Last year, news came of a police officer in a North-Alabama suburb using excessive force against an old man of Indian-origin, who spoke very little English, and paralysing him. A video showed the cop throwing down the man who was not combative by any means. What was the man doing which caused the police officer’s harsh response? Taking a walk, like many do, through a neighborhood where his family lived. Social media erupted and my social media pages, in particular, were filled with Indian-origin friends and people in India sharing the video and calling it inhumane, disgraceful and outright racist. The argument was that a harmless man was being subjected to prejudice due to the colour of his skin. Many other incidents of profiling of people from India have taken place, some have gotten media attention and many have gone unnoticed.
A year later, an African woman from Tanzania studying in India is brutally beaten and stripped by an angry mob in Karnataka. Why? Absurdly, because a Sudanese man, with the ‘same’ skin colour, ran over and killed a pedestrian. The Tanzanian woman wasn’t with the man who had killed the pedestrian. She wasn’t there at the time of the incident either. In fact, she arrived half-an-hour later in a car with three friends. No one else in that car was bothered. Just her.
You must be wondering why an innocent woman was targeted? It’s because her skin resembled the skin of the Sudanese man. She was a ‘coloured’ woman from Africa. The response to the incident has been disappointing, to say the least. Although four people have been detained for their alleged involvement, the state’s home minister, G. Parmeshwara, has argued that it was a response to an initial accident: “had the Sudanese man not killed someone in the accident, maybe this incident wouldn’t have happened.”
In the last few years, there have been numerous incidents of Africans in India being attacked and facing racial stereotypes. In 2015, four Africans were attacked by a local mob in another Bengaluru neighborhood for creating a ‘nuisance’. In 2014, three African students were beaten up in a police booth at a metro station in Delhi for allegedly misbehaving with a woman. Also in 2014, four African women were assaulted in Delhi’s Khirki Extension during a midnight raid by the then Delhi Law Minister Somnath Bharti. These are only a few incidents that received the media’s attention. Many incidents are possibly ignored.
The simple truth is that a large number of Indians, at home and abroad, are racist and have pre-conceived notions about people of other races. They’re also a bit hypocritical as well. Unlike the incident in Alabama, no one has sparked off a debate on my newsfeed or timeline. The mainstream media, like always, has made it more of a political issue. Spokespersons from the BJP, Congress and RSS have found common ground and are refusing to acknowledge the racial aspect in such cases. But the reality is that this is an ideological issue.
Mahatma Gandhi, the man Indians consider as the father of the nation once wrote,
“We were then marched off to a prison intended for Kaffirs [offensive term equivalent to the n-word].”
While fighting for the rights of Indians in South Africa, he argued:
“We could understand not being classed with whites, but to be placed on the same level as the Natives seemed too much to put up with. Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilised — the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live like animals.”
A man Indians consider as a humanitarian wrote very harshly about humans that he thought were inferior while fighting for the rights for his own men and women of the same colour. Gandhi isn’t the only who was being hypocritical. It’s all of us.
India happens to be a preferred country for many African students for the continuation of their studies since educational institutes here are often better than what they have back home as well as being more affordable than institutions in Europe or the USA. Many students from the continent of Africa make their way to India every year in the hope of a better life. Sadly, quite a few African students report difficulties in finding proper accommodation, being overcharged in shops and restaurants, having to face taunts and racial insults and simply being ostracised by the local population. Doesn’t that sound far too familiar?
Aren’t all these issues that members of the Indian community complain about as they, too, find themselves in Europe and the United States trying to find a better life than they had back home through education? It’s time that Indians learn that if they want the equality they preach abroad, they must practice it back home and learn to be less prejudicial to members of the African community. We can’t expect incidents like the cop in Alabama to not happen if incidents like the one with the Tanzanian student continue to happen. We can’t talk about how wrong the racial profiling that takes place in the ‘Bible belt’ of the United States is while we refuse to speak about the profiling that happens all across the subcontinent. We can’t hope for a better life through the means of education and opportunity if we continue to deprive and discriminate against individuals searching for the same exact thing in India.
It’s about damn time that Indians become a little less hypocritical and a lot less racist.