Every time an Indian is a victim of racial attack abroad, in Australia or England or the US, for example, even if the case closely resembles one of random mugging, we as a people go ballistic, as if we are paragons of tolerance, and have been seriously wronged by xenophobes of lesser civilizations. But our own racism against those who look different from us – whether from Africa or from North-Eastern states of our own country, rarely strikes us as ironic.
Can there be a greater testimony for our racism than the fact that that for the sin of drunken driving of a Sudanese driver leading to a death, we would pick up persons from Tanzania and rough them up? And yet, we have the temerity to be most highly offended when in the US, Canada or UK, a Sikh is bashed up for his “Islam-like” turban and beard. Can there be a bigger irony than the fact that as a nation of 200-300 million strong, we were willing to accept four centuries of plunder, loot and murder under the yoke of the whites; but we will not suffer a stray accident by a black?
Not that beating up another Sudanese rather than a Tanzanian would have been any more justifiable, even if we are a country where the citizens of one state would routinely beat up the local residents belonging to the neighbouring state just because the chief minister of the neighbouring state did not release the river waters in a particular season.
True, it is par for the course in our country to lynch the driver of the larger vehicle involved in an accident, especially if there has been a fatality, whether or not the driver is at fault. And it is this acceptance that leads the Home Minister of Karnataka pronouncing the following pearls of wisdom:
“If the Sudanese national had not mowed down the woman, all these unfortunate incidents would not have happened at all.”
What droll and perceptive words! The words of the worthy Home Minister seem to suggest:
- That the accident in which the Sudanese was involved (driving a humble Wagon R, unlike a macho SUV with which our VIPs and VVIPs routinely mow down sleepers on the streets) is an ‘understandable’ reason for a mob to brutalize an entirely unrelated individual from the same continent.
- That the Sudanese should have known that his accident would lead to such ‘unfortunate incidents’ and hence should have taken particular care to avert the accident (which is not the same thing as saying, careful driving averts road-fatalities)
- That crowds will be crowds and the State machinery can do very little about it.
- That Bangalore traffic is so exemplary that accidents ought not to happen; and if they do, they ought not to result in any fatality; never mind that the roads with their potholes, open manholes, or raised manhole-covers or 18-inch speed-breakers can cause people to die in thousands on the roads.
And yes, the good minister also wants us to draw consolation from the fact that the Tanzanian lady was not stripped. The crowd only tore her T-shirt.
But who are ‘we, the people’, in reality? Are we those who see the absurdity of the situation, or those who feel superior to people who look different from us, especially if they are darker of skin, or have eyes and noses that look different from ours?
Again, it may be there are pockets in India where education has made little inroads and such behavior by the population there is more to be pitied than blamed. But here in Namma Bangalore? Innately, Kannadigas are not a violent people. Not by far shot. Nor is Bangalore an outlying outpost of civilization, or a settlement in the heart of the Amazonian jungle. It is supposedly among the most cosmopolitan cities in the country.
And that is precisely what is distressing, because, there is absolutely no reason other than racism for such episodes, whether they involve the happy-go-lucky Africans or the warm and gentle people of North-Eastern states. We need real education of a larger level of tolerance and understanding, especially when we comprise the largest diaspora in most parts of the world. The country in general, and Karnataka in particularly, needs to grow up.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.
This article first appeared in Times of India.