Before coming to India I had to face the allegations of racism of Australians against Indians. There clearly was a problem. Indian nationals had been attacked in Melbourne and initially Victorian police minimised the racial dimension. Indian born journalist ushi Das based in Melbourne, researched it and has spoken of the subtle pervasive White Australia/Anzac bias in Australia. She also pointed out some Indians exaggerated the stories for their own ends.
Now I live in India I see as much racism here too. Communities that parochially keep to themselves based on regional taboos are quick to praise India’s diversity. Many, simultaneously, reject any external ideas as foreign or imperialistic. As in other countries Indians may also judge on appearance, or even on skin colour. A darker skinned Indian from the south may be labelled “Madrasis”, a northerner may in turn be derided a “bahadurs” (commonly used for Nepalese male servants).
Sadly, while the majority of Indians live in peace, I have seen more violence in India than I have in Australia. Protests to quickly become ugly.
It is easy to pit once nations strengths against another’s weakness. It is harder to see that we all face similar challenges but the dominant values, or at least those given sharper political focus, shape how we face or deny our problems.
But as economies contract, it is easier to blame others who differ from the social myth of the time.
Arjun Rajkhowa perceptively observed in his article Racism and the NE – Exclusion and prejudice:
“The ‘racism’ word understandably provokes a fair amount of discomfort since it presents an unattractive picture which stands in sharp contrast to the official “unity in diversity” rhetoric [in India]. And yet it is a little ironic that even as we fume with righteous indignation at the treatment of Indians in the United States or Europe, we are shocked when we are accused of racism ourselves.”
Also, at times exclusionary policies marginalise groups in different areas.
“Manifold exclusionary tendencies manifest themselves in northeastern politics and, for someone who is from the region, it is impossible to disentangle these from current discussions on racism. While it is important to interrogate the existence of prejudicial attitudes towards northeasterners in a city like Delhi, such questioning cannot be extricated from the larger context of the conceptualization of nationhood and identity within the northeast, for the two are closely imbricated issues.
If ‘Chinese’ is used pejoratively for northeasterners, ‘Indian’ is also used as a term of derogation in the northeast. It signifies a mainland culture that is derisible and unwanted; a relinquishing of common bonds. I have heard it used innumerable times to refer to shopkeepers and residents who have lived in the region all their lives – despite their established provenance and lifelong acculturation, they remain ‘outsiders’. Those who have lived in the northeast understand the implications.”
This last paragraph reminded me of disaffected Australian youth, children of migrants, restless because they fit neither with parents traditions or within the mythical White bronzed Anzac Aussie. Slip up and they are likely to be told to Go Home” to a land they never knew.
While laws are proposed to monitor or control the “illegal influx” of outsiders, I see the same hype used to whip up votes during Australian elections.
Also in India:
In the protests and the debates on media that have ensued, one of the recurring themes and slogans has been “We are Indians too.” While this is understandable as a claim of equal citizenship it is also a little disturbing since it casts a burden on people from the northeast having to prove their sameness rather than assert the right to be different. What then of the expatriate Japanese or Chinese community? Do they abrogate their right against non discrimination because they are not Indians? By framing the experience of racism within a limited rubric of citizenship alone we run the risk of obfuscating questions of national identity with questions of belonging.
It seems that both my homes have to face similar issues.
“The French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze once remarked that it is better to be a schizophrenic out for a walk than a neurotic on a couch — perhaps a bold imagination of our diversity demands that we be comfortable with our multiple identities if we are not to collapse into the neurosis of the singular.”
We need to return to a more pantheistic psychology, where the ‘gods’ of our psyche are duly accepted rather than repressed. In many ways does this, recognising deties in many temples. As economies contract world over I fear the rise of exclusionary policies that scapegoat those who do not conform to the current myth. Just as no one person is free of contradictions to be faced, there is no Utopian society. We must face our ghosts rather than ban, blame or persecute.
We cannot keep blaming the British or Muslim “invaders” as if (for example) Hinduism or Christianity have not also failed.
The age of Me-ism is dying. Now is the We generation. Working together is a great thing. As long as the group does not become the focus of US verses Them
In nearly every area of politics there is much speaking but very little listening. We have to begin to listen.