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Common prejudices

Publication Date : 28-01-2014

 

It seems linked to their long history of caste-based discrimination, or it could even be a stand-alone feature in their psychosocial makeup. Ordinary Indians are capable of being utterly racist. Even more than with foreigners, chiefly the black Africans, they can be racially, religiously, geographically intolerant of each other.

The housewife in Delhi’s multiracial Khirki locality, who betrayed her easy, innate racism by accusing its African residents of spoiling the neighbourhood by running out naked during an earthquake, was equally certain that it was “bad enough” when the Biharis lived there. But, the Africans replacing them brought no respite.

Many a political movement has been launched across India by leaning on discrimination and profiling of Indians by fellow Indians. The Maratha supremacist Shiv Sena, for example, campaigned to throw out the Biharis from Mumbai. Earlier, it had targeted migrants from southern India. Maharashtra’s Dalits have been perpetually at the receiving end of Shiv Sena’s bilious politics.

Elsewhere, Brahmins were targeted in Tamil Nadu and then forced to run for their lives from Kashmir, leading to their mass exodus from India’s southern most and northern most states.

In a similar vein it was eerily easy for a chief minister to supervise a pogrom of a community his followers despised and then to put on a mock atonement by likening the massacre to a puppy that came under the wheels of his car. When another minority community was profiled in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination thousands were lynched in Delhi. The prime minister of the day got away with a facile explanation. When a big tree falls, the ground does shake, he told the mourners politely.

Elsewhere in India, students from the northeastern states get frequently beaten up and sexually harassed too at the Delhi University. Newspapers and TV channels berating or endorsing the outrageous racism of an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) minister with African women in the Khirki colony recently, themselves earn revenue from ads vending skin creams that promise to give Indian men and women a coveted fairer complexion.

Cine couple Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar can be heard complaining how Muslims are denied the right to buy or rent accommodation in today’s Mumbai or in other similarly biased cities.

However, black Africans looking to rent a house lead the list of others who are equally disadvantaged in this quest. Very few black Africans are lucky to find a home in the better residential colonies of Delhi. There can be suspicions within one’s own race too.

For example, Punjabi landlords won’t easily give their houses to Punjabi tenants. The ultimate proof of India’s racial prejudice is of course the caste system.

Possibly the most vivid articulation of Indian racism occurred in South Africa where, barring those who joined the African National Congress or who became communists, the Indians were accorded a special chamber in the 1984 tricameral parliament, from which the black majority continued to remain barred. In other words, Indians joined the white supremacists in their continued discrimination of the black majority.

It goes to Nelson Mandela’s credit he stopped a vengeful blowback by the former victims of apartheid against racially inclined Indians. It is heartening of course that many Indians were at the forefront too of the fight against apartheid in South Africa, just as they were in Delhi’s Khirki colony the other day.

Arvind Kejriwal who heads a fragile AAP government in Delhi is made of the same common clay as his other fellow Indians. He spearheaded a reactionary campaign against quotas for lower castes in educational institutions before leading an anti-corruption drive that catapulted him into the big political race ahead.

The guilt of racism and of social discrimination in different spheres should thus be equally distributed among India’s main bourgeois parties. I would give the left grace marks here, though some among them tend to see the angry and alienated tribals of Chhattisgarh as a bigger foe than the prospects of religious fascism engulfing India.

What works for Kejriwal in this period of uncertainty over his better-established rivals is his forthright declaration of clear policies on several fronts. The most vital in my view is AAP’s assault on the nexus between the big businesses and their political clients.

The party is thus the only political group to have dared to name Mukesh Ambani’s links with Narendra Modi. Kejriwal is also the only politician who has named Gautam Adani as an alleged illegal beneficiary from Gujarat’s massive largesse of development funds. In fact, according to Kejriwal, the Congress too benefited from Gujarat’s dole of murky deals.

What also works for Kejriwal despite his apparently regressive past, is that he has stalled foreign direct investments in multi-brand retail trade in Delhi. It is the ubiquitous common man that stands to benefit from this ‘populist anarchy’, which the Indian president slammed in his Republic Day speech. During the Commonwealth Games, when the Congress government had thoughtlessly evicted all fruit and vegetable vendors from the streets, it was AAP lawyer Prashant Bhushan who won them a reprieve from India’s Supreme Court.

What works for Kejriwal is his plan to take on the Congress in Haryana and the Bharatiya Janata Party in its lair in Gujarat. The AAP is due to release its economic worldview when we can verify its political appeal. In the meantime, it is understandable that Delhi’s African residents and the city’s sexual and social minorities are feeling uneasy about the future. Their best bet is to befriend and educate the common man who, according to history, is a great ally and a mean foe to have.

 

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