Former BJP MP Tarun Vijay has been asking people on his Twitter timeline to watch his interview carefully and listen again before labelling him a racist. I, a “black south Indian” woman, who would like to be described as a dusky Tamilian rather, have watched your video 10 times already, sir.
"If we were racist, then why would have all the entire south which is complete... you know... Tamil, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra.... Why do we live with them? We have blacks, black people all around us. You're denying your own nation, you're denying your ancestry, that's very bad. I think we can be as good or as bad as any other human community." That is what you have said. There is no ambiguity in it.
As a dusky Tamil woman watching Tarun Vijay utter these words, I felt disgusted. Too many childhood memories surfaced as I watched the minister pause before saying the word 'black' referring specifically to 'all South Indians'.
The one distinct recall is from school, when as a 6-year old, a teacher asked me to take the back row during a dance performance. Two girls from the front row laughed. And one even asked, "Teacher, is she behind because she is black and should not be in the centre of our dance?" The teacher just silently moved on to arrange all the other six-year-olds. So began my journey of attacks on my skin, and my learning to live with it silently. I have often observed racial remarks being passed casually, as jokes.
But today when I heard it from a former Rajya Sabha MP and realised this was the mentality of a person who has held a position in which he is responsible to his people, including me, to keep our best interests at heart while performing his duties, I could not keep silent anymore.
How can it not be racist, when clearly there is discrimination? Discrimination that I, and others like me, face all the time. In a land where the most successful cosmetic is a product that promises ‘elusive’ fairness and therefore loveliness, where movies mostly have a distinctly white-washed lead cast, except for some superstars and many villains and their lowly sidekicks, the discrimination is quite evident. The leading ladies are invariably ‘fair and lovely’, as society expects them to be — an example of that clearly evident in matrimonial ads, which showcase ‘fair-skinned girl’ as a selling point in the marriage market. How then can the former MP’s remark not be considered racist?
Having hit the headlines over the remarks he made in a Skype interview to an international news channel about the attack on Nigerians in Noida, Tarun Vijay issued a clarification. His remarks may have been merely bad ad lib, but he didn’t help things by invoking Lord Krishna to salvage his image.
"Yes, it sounds ridiculous and very bad. I meant we worship Krishna, which literally means black. And we have never had any racism," Vijay said.
Vijay is now spending a lot of time on social media, replying, tweeting and clarifying his stance to each and every person he may have offended. Add to that, he has been retweeting old pictures and statements of his in an effort to prove that he has done a lot of good work for the community, or to use his phrase, “blacks of South India”.
In fact, one Twitter user sought to remind people how, as a North Indian, Tarun Vijay had contributed to the spread of ancient Tamil literary great Thiruvalluvar's legacy. Many would recollect how school children and teachers from Tamil Nadu were invited in 2015 to recite verses of the Thirukural in Parliament, thanks to Tarun Vijay's efforts.
But does that make up for his stereotyping of the people of a region of the country in discriminatory language? Isn’t this the same kind of treatment a whole lot of us accord to people who have an epicanthic fold on their upper eyelids and call them using the derogatory term 'chinkis' because they belong to the north-east?