By Ushnav Shroff:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
– Martin Luther King Jr
Once upon a time, there lived four elements in an Indian city. They were equal parts magical and horrific. I’ll tell you what these are. Count them on your fingers for me, will you?
From a lucky draw of equal parts mob mentality and racism, a new victim would be selected each week. This time, the victim was a Tanzanian student living in Bengaluru. A few months ago, it was someone else. The student was sweet and sour in equal measure and the city was like her. She came with dreams for her future to the country of nightmares. On the 31st of January, she was assaulted like a dog would leftovers, for no fault of hers. Except that she was there and the mob was enraged. She was there when the mob got enraged. They waylaid her as she got off a car, arriving at a scene where furore reigned in plenty already.
They broke her bones, spirit and trust, all in the spur of a moment.
The mob was like an uncontrollable disease and its action was spurred solely by the woman’s race. And for what? Did she do something unthinkable? Yes, the reason has to be something appropriate. Something proper and intelligent for the crowd to react like that. The reason should make everyone nod and utter the words, “Yes, she deserved it.” So did she run over someone under the influence of alcohol and narcotics? No. Did she partake of the forbidden meat in open space? No. Wrong place, wrong time? Sir, yes sir.
The idea of who or what can be targeted is easily manifested these days in the color of our skin.
Visit any national monument in our country and you’d be hard-pressed to find tourists walking comfortably under the sun without having people loitering around them shouting, “madam, want to visit Taj Mahal? Beautiful palace, madam!” or the stereotypical Indian kid begging with a bowl in one hand, and his little sister wrapped around the other. The dual pricing policy at these monuments is another factor. It is a known fact that Sri Lankans or Pakistanis can and do swing through the gates of Red Fort for Rs. 10/- ($0.33), even though they are obliged to pay the correct amount of Rs. 250/- ($4.2)
Which brings me to the third aspect. Us.
The stand-by crowd, extras in a film that’s ready to flop at the box-office. We become tigers in our households but when it comes to real life, all we can do is raise our hand, not in protest, but to click a picture. Show it to our family, tell them we saw it first-hand. Got as close as they could without actually participating. “My husband saw it all happening before his eyes re baba. He was travelling in the bus next to the scene,” the missus would proclaim with pride while buying vegetables the next morning. A bout with the vendor would follow and all would be forgotten, until the next party. That’s when the story and the pictures on his phone will emerge again. “You see, she tried boarding the bus before it halted at the bus stop. I couldn’t allow that to happen,” he’d say.
The incident brings back memories of the fatal attack in 2012 on Yannick Nihangaza, a young Burundian national and a student at a university in Patiala. He was beaten up after local youths had a quarrel with some African students outside a liquor shop. He was targeted although he had no links to the group that had been involved in the altercation earlier. In July last year, Yannick succumbed to his injuries.
In a survey released by The Washington Post, India was ranked as one of the most racist countries in the world. We are by far among the least tolerant countries of the world. And if that comes as a surprise to you, open your eyes and look around. Why does your neighbour charge ‘double rent’ on his lease for the American family downstairs? Why do foreign students pay money over and above the normal fees? This comes out in spurts, by the way. An additional semester fee, charges for computer lab usage, among others. Why is it only New Zealand nationals being duped by taxi drivers for exorbitant fares despite not even having reached their destination? And with what response can we face those who were beaten up at Rajiv Chowk station four months ago?
Last but not the least, the citizen is a long-forgotten part of the city.
Much like the culture a city offers, the citizen too proudly sprouts up on special occasions. Hence, it was his fault he emerged when there was no festive celebration happening in Bangalore that day. No denying that. On that fateful day in Bengaluru, all he tried to do was offer a helping hand. But the mob took his hand, and more. It was completely his fault he only saw black and blue that day.
One can argue that maybe just this once, the Tanzanian student was at the wrong place at the wrong time. So were the Nigerian nationals at the metro that day. But was that reason enough for us to behave like we did? For them to be beaten like dogs, while shouts of ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ (Glory to our mother India) were echoed in the background? For her to be stripped and paraded on the streets like a monkey on a string? No, that can’t be it. This can’t happen in broad daylight in a tier-one city of our country.
People aren’t that stupid.