Is not India casteist, racist?
A reflection on article: ‘Indians racists to the core’
of Aakar Patel below
CCV wrote several editorials, expressing the view that we Indians are racists and casteists, with many compelling instances. Still the external affairs minister and Government officials keep on repeating “We are not racists, we are not racists” a thousand times. Will a lie repeated thousand times become true? That was the nasty advertising technique used by the Nazi propaganda minister Goebbel. His assumption was: “throw mud a hundred times at a clean wall, something is sure to stick.”
We hate to think that Indian government is slave to such a technique. An unthinking crowd has many heads but no one mind but a close-knit thinking community has not only many heads but also one mind, an enlightened and noble one. That should be the outstanding trait or our government.
It is easy to play to the gallery, to fool the unthinking public but extremely difficult to educate a dull child, and our general public is a dull child. This public is the target of Advertisers, profit-driven business, the manipulators out to make a fast buck in the cut-throat competitive market. These manipulators include the white racial supremists, the four-fold caste lords starting from the top Brahmins ending with Sudras who have no one to lord it over; the fighting world religions – Christians flaunting their cross, Muslims their Jihad, the Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and all other religions flaunting what suits best to win the battle on hand (election and power) at any cost.
For Christians, the Cross is not to be a tool to crucify others, but an instrument to prune one’s own unruly beastly cravings. Even so Jihad for Muslims is not an exercise to terrorise infidels, but a means to domesticate oneself. That is theory. What about crusades of old and Jihadists of today in the forefront of most terror strikes?
See how many times the same “stupid statement” (ads to sell) is repeated during a news broadcast or a serial, which makes thinking sections go crazy. They stop seeing such serials, not to waste their precious time. In the US now many resort to a technique to prune off all such nauseating ads and see only the story or the report. So we the citizens in society or faithful in Churches should react as a community who think alike and not like a crowd running helter-skelter.
For umpteen proof of our racist, casteist, divisive, prejudiced, discriminatory mindset it is enough to recount some of the outstanding traits of our society. 1.We are a crowd driven by a ‘fair and lovely” consumer society; 2. Our matrimonial ads cry out our racist, casteist, communal, religious cravings; 3. In elections we vote for our caste, class, community, Creed; 4.Our social behaviour towards the last, least, lost, marginalised, deprived and suffering lazaruses aroud us is discriminatory and divisive, 5. Our religious beliefs and practices are dictated by an antiquated Vedic Varna system of dos and don’ts. In all these we are led by what makes us feel good, not be good, led by ‘alt-truth or post-truth’ not real truth, led by our feelings, worldly gains, not by our brain, our noble vision and considered convictions about unity, universality, equality, freedom, inclusiveness and interdependence.
It does not mean, all cited traits are clean proofs of racism or casteism. They are all near allied to them. Nothing happens until it happens to you. Some have said that we have to be immensely indebted to the African nation because we sent a Gandhi to that great country and they returned him to us a Mahatma. The writer of this piece has to confess, he is not free from all traits of racism or casteism. It takes a herculean effort not to exhibit them in word and deed, especially in body language. Wished often, this know-nothing could joyfully comfort a leper with a loving hug and kiss imitating a Fr.Damian of Molocco or a Mother Teresa as a matter of routine behaviour, but never could do it.
For that we have to cultivate in us a Francis of Assisi. Seeing a criminal led to be hanged or life imprisonment he is reported to have said: “There goes Francis but for the grace of God.” Why go that far to the 14th century memory lane of history, we have some one who has taken his name and lives his life, Pope Francis. How many times has he said and repeated: “I am a sinner!” It takes a saint to say that openly and in public. Did anyone hear such a statement from any Pope in history? Any cardinal or bishops living? It takes an awful lot of utter humility. Humility is truth. Without humility there can never be any service, no ‘foot-washing ministry’ at all either in society or in churches.
Still if there is any leader, in Church and society, who can dare say: “I am not racist, India is not racist” we should readily confer upon him/her the encomium: “Tainted nature’s Solitary boast.” That was said by Wordsworth about Mary the mother of Jesus. For the sake of befriending our much maligned, discriminated and criminalised African brothers we suggest that our highly placed political pundits and priestly power-wielders in all religions reflect these thoughts before they publicly proclaim: “We Indians are neither racists nor casteists”. dr. james kottoor, ccv-editor).
Read below Aakar Patel’s critique of the same.
Indians racists to the core
In India, we observe that the colour of skin changes as we travel from the north to the south.
Why are some humans light of skin and others dark? The answer is that evolution has given us the best possible tools for our surroundings. Those of us who live in hot climates evolved to have more sweat glands and less body hair so we could cool down faster. The hair on the head became curled rather than long for the same reason: that it covered less area and ensured faster cooling of the skin.
This greater exposure to the sun meant the skin needed some form of protection against ultraviolet rays which cause cancer. This protection came from the brown pigment melanin which all of us have in different quantities. Melanin is a natural sunscreen and those in the warmest climates evolved to develop high quantities of it, making their skin permanently dark. This explains why some of us who live in hotter places are darker than others.
So why did some of us become fair? The answer is that the body requires some amount of ultraviolet rays to penetrate the skin so it can use vitamin D to absorb calcium for the bones. In those parts where there was not much sunlight, like the North, we humans developed lighter skin so that whatever sunlight was available was absorbed efficiently.
And so geography more than anything else determined skin colour and we developed races. In India, we observe that the colour of skin changes as we travel from the north to the south. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s Tarun Vijay made a similar point more clumsily this week. He said Indians were not racist because “if we were racist, why would we live with the entire south”. He awkwardly named four southern states and added: “we have black people around us.” He was responding to reports that Africans had been attacked in India and that their race was a factor in this violence against them.
Mr Vijay was challenging the claim that racism was involved but after his statement he has been forced to defend himself against the same claim. I found it interesting that the ambassadors from Africa issued a strong statement collectively. They reviewed previous incidents of attacks on Africans and “concluded that no known, sufficient and visible deterring measures were taken by the Government of India”. They felt that “these reprehensible events were not sufficiently condemned by the Indian authorities. The meeting unanimously agreed that those accumulated attacks against Africans are xenophobic and racial in nature.”
This is a very serious accusation. The Indian government acted like Mr Vijay and offered this clumsy statement that a criminal act had wrongly been called xenophobic and racist. The foreign ministry said that “strong Indian institutions are adequate to deal with aberrations that represent act of a few criminals.” This is a lie.
India’s institutions cannot even protect Indians against mob attacks, how will they protect foreigners? But how true is the allegation by the African ambassadors? About 25 years ago, a magazine in India performed a stunt. This was before the time of sting operations so there was no video, only photographs and the reporter’s account. The magazine separately took two foreigners, one white and one black, to break the queue at some place that had a long line. I think it was a railway station ticket counter. When the black individual tried to break the queue and approached the counter, the people in the line stopped him by shouting at him rudely. When the white man did it the same people allowed him to do so. The magazine concluded that there was a difference in the way Indians viewed the two individuals.
Ultimately I cannot say whether or not Indians are racist or in the absence of data. I can claim I am not racist. That is a sample size of one which is not scientific. However, if I were an African in Delhi or Bengaluru, I would be able to make a conclusion on the basis of how hundreds of Indians have interacted with me. To know whether many Indians are racist and react negatively to the colour of a human’s skin we should ask Africans in India what their experience has been.
I suspect most of us know the answer to that. One of my colleagues at Amnesty International worked in Delhi for a few years for another organisation. She is an African but her skin and facial features are not very dissimilar to an Indian’s. She said that she was able to pass off as an Indian on the street quite easily. However, with time, she said, she began wearing African clothes and wore her hair (which was frizzy) loose. She did this because she did not want to hide her identity in a country whose citizens saw people through the prism of race.
Aakar Patel is Executive Director of Amnesty International India. A former editor, Patel is a senior columnist and a translator of Urdu and Gujarati works.