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Why It’s About Damn Time That We Become A Little Less Hypocritical, And A Lot Less Racist

By Sudhanshu Kaushik:

An activist from All India Peace and Solidarity Organisation (AIPSO), a social organisation, holds a placard during a protest against the attacks on Indians in Australia, in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad June 16, 2009. A spate of attacks on Indian students in Melbourne and Sydney has seen Indian media accuse Australia of being a racist nation and prompt Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to call his Indian counterpart to assure him of student safety. REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder (INDIA CONFLICT POLITICS) - RTR24PHH
Image credit: Reuters/Krishnendu Halder.

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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