Black Lives Matter Should be a Wake-up Call and an Urgent Lesson for India
Most Indians are just blind to the racism in their own nation.
It’s time we stop pretending there’s no racism in India.
Over the past few weeks, as the death of George Floyd became a symbol of protest against racism in the US, I watched with amazement how it gradually and so prominently transformed into a global phenomenon.
Even though I don’t support looting and rioting and I don’t believe it can be a way to bring justice, but seeing the US democracy still fighting and moving forward, however imperfectly, has inspirited me.
But when it comes to us Indians, racism has mostly been a one-way street. What I mean to say is, we Indians think that we can be the victims of racism but never the perpetrators.
We are pretty quick in recognizing racism when it happens to us, but when it’s the other way round — when an Indian mob viciously attacks a group of Nigerians, or when we casually throw vivid accusations of cannibalism at Africans, then we don’t sense racism anywhere. No one sees a “hate crime” happening.
We spend a great deal of energy in denying that racism exists in India, or in recognizing that it may exist, stressing that it is not as bad as the other countries.
But the truth is, racism and cultural discrimination is ingrained in Indian society. There is a multitude of problems that African nationals face in India, apart from their portrayal as criminals or drug-peddlers.
Even when we look at racism in a purely Indian context, there are many incidents of racism against people with ‘Mongoloid’ features in general and North East in particular.
Colorism in India
How can we not apprehend the predominant existence of colorism in India?
Aren’t we all familiar with the prejudice that a girl with a dark skin color is not worthy enough to be married? — This idea is a part of everyday discourse in every Indian household.
Indian society thinks that a person’s worth is determined by their skin color. Fair skin is like a deep-rooted obsession.
And I’m not saying this — the large capitalistic gains of the skin lightening industry is the proof itself that colorism is widespread in India and it is practiced absolutely openly across the whole country.
As a result, women who do not meet up with the standards of fair skin suffer from low self esteem. We can’t deny the blatant repercussions that the glorification of fair skin has in the world of matrimony. This fair skin preference has also led to South Indians often being mocked for their darker skin tone.
And it doesn’t end there. The superficial beauty standards result in people from the northeast being ridiculed as Nepali or Chinese.
The most recent example would be people calling northeast Indians as “Corona” since the coronavirus pandemic originated from China’s Wuhan city.
Casteism in India
If you have Indian nationality then caste follows you like a shadow. Even today, the shocking realities of caste system in India still surprise me.
Living in urban cities, many of us do not realize the extent to which casteism is present in rural Indian society. Violence related to caste still takes place all across our nation. Even in metro cities, casteism has its ugly presence, maybe in less obvious ways.
Menial jobs like cleaning toilets, manual scavenging, skinning dead animals and performing last rites for the dead are performed exclusively by people from the lower castes.
There’s no denying that racism is deeply embedded in the Indian psyche, aided and abetted by centuries of beliefs.
Yet we hardly ever talk about this. We hardly ever confront it. We deny vehemently that we are racist. It is so ingrained that we no longer see it. When we do see it, we are confused by it.
The Black Lives Matter movement in the US is a great opportunity for India to look inwards upon its own shameful past and present.
So, before lending our voice to this movement against racism, we must recognize our own biases. We must question our own privilege.
We have a long way to go to. It is a very long and undeniably difficult journey. But I know that if we try, we can make a difference for the future of our nation.