Idiocy is anything but racist. It affects people of all colours and races equally, and sometimes with such ridiculous outcomes that one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
The fact that most attacks on African students in India are racially-motivated is a given. It’s also an indisputable fact that denial is not just a river in Egypt but an unrealistically idealistic state (sometimes also called Cuckooland) that many of our political leaders inhabit, at least officially. And yet, over the years, both facts have been disputed with such vehemence by the aforementioned leaders that I had begun to wonder if I was wrong. But I need wonder no more.
BJP leader Tarun Vijay, president of the India-Africa Parliamentary Friendship Group, went on TV last week to talk about the most recent attacks on African students in India and to deny the fact that they were triggered by racist sentiments. Even the allegation of racism was “vicious,” for two reasons, he said. One, because we Indians worship the “black God Krishna”; two, because we live with “all the entire South, you know, Kerala, Tamil, Andhra, Karnataka, why do we live with them? We have blacks...black people around us.”
Once your blood pressure has normalized, you should presume that Vijay sees the “white” North Indians as the real inhabitants of India, as the core of the country who happen to have around them “black” elements from the South. And if the North-Indian Vijay’s comments aren’t tragicomic enough, there’s DMK leader TKS Elangovan’s response. The South Indian leader quickly shot off that he found Vijay’s comments “funny” because “not all people in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are black”. He added, with a total lack of irony: “Our leader Dr Kalaignar (Karunanidhi) is fair, Jayalalithaa was fair.”
While I’d like to not tear my hair out in frustration and to attribute both leaders‘ comments to poor communication skills, I can’t. Because, as we all know, they’re just saying in public what most Indians do in private. Appearance is a big parameter on which we judge everyone else. Here in India, we judge every person we encounter by the way he or she looks: too fat/too dark/too made up/ too slutty/too sickly. (There’s no “too fair”, in case you were waiting). I’ve sat in restaurants with friends in Paris and noticed how no one comments on or even notices how anyone else looks. A colleague who moved from Delhi to Berlin said she felt invisible there for the first six months because while she was busy checking out and judging everyone she encountered, no one even threw a glance her way.
That’s not to say we are the only racist nation in the world. Certainly not, we have plenty of company across the globe. But there’s an acknowledged awareness of the problem in those places. While we work on building awareness here in India, there’s one other thing we can do. A child will play with anyone, regardless of race, until an adult tells them not to. We Indians have to stop saying no. Done properly, black will become just another colour in the Camlin box.