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Yes. Attack on Tanzanian was not racist, but casteist

Mukesh Adhikary
Mukesh AdhikaryFeb 04, 2016 | 18:16

Yes. Attack on Tanzanian was not racist, but casteist

Just as the country was in the middle of a debate over cultural appropriation in Coldplay’s new music video shot in India, a horrifying attack on African nationals forced the nation to look inwards. The problem with the music video, Indians said, was that it used a western prism to exoticise the country.

Indians, instead, prefer that the West look at India as an advanced country and count them as equals. Unfortunately, this desire suffers a setback every time an incident occurs that exposes the evils of Indian society.

The stripping and parading of the 21-year old girl in Bangalore, known to the world as India’s Silicon Valley, has drawn criticisms over racism in India.

Similar incidents have taken place in the past when African nationals have been victims to angry mobs in India’s top cities. Three African students were brutally beaten up in a metro station in New Delhi in 2014 after they had confronted some people who were jeering and clicking their pictures. A video that went viral later showed how cops present on the spot had allowed the incident to carry on. The infamous midnight raid by a Delhi minister on African women’s house had also triggered a debate on how Indians treat Africans.

Indian-on-black racism

The world is familiar with the white-on-black racism, or its reverse, but the Indian-on-black prejudice still does not find global spotlight. This form of racism lifts attributes from caste-related violence that has dogged the country over centuries. Even in this latest case, the nature of attack on the Tanzanian woman is not different from the violence meted out to Dalit women in the country.

Here are some points that make this incident similar to caste-related violence:

1. Public humiliation – Public humiliation is at the centre of caste-related violence, especially when it comes to women. Stripping and parading of lower-caste women in public spaces have repeatedly occurred in many parts of India. The spectacle is aimed to create fear of public humiliation in the minds of the lower-caste.

One such incident occurred in 2014 when a Mahar family were killed in Maharashtra. The women of the family were allegedly paraded naked before being murdered.

2. Dehumanisation - Caste in case of Dalits and race in the case of racism dehumanises the victim. It is this dehumanisation that leads to "mob justice" unto these victims for they are no longer considered human. Anybody who comes to rescue a lower-caste person also gets attacked by the mob which is bent on "teaching the victim a lesson" through "collective punishment".

3. Abuse of government spaces – In many cases in the past, it has emerged, that police have refused to accept complaints from people of the lower caste. In a recent case, a Dalit family in a Karnataka village of Adaguru had held a sit-in protest outside the DCP’s office in October after police had refused to file a complain against higher-caste people of the village. As evident in the attack on the Tanzanian girl and her friends, Africans often receive similar treatment in India. The key reason for this is colour prejudice.

In caste-entrenched minds, an African is closer to dark-skinned Dalits and hence deserves the same treatment. Similar treatment is also meted out to other dark-skinned people and north-easterners who have Mongolian features.

Lack of awareness

Also, another less significant reason but something that needs to be discussed, is the ignorance among Indians about their own history and the country’s cultural links with Africans. According to historians, Africa’s ties with India date back to the 4th Century when many Africans came to India.

They went on to settle as traders, artists, rulers, architects and reformers between the 14th Century and 17th Century.

In fact, an art exhibition had taken place in the Indian capital last year to showcase the rich cultural ties between Indian and Africa.

Paintings from the 17th century which showed the rise in prominence of Africa in the western coast of India were exhibited during the event. Unfortunately, this great beginning was plagued by evils of the Indian society and we now have the result in front of our eyes.

Last updated: February 05, 2016 | 19:38
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