how we can build the society they need. It is wrong to become defensive, and right to open our hearts all the wider, to love and acknowledge that all are fully sacred. We are called to love, and the more we love each other the better our world will become.’