Are Indians inherently racists? This is an extremely uncomfortable question which is rarely asked and discussed in great depth. The recent mob attack on African nationals and the burning of their car after a traffic accident in Bangalore has brought to light this darkness within Indian society.
A look at examples of Indians' behaviour that could be classified as racism:
1. We are conscious of skin colour: This is the biggest thing that stares you in the face. Right from when we are very young, it is drilled into our minds that fair skin is a great virtue and dark skin is not.
Childhood rhymes point in that direction. Bollywood songs celebrate the "gori chori" (fair girl) with her "goriya kaliya" or "chittiya kalayia" (white wrists). Forget heroines, even most heroes are white.
Shah Rukh Khan may be "King Khan", but he can't resist appearing in fairness cream ads. Kajol was accepted as a dusky beauty, but she still had to go fair in the end. When a dark girl is born, how many times has an aunt/grandmother/female relative said that the girl won't get married because of her skin colour? Sickeningly, too many times!
This is an important point because outwardly, and at the first glance, "skin colour" and "features" are the two things that separate various races.
2. We discriminate against the Northeast: The second thing is "features". The amount of discrimination that people from the Northeast face is also astonishing. It is a wonder how people from that geographical region have taken it.
Attacks and abuses are common and the slur "chinki" was used with such regularity that there actually had to be a legal case made with a jail term for abusers! The "Jaante sab hai, par maante kitne hai?" ad from Kaun Banega Crorepati perfectly summed this up.
3. We treat those from the West and East differently: The dictionary defines xenophobia as "the fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange" or "dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries".
That is definitely not the case when it comes to our perception of the West. We had idolised the British and then the Americans. We also try to ape the West. However, when it comes to other countries, the behaviour strangely changes.
People from other countries are not treated so well and at the absolute bottom of the pyramid are those who come from Africa. Too many African nationals have horror stories out of India and the attackers or abusers always remain unrepentant.
In fact, BJP leader Giriraj Singh had even asked if Rajiv Gandhi's wife would have become a leader if the late former prime minister had married a Nigerian instead of the fair-skinned Sonia. While it was a shocking statement, it does represent the bias present in the Indian society.
Prominent journalist Tavleen Singh had made a similar point on a news channel.
4. Even cricketers are not spared: They say cricket unites us all. However racism has reared its ugly head among Indian cricket fans too. Who has sledged Indian cricketers the most?
The answer is, mainly white cricketers from Australia, England and South Africa. You could write a book on all the incidents that have taken place. However, who have Indian cricket fans attacked the most in stadia? The answer is, the West Indians! How do you explain that?
In 1967, at the Eden Gardens, the West Indian flag was burnt, its cricketers had to run for their lives and there was tear gas and lathi-charge within the stadium. In 2002, India won against the West Indies in an ODI on the Duckworth/Lewis method not after rain stopped play, but after crowd violence at Rajkot.
The crowd started throwing bottles at West Indian fielders when India was easily winning! They did it again in Jamshedpur. But the most shameful part was when a screw was thrown at a West Indian fielder a few years later.
Indian fans were ejected from the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai for making monkey gestures against an Australian. Yes you guessed it, he wasn't white but of West Indian descent. Andrew Symonds.
Most crowd abuse has been against dark-skinned and not white-skinned foreign cricketers. How do you explain that?
5. Delhi gave 67/70 seats to AAP: Former law minister Somnath Bharti broke the law and carried out an illegal raid on African nationals at midnight in Delhi's Khirki Extension area with AAP supporters. The African nationals were abused and humiliated.
They were hounded and had to give their urine samples. They survived the ordeal because of police intervention. AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, instead of apologising or sacking Bharti, went on a midnight dharna that ultimately led to his resignation and re-election.
And guess how many seats the AAP got? 67/70!
In an incident that could have finished off political careers, AAP got a landslide. For the people of Delhi at least, those African nationals seem to have zero human rights.
Even in the above-mentioned incident in Bangalore, the Karnataka government tried to brush the case under the carpet and tried to behave as if nothing had happened.
6. Very less exposure has isolated us: Actually Indians so regularly discriminate on the basis of skin colour, features, caste, region and religion that discriminations come naturally to us. So when we treat foreigners rudely and differently, we don't even notice it!
White foreign women are gaped at as if they are specimens in a zoo and dark foreign men are openly looked at with disdain. Racist behaviour is common and most Indians remain unapologetic about it.
Our exposure to foreigners when compared to most countries is minimal. What will happen when more and more foreigners come to India and start settling down? Will we have greater problems?
We already have great problems related to Bangladeshi refugees.
7. Many Indians hide their racial identity abroad: Indian American Republican governor of the US state South Carolina, Nikki Haley, classified herself as "white" on a voter registration card. The other Indian American Republican, the former governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal's efforts to hide his Indian heritage led to the top Twitter trend #BobbyJindalIsSoWhite and the umpteen jokes and memes.
In fact, Indians doing well in Africa are derided by the local population as being worse than the whites when it came to racial discrimination!
You could well say: No racial equality please, we're Indians!