Andrew Symonds recently accused Harbhajan Singh of passing a Racist comment. An enquiry found Harbhajan guilty as accused. There was a lot of understandable indignation and anger in the Indian media, as the verdict may have been passed without solid evidence (if media reports are to be believed). India was also denied a victory at Sydney due to very poor umpiring and hence the chance to win a series on Australian soil for the first time. We all know that this team had the ability to win the series and I was devastated on the final day when we lost. I also believe that the judgment against Bhajji was unfair if the evidence was not solid. Being a fanatic fan of the Indian Test cricket team I was very upset and angry as well.
Additionally, in the media, there was a strong sentiment of our National pride being hurt. The argument being, “how can an Indian be accused of being racist, after all, we have suffered Racism for so many years so how can we ever be racist? We are from the land of Mahatma Gandhi and hence none of us can ever be racist”. This was the position that many eminent speakers on talk shows took with much drama and emotion. This emotion was only to be outdone by the “public” that applauded with gusto expressing their agreement.
The Aussie media and some of the so called “evolved” English press in India have responded to this by saying that India has a long history of the caste system and hence are as racist as any one else, so where does the question of National pride being hurt arise? According to me the caste system in India has more or less died in the urban professional India at least. No one has ever asked me what caste I am from and I have never seen or been in any discussion around caste. There may be a metro bias in this, but at least here I can see a change. The intelligentsia of India does not like the caste system, and hence it will die eventually as the free economy comes in fully. But most, including the intelligentsia, do not understand the true nature of racism in India.
I have myself suffered racism several times. I have a point of view on many things and am vocal and persuasive in my arguments, especially when I am in the company of people I consider friends. In such situations, I have often found “friends” referring to my Bihari lineage to make the point that some how my perspective is less valuable. How, I have seethed at famous the joke, “we will give you Kashmir if you take Bihar”. I have heard many stories of “Harry” students being openly ridiculed in Delhi University. Okay -this is my story– so you may not be able to relate to the emotions fully. Let me give you some more instances. Many South Indians in Delhi face racism of the worst type; the “Madrasi” is not man enough, they say, to handle the tough jobs. The ability to handle the tough calls are considered beyond the average Madrasi. North Indians are openly looked down upon in Madras – it is extremely difficult for an unmarried North Indian boy to find a house in Madras, as there is always a question over his moral character. UP Bhaiyyas in Mumbai...I can go on and on. I recently was in the company of some of India’s best-known bloggers and one of them made a comment that “dilliwaala” is an abuse in Bombay – and some how it seemed to amuse this very eminent group. I can assure you this group would have abhorred casteism but yet, found this comment quite funny. Begali's, Tam Brams, Malaylees, Sikhs, Punjabis, Sindhis and people from the North East States are some of the other communities that suffer riducle often in India simply becasue of where they come from. (Of course all in good humour!!). I know that who ever you are and from whichever part of the country you come from, you would have been in at least one situation in your life when you would have been judged (not positively) because of your native state. Do leave a comment on this post if this has not happened to you. It will make me very happy to know that I was wrong.
The point really is that while casteism exists only in a certain demographic group today, regional racism is still very much a part of even the urban modern professional Indian consciousness. The worst part is that this is not even recognized as racism. The argument being that it is done in a very harmless manner and people are only joking when they make comments about where you come from. I say, “Bullshit” - this is complete denial.
In my book you are being racist, if you judge some one negatively because of his race or where he comes from. Not just due to the colour of their skin. All racism, when it starts, starts as a joke. But then slowly it seeps into the thinking of kids as they grow up and then one day it divides society and becomes a menace. Till that point the society is always in denial. There are many examples of this in the modern world history. The worst ramification of racism was the ethnic cleansing of Jews in Hitler’s Germany. Even this started as a joke, then went on to cartoons in newspapers with Jews being depicted as having long noses and funny jokes being made about them. There were many Jews even who also laughed at these jokes being made by their friends – “because if friends are doing it its ok” right? Draw your own parallels.
I am not saying that the situation here is anything close to what it ever was for the Jews and will never be. We are a great nation and we manage our diversity quite well compared to the rest of the world. However, the least we can do is to concede that National pride should not be hurt if an Indian is accused of being Racist. Lets not be in such a large collective denial.