The lynching of a young Kenyan woman by a mob and attack on two Nigerian students in a mall near New Delhi reeks of racism that is deeply engraved in the Indian psyche. As a brown-skinned Indian living in America, I notice a renewed debate about increased racism faced by Indians after recent political changes.
However, most conversations focus around the ignorance that is clubbing the Indians together with Hispanics and Middle Easterners. It just feels that it is not the racism we condemn, but, as Indians, our major gripe is that people can’t differentiate between us and the ‘others’.
Of course, there is a basis for this argument. The Indians in the US are typically regarded as the model minority. And the reason for this ‘model minority’ tag is that we are a non-threatening group of people.
We are the hardworking bunch where 54% of the people have a Bachelor’s degree and have the highest earning among all immigrants.
It is not that Indians haven’t experienced racism or xenophobia in their daily lives but we have chosen to stay quiet.
We jokingly say that as new immigrants, all of us are liberals but when we settle down and earn good money the mindset changes and we become conservative.
The complaints change from difficulty in getting a green card to how much tax we are paying to the government. However, apart from a few, most of us don’t want to do anything about the experiences other than posting it on Facebook.
As much as we hate and get angry about the attacks in Olathe (Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an engineer, was fatally shot by a white racist who mistook Kuchibhotla for a Middle Easterner) and Seattle (Deep Rai was shot outside his home by a masked man) where Indian origin people were attacked, incidents in Philadelphia (vandals attacked a Jewish cemetery) and increased attacks on Muslims don’t seem to be disturbing for us.
The Indian community did not extend any noteworthy support when the President Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’ was enacted.
We don’t want to care about the ‘others’ and live in a bubble that nothing is going to happen if we keep walking the straight line.
I do believe that racism is deeply rooted in our psyche. My lawyer parents with their mostly liberal views valued equality and taught us not to differentiate between people based on the gender, religion or caste.
But the Indian society played its part in fracturing the psyche and creating the divisions between ‘us’ versus ‘them’.
Maybe that is the reason why it took my eight-year-old son to point out that calling someone of Asian descent a ‘chinki’ is racist.
In light of recent events, the question was raised that ‘why they (Indians) hate Africans so much?’ My argument is that it is not just Africans, at some level, we do hate each other as well.
That is why someone from Andhra Pradesh gets labelled as a ‘Gulti’, a North-Easterner as ‘Chowmein or momo’, a Maharashtrian as ‘Ghati’ and anyone from North India as ‘Bhaiya or Bihari’.
A staggering statistic shows that about 81% of women harassed in Delhi are from the North East.
Bengaluru has become the capital of racist attacks against North-Easterners.
In 2012, about 5,000 North-Easterners were forced to flee the city after receiving threatening SMS messages.
Earlier this month, a Bengaluru landlord beat up a tenant from Arunachal and forced him to lick his shoe while hurling racial slurs.
In 2014, the Bezbaruah Committee recommended that anyone making derogatory slurs relating to “race, culture, identity or physical appearance” could be imprisoned for up to five years, by amending Section 153-C and 509-A of the Indian Penal Code.
The committee was highly critical of law enforcement and conviction rates in cases like this. Two years later, India still does not have an all-encompassing, anti-racism law to curb the menace of growing racial violence and hate crimes.
As a ‘model minority’, we need to understand that the learnings from back home and treating everyone else as ‘others’ is not immunising us from the violence, racism and xenophobia.
The recent attacks show that we are susceptible to the same treatment that others have faced and being complacent is no longer an option. As much as we want to preserve our culture and traditions, we have to take the blinders off and realise that we can be instrumental in bringing the change.
Let’s not shy away from standing up against things that are not right and lend our support to other minority communities.