By: Sharanya Ramesh
Racism. It’s a very strong word. A word that is usually associated to the apartheid regime in Africa, or the treatment of native Americans in America. The colloquial word for a black person of African origin is ‘habshi’, an term as offensive as the American ‘nigger’, both terms derived from the days of the slave trade.What people do not see, or what has been overlooked, is that racism is present right here, in our country, India. Let me first define Racism for you. Racism in many texts have been defined as “the prejudice that members of one race are intrinsically superior to members of other races in terms of color, culture and other factors” India as a race has always been racist, whether it come to “wanting a fair wife” in matrimonial advertisements, to being considered “south Indian” just because you are dark skinned or the opposite for a north Indian.
Let us first take the attacks on Indians in Australia. Once again India is caught up in the midst of a racist storm. A while ago, the Big Brother controversy launched Shilpa Shetty as an international anti-racism icon from India. This is entirely appropriate as Indians are arguably the biggest targets of racism in the world. And they are targeted not just by unlettered British or Australian thugs but, first and foremost, by their own compatriots. It’s because we are so racist ourselves that we are so quick to react to a racist slur: it takes a racist to catch a racist. And our racism is colour-coded in black-and-white terms: white is intrinsically superior and desirable; black is inferior and undesirable.
Why is being dark, considered to be a negative thing? Is it a throwback to the supposed superiority of ‘white’ Aryans vis-a-vis the ‘non-white’ original inhabitants of the subcontinent? Is it the result of 250 years of white rule under the British? Is a pale skin, as against a deep tan, a testimonial to social rank, segregating those who don’t have to toil under the sun from those who do? Is it a mixture of all of these factors?
Racism in India however does not stick only to the differences in color. The caste system is India’s unique contribution to the racial discrimination ladder. After all, as only too many horror stories testify, the average rural Dalit fares worse on the human-rights scale than her ‘kafir’ counterpart in the worst days of South African apartheid.
Caste apart, real or imagined ethnic traits compound our racism. People from the north-east are said to have ‘Chinky’ eyes and are routinely asked if they eat dogs. Even in so-called ‘mainstream’ India we sub-divide ourselves with specific terms: ‘Panjus’, whose only culture is agriculture; stingy ‘Marrus’; ‘Gujjus’ who eat only food stuffs dripping in sugar for every meal; lazy, shiftless ‘Bongs’; ‘Madrasis’, who all live south of the belong to one state and speak a funny ‘Illay-po’ language. In minds these terms are ingrained as well, as facts of day to day life.
India as a race is racist, whether we want to accept it or not. The fact is, we have been for a very long time, and most of us, don’t know how to be otherwise. We have accustomed ourselves into little tiny boxes with perfectly labeled names and skin color and caste systems. We just never really learn to look at what’s inside that box. Because if we did, you would see a country with a lot more that just labeled terms of people who consider themselves superior just because they were born with a different skin colour or a caste background. But the truth is we don’t, probably never will. India is racist, not only to those who enter our country but to those who live here, right next to you and me. No wonder we can’t stand racism. It reminds us almost uncomfortably of the face we see in our own mirror.