NEW DELHI: Indian racism has stepped out of the closet, on to the streets. The hidden and hence the acceptable has now got the license to attack those it finds different, and converts into objects of hate and targets of violence. Indians from the North East and Africans are facing the brunt of this in Delhi, that could now be competing for the second title of the most racist city of the world, after having been recognised as the rape capital of the world.
Attacks on the Indians from the north east are becoming far too frequent in Delhi, with the police and society silent spectators to the violence. Africans living in Delhi relate tales of the harassment and humiliation they face on a daily basis with little to no help from the law enforcing authorities of the city that seem to be totally disinclined to intervene. From not getting houses on rent, to authoritarian conditions imposed by suspicious landlords, to taunts on the streets, to jibes and physical eve teasing these two groups are targeted on a daily basis. A young Manipuri girl working in a five star hotel says that after she goes back to the room she shares with two others, “we never go out , we are too scared to do so.”
Covert racism has been an integral part of Indian society: the obsession with ‘fair’ looks. An entire industry of fairness creams, and whitening lotions has mushroomed around this obsession as Indians spend millions in trying to rub off the brown and replace it with the white. A fair child gets preference in a family over the darker sibling; matrimonial columns in newspapers in even this day and age sound obsessive with their demand for ‘fair’ brides; and little has happened in the decades since independence to overthrow the notion that the ‘white’ is inherently superior to the ‘dark.’
This racism with which every dark Indian lives at some levels, if not at home then in schools or even the work place, seems to have given itself the sanction to move into hate crime against the dark skinned Africans and the ‘different’ Indians from the north east. Stereotypes are created and strengthened in respect to both the groups, as lumpens now seem to be getting more and more emboldened in carrying out acts of violence with impunity. Police inaction that in itself implies sanction for these crimes, encourages the violence that has led to shopkeepers killing a young north eastern student a few months ago, to physical assault.
Colour and looks is the reason for the targeting, but the attackers convince themselves that they are protecting Indian society from the ‘stereotypical’ characteristics attributed to the two groups. It was not long ago when the Aam Aadmi Party led a group to target Africans living in a less affluent residential colony, insisting that they were all drug traffickers and were running brothels. None of this was proved, but the locality was cleansed of all the Africans living there, as the landlords found the AAP assault sufficient reason to cancel the contracts with the Africans and thereby save their ‘morality’. The humiliation and the trauma was sufficient to generate acute insecurity—as was the recent attack on two Africans who were nearly lynched in Delhi by a mob for reasons unknown—with African students finding it difficult to live with respect in this city.
As a Nigerian student told The Citizen recently, “ we heard this was a good place but you know it isn’t. We cannot walk here, and many of us will be going back as soon as we can. I am not going to come back here ever again. They think we are all carrying drugs, they are rude, they call as ‘kaalu’ when we walk, whats wrong with these people?”
Delhi society seems to have given itself a license to discriminate.And the apathy of the political class, the local authorities, and the police has added to this with inaction. The African missions in Delhi have protested against the violence and the discrimination but with little to no impact on government, and its law enforcing agencies that remain totally apathetic to the plight of the two groups being targeted in the national capital more than other places. Although the trend is growing as the large scale exodus of north east students from Bangalore demonstrated not so long ago, when they fled following rumours that they were going to be attacked in the city.
Students and civil right groups have held demonstrations in protest, but again this has been limited action for limited citizens. The vast majority continue to discriminate with racism, in the absence of an effective counter through the education system and a responsive police force, becoming part of Indian society even as it is being eradicated from the world.
Indian racism has emerged from the closet, on to direct action on the streets against those it finds different and hence converts into objects of hate and targets of violence. The people of the North Eastern States and the Africans in particular are the focus of this racism that bursts into violence every now and again with tragic consequences for those at the receiving end.
One of the best kept secrets of Indian society is its obsession with fair skin.