Indian Americans Need to Speak Up Against Racist and Casteist Atrocities in India
- Why are Indians, in India and outside, so blatantly ignorant, racist, call-what-you-will, against Black skin color?
Ask a desi in the U.S. about racist attacks on Nigerian students in India and you draw a blank. In some cases, a derisive — leave it yaar, yeh kallu toh kuch bhee … (leave it alone friend, these “kallu” blacks don’t matter …). So, this got me thinking. Why are we, in India and outside, so blatantly ignorant, racist, call-what-you-will, against the skin color Black!
The news of unprovoked attacks on Nigerian students in India is not new — it happened when I lived in India and more recent when it was splattered all over The New York Times, Al Jazeera and the BBC, after yet another unprovoked attack on a Nigerian student, Endurance Amalawa, who was beaten by a mob in Delhi, in what many believe to be a racist attack.
But what is striking between now and then is the fact that the phrase Black Lives Matter is now an extremely powerful movement across the world. No thanks to the powerful, disturbing video of George Floyd saying over and over “I Can’t Breathe” while a white cop kneeled over his neck. Floyd was murdered, but with his death was born an explosive rebirth of the Black Lives Matter movement. Video clips of burning of major U.S. metropolis was astounding and fascinating, all at the same time. This can’t be the U.S. that we moved to, the most powerful country in the world. Can it be? We asked amongst ourselves. It was, sadly.
Coming back to my peers, my country of birth, Black Lives Matter remains a hashtag in India and amongst some of the Indian communities here in the U.S. Don’t get me wrong — after Floyd’s murder much good work was done and continues to be done among us. India Association of Minnesota is one amongst many that has continued the initial work of getting the community together to speak up against systemic racism against Black Americans, with virtual talk series inviting prominent Black leaders from the community.
Then there are others in the community who have started mini dialogues within their own social circles, strongly impacted by the mass outrage over Floyd’s murder. Others, not so much. After the initial outrage died, things have sort of gone back to normal, as it does with any seemingly life-changing events. That is not the problem. The problematic aspect of our community remains the selective outrage.
Thus, back to my original musing of why we as a community are not outraged by these repugnant incidents of mass attacks on students of African origin in India. In a viral video footage at a train station in New Delhi in 2014, a mob was caught beating three African students while chanting “Bharat Mata Ki Jai Ho” — Long Live Mother India. Last year, a Tanzanian student was attacked and stripped in public by a mob, irate over another accident involving a Sudanese man.
So why don’t we speak up. One reason could be that we Indians are and remain extremely conscious of the color of our “wheatish” skin, read white or “fair.” Black skin is regarded as inferior or not pretty, while Fair & Lovely continues to be a tagline for selling fairness creams all over India. And when you are a woman with a dark complexion, God help you. Growing up in India as a female with a dark skin, I still recall well-meaning relatives commenting on how difficult it would be to find a groom for me at a local wedding or some such occasions.
My mom, an academician and clearly enlightened, would ask me to ignore such comments. I was fortunate enough to have strong parents, but in small towns and cities, women face this reality all the time. Just pick up a matrimonial column in an Indian daily or visit a match-making website. The ask for a bride is always pretty, working, having a wheatish complexion. Never mind that the guy could be a negative of a positive. And as I type up this statement, I am again stuck by how inherent racism exists in all of us. Why is negative black and positive white?
I also recall several incidents of my own childhood when an African student would come calling for my older brother who studied with him. I still cringe recalling telling my brother this guy had come over asking for him — “he said he wanted to “shat (chat) with you,” I would recount, doubling over with laughter at that poor man’s accent. Never mind my own accent which would seem as thick as a knife when living in another country. What a paradox. What an irony. I may be woke now, but clearly growing up it was ok to laugh at a man who didn’t look and talk like you.
But I also recall my father turning out my brother, his son, from his own home because my brother addressed a visiting Muslim friend of our father and asked him a question about “aapki community” — your community. In my brothers’ defense, it was naïveté as well as a genuine desire to learn more. To our father, that was highly inappropriate, to even think of a person in relation to “other” community. It was sacrilege to mention ones’ religion or even to comment upon another’s. But those formative years turned us siblings into who we are, as citizens of this world who genuinely want to be color blind where race is concerned.
The mob lynching phenomena that is currently all pervasive in India rests not just with families unable to address unsuspecting inherent racism in their children as my family could, but also rests firmly at the door of politicians. Be it during 1984 Sikh riots in the aftermath of then prime minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards or during cow vigilantes or the love jihadis of the present government of Narendra Modi and his Hindu majority government.
India needs an anti-racism law. An anti-casteism law and an anti-communal law — if you happen to be an African living in India, an Indian from the North East region of India or an Indian who is a Muslim, you expose yourself to the mercies of the mob mentality that can light up at even the most minor of infractions. Just ask that family of the Dalit teen boy killed for daring to enter a temple meant for the “upper” castes.
Indians in the U.S. need to speak up against such atrocities happening in India. And not against cities like St. Paul who recently passed a resolution condemning the violence in India against Muslims. The comments section of a local association web page on Facebook was full of hate mails and vitriolic comments against the city government and against all “libtards” and “presstitudes” and the “pseudo-progressives” — their words.
Wake up and smell the roses — we as a community are racists. Whether against Africans or Blacks or against anyone who dares to criticize those who are. Just ask me, or a few of my friends who are regularly honored to receive hate mails in their inboxes or are publicly “shamed” with Facebook posts on our supposed sad lives. Unfortunately for them, I and us are shameless!
Kuhu Singh lives in Eden Prairie, Minn., a suburb of the Twin Cities. Bidding adieu to journalism a decade ago, she nonetheless loves to write and express her very strong opinions on social media and blogs and sometimes in a few Indian publications. She is a Senior Digital Marketing Manager for a broadcast retail company. Race relations, diversity, social issues fascinate and roil her into action. She volunteers her time with certain political organizations and community organizations.