The Assault on Tanzanian Girl and our Colour Bias

Different accounts are being narrated by parties either involved in or investigating into the recent case of alleged stripping of a Tanzanian lady by an irate mob in Bengaluru following a road accident. The truth will eventually come out and the law will no doubt take its own long and wandering course, if it does not lose or is made to lose its way in the dreary desert sand of the system at the end of which the culprits may or may not get any punishment. What the outcome of the probe will be only future will tell. However, the alleged racial hatred displayed by the perpetrators of the crime, even though it is being vigorously denied, is a serious matter that deserves a dispassionate examination.
Over two decades ago an article in one of the issues of The Junior Statesman – a wonderful publication which, unfortunately, did not run for long – had concluded after surveying the matrimonial pages of national daily that Indians were a bunch of unabashedly racial and colour conscious people when it came to finding partners in marriage for their offspring. The situation remains unchanged today as can be verified from the matrimonial columns of any Indian daily. We are still looking for fair complexioned brides! And what’s “fair complexion” for us is just a shade lighter than and African’s skin colour, which we hate so much.
The four years that we spent in the capital of one of the East African countries, gave us a good opportunity to closely observe the people there. It struck us that their civic sense was way better than those of our compatriots. During those four years not once did I see any one urinating on the roadside, leave alone defecating in the open. It is shocking when I contrast this African experience with the daily scene of men easing themselves throughout the day alongside the boundary wall of a roadside triangular park in one of the busiest localities of Delhi, oblivious not only of the traffic passing by but also of the obscenity of their activity.
The motorists there also struck me by their civility at least in one respect. During those days, the traffic lights were not always functional. Yet, cars and other vehicles would come to a halt whenever pedestrians would step on the Zebra Crossing on the main city road near two busy market places. We all have the experience that it is luck and not the motorists’ respect for the black and white strips that helps us land safely on the other side of the termac on a busy road in any Indian city even with functioning traffic lights.
True, some of the African expatriates in India are in illegal business, including drug peddling. Some of them are serving sentences as well. Many Punjabis (or Bengalis or Tamils and so on) are apprehended every day for various crimes including the most heinous ones. Will it be proper to brand these communities as a whole as criminals? By the same logic, the Bengaluru incident, although it is most appalling and shameful, is no doubt an isolated occurrence that need not be generalised.
At the same time, we must not try to deceive ourselves by denying that the word Kala in the context of dark-skinned people is used by us to hurt them and not as the mere Hindi equivalent of ‘black’. Merely 70 years ago our British colonial masters used the same word to express their hatred against Indians and, therefore, we should be the last persons to use it to denigrate anyone else. Yet, it is sadly true that those who have walked Delhi streets in company of black friends know how the words Haabshee and Kala are hurled at these guests! The intent behind using this word is to hit at the person’s dignity and self-respect as a human being.
Saints and bards of this country have always placed humanity above everything else. Our people are known for their hospitality. It is a matter of shame for us that any one, least of all a foreigner, would feel unwelcome here because of his or her skin colour. This is nothing but a symptom of the same mental sickness which makes some of us call our fellow countrymen from the North East “chinks” and any one from the south of the Vindhyas, “Madrasis”. Like many other problems of ingrained mindsets and social stereotypes, this ailment can only be cured if what our children are taught in their books are also practised by the teachers in the schools and by their parents and elders at home. Since only a miniscule portion of the population is afflicted by the disease, with sincere efforts it can perhaps be cured before it becomes a source of national embarrassment.
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