British Airways sucks, but India's own racism record sucks more

Will boycotting an airline stop racial discrimination of passengers, or Indians in general?

 |  5-minute read |   10-08-2018
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Indians are angry, again. Upset with British Airways for deplaning a crying child and his parents, a lot of us on social media are threatening to boycott the airline.

AP Pathak, a senior bureaucrat, has accused the airline of racism as he claimed a crew member threatened to throw his three-year-old son out of the window if the child did not stop crying. The incident reportedly happened last month. He then wrote a letter to Union Ministers Suresh Prabhu and Sushma Swaraj, alleging racial discrimination. According to Pathak, a steward yelled at the family, saying, “You bloody keep quiet, otherwise you would be thrown out of the window.”

According to Pathak, an Indian couple sitting behind them was also made to leave because they offered the child biscuits. Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu has ordered a probe into the issue.

While British Airways has a long history of alleged discriminatory behaviour, Indians don't seem to be in the mood for reconciliation this time. Immediately after the news broke out, a lot of hurt Indians, including celebrities, called for boycotting the airline.

But is boycotting any airline a solution? Will that stop racial discrimination of passengers, or Indians in general?

Let's not get too defensive. Race is a delicate topic for Indians anyway, but aren't we getting too outraged by just one side of the story? This is not to say that the parents don't deserve our sympathies or the airline crew members are entitled to misbehave and abuse. But how does this become a war between Indians and British Airways? 

It's true we must speak up against racial bias, but it's intriguing to see Indians uniting over one episode when we ourselves are guilty of everyday racism, subtle ways that we abuse each other, not to mention our own xenophobia and intolerance for outsiders. Last year, almost the entire country ganged up against African students studying in India following the death of a Class 12 student in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh. The student had died under mysterious circumstances, but locals alleged that the boy died after Nigerian students forced him to inhale drugs. Soon, the Nigerians were accused of cannibalism and several other students of African origin were brutally attacked by Indians.

Forget African students, we don't spare our fellow Indians from such brutal attacks — the "Chinkis" from Northeast and "kaale Madrasi" often find themselves facing such entitled Indians.

So, why does it hurt and infuriate us so much to know that a senior bureaucrat was humiliated by some airline staffer? Is this in anyway different from how we treat people we think don't belong here, or feel their presence is disturbing or threatening our security?

The alleged behaviour of the steward — which, by the way, none of us has actually seen — reeks of the same prejudice with which we Indians look at anyone who looks like an outsider to us. But when something similar happens to us, we start crying racial bias. 

The latest episode, if anything, is a good opportunity to sharpen our conversations about racism. To look at our own prejudices and acknowledge them. How we discriminate against people based on their race and identity. To say that Indians are tolerant by nature and only politicians are stoking the communal fire is the excuse that we all want to get away with. It's not just the political class which is supposed to set the standard for racial harmony. 

More often than not, we all play the role of bystanders to racism within our own nation. So, first, let's boycott that attitude. The attitude that "Indians are inherently tolerant and secular" in itself has a "racially superior" tone. 

Our racism is hidden in our own homes, neighbourhoods, schools, workplaces and our social media timelines. So, before pointing fingers at others, it would be advisable to clean up our own stables first. 

Also read: Racist attack on African students in Greater Noida is both sad and hypocritical

 

 

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