India certainly doesn’t want to let go of the image that it is the land of the Mahatma and the Buddha, and that we Indians are miles away from any sort violence. That’s what was reiterated by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj recently, when she condemned the fatal attack on Africans, calling it criminal and ‘anti-social’, but never racist. Evidently, she lives in denial about India’s afro-phobia.
Or maybe the minister is right. We are not racists. We Indians are casteists, stateists, regionalists, provincialist at our worst. We are all of these, but never racists. The guys from the north-east are abused and killed, and their girls molested in our capital city just because they are considered easy prey from some ‘vague’ part of India. What about slurs made on people from Southern India because their language ‘sounds funny’ and their skin colour is darker than us? Hindi-speaking people are not spared either. They are detested in several parts of India because of certain preconceived notions of behaviour.
Last month, an African national, Masonda Ketada Olivier was killed in Delhi over an altercation that started over hiring an auto-rickshaw. Following the argument, a group of men attacked Olivier, and as he tried to escape, they chased him for around 20 metres and beat him up with stones and bricks. Delhi deputy police commissioner, Ishwar Singh, stated that there was “no element of racism” in last week’s attacks when six Africans were beaten in southern part of Delhi.
Protesting the attacks, a group of African ambassadors warned that they would recommend their governments to not send students to India until conditions improve. In a desperate attempt to save the face of India, Swaraj told the African delegation that “India is the land of Gandhi and Buddha. Gandhi himself championed the cause of fighting against this evil. We can never have a racist mindset…”
The minister, like a protective mother, invoked the Gandhian ideology to drive home the point that we deal in peace. Gandhi’s Satyagraha, after all, have its roots in South Africa.
Swaraj has turned a blind eye to the many racist attacks that had happened in the past. In 2013, a Nigerian national was killed by a mob in Goa, with a state minister later calling Nigerians a “cancer”. Delhi’s former law minister was also accused in 2014 of harassing African women after he led a vigilante mob through an area of the capital, accusing them of being prostitutes. Earlier this year, a mob attacked a 21-year-old woman as she drove with friends in Karnataka, beating her, tearing off her shirt and setting the car ablaze.
We need not be hypocritical about our shameful attitudes but accept the flaws and work on ways to assimilate each Indian into a greater collective, regardless of our region, looks, speech, or skin colour. But before that, let us atleast not deny that we are indeed racists.