Yes, we are extraordinarily colour-conscious people. It’s time we come to terms with this and change attitudes
How can Indians be racist? This might be a logical question. After all, even the fairest of them have a tinge of brown. But Indian attitudes to those from other communities, with the notable exception of the Arabs and Europeans, are not just borderline racist but downright despicable at times. It may not be correct to tar all Indians with the broad brush of being biased but even if you go to the homes of the well-heeled and highly educated, pejorative terms like Habshi, Chinki, Kallu and other colourful casteist and racist slurs are still used to describe others, including friends. While most people have become careful enough — thanks to the enactment of strict laws and the proliferation of mobile phones — to not use such terms in the public discourse, many from the North-east and visitors from Africa continue to suffer on a regular basis. India’s obsession with the fair skin despite a Hindu revivalist culture of the mid-1800s that celebrated darker skin tones is evident in the way we promote fairness creams and bleaches to this day.
So should we be surprised that West Indian cricketer Darren Sammy is shocked that the term Kallu used by his Indian teammates in Sunrisers Hyderabad was an inappropriate one? Not at all. This is because we Indians lack cultural sensitivity or awareness towards those of other races. This is not to say that we cannot adapt. The Indian community has been trading to and from Africa for centuries — from the far Western shores to the nearer horn of Africa. That said, cultural assimilation, from cross-marriage to religious affinities, has been minimal, unlike say the Arab traders. Even in the US, while several high-profile people of Indian origin, such as Senator Kamala Harris, are great examples of blending, many Indians tend to live in relatively insular communities, which one could consider ghettos. Is there a way to change this? Yes and an easy one. Children need to be taught at schools about respecting other cultures and people at an early age. Studies have shown that racism is often internalised at a very young age. For example, the way adults treat a darker-skinned baby must be the same as the way they treat a lighter-skinned one. If India aspires to be a global power, we have to change the way we think. In fact, it is possible to argue that race is a bigger problem in India than it is in the US. We have to change and the first step towards this is to admit to ourselves that we are all indeed quite biased.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)