Remember Inderjit Singh Mukker?
The 53-year-old from Chicago was handed a brutal beating in September last year after his assailant pulled up to Mukker’s vehicle and yelled out, “Terrorist, go back to your country, Bin Laden!”. Mukker's case was just another instance of a Sikh person being beaten up for Osama Bin Laden's sins.
But he was Sikh and not Muslim, I hear you say.
Does it matter?
But he was not even from West Asia, you fire back.
Again, did that matter?
How is this relevant, you now ask with palpable frustration.
Now, we’re talking.
The frightening idea that such incidents could become de rigueur in Donald Trump’s America (perish the thought) notwithstanding, or even the Idi Amin-esque precedent it could set with en masse deportations, it really is time to turn that mirror around and look at ourselves.
The assault, beating and stripping of the Tanzanian girl in Bengaluru on 31 January was apparently in retaliation to a Sudanese student driving over a 35-year-old woman at the same spot sometime earlier.
The geographical distance between Sudan and Tanzania is unimportant. The very same thing could even have happened to a Zimbabwean on the same grounds — skin colour.
“It is shocking that people wear liberalism as a sign of modernity, yet revert to ultraconservatism when actually faced with difference
So wrote African-American PhD student at the Delhi School of Economics, Diepiriye Kuku in Outlook in June 2009. The author alluded to India’s ‘disdain for dark skin’ and added, “I have been denied visas, apartments, entrance to discos, attentiveness, kindness and the benefit of doubt”.
But, we're not racist. After all, we too were once colonised. Remember "Dugna lagaan"? What do you mean it was a movie?
Diepiriye’s story is unfortunately, far from unique. But you already knew that.
You also already knew about the time in May 2011 when Bengaluru’s pubs and bars decided to pay a tribute to India’s colonial past and ban Africans from their premises. ‘Dogs and Indians not allowed’ revisited?
You probably also knew that a year later, Hyderabad took a cue and implemented a similar policy.
That some African nationals indulge in drug peddling, phishing and counterfeiting currency is known. But then, so do some Germans, some Albanians, some Americans and yes, even some Indians (shocking, isn’t it?). Tarring an entire community, a nationality, or in this case, an entire continent with the same brush is what saw former Delhi above-the-law minister Somnath Bharti lead a group that conducted a midnight raid on some Ugandan women and assault them.
That said, it’s not always some sort of physical violence that greets Africans in India. Very often, it’s just ‘kaalia’or ‘kallu’ if one is feeling affectionate.
No, we're not racist.
After all, it’s not just Africans that experience the phenomenon of being branded ‘peddlers’ and ‘criminals’ if male, and ‘prostitutes’ if female. Just ask people from the Northeast. India’s Northeast, in case it wasn’t clear — Ethiopians and Somalis have it tough in any case.
So why should we care about this latest case?
It’s obviously not because she’s Tanzanian because (read the paragraphs above) .
Is it the part that a woman was assaulted and stripped in public?
So what then? Is it because we, as a country, have a problem?
Certainly not. In fact, we’re not even remotely prejudiced.
We treat everyone the same way.
Everyone that is different, I should probably clarify.
The 'others'. How they become 'others' can depend on class, caste, religion, region, political leanings, wealth, nationality, appearance, or in this case, skin colour. But, whether it's an old man in Dadri, Dalit children near Faridabad, two men from Nagaland in Gurgaon, a woman in Birbhum district or now, this woman in Bengaluru, we treat them all with exactly the same amount of courtesy.
Meanwhile, take a moment to read how the Tanzanian High Commission website describes the experience of higher education in India. After referring to a ‘welcoming atmosphere, non-discriminative approach’, the brief invites Tanzanian students to “visit India and be a part of an educational system that lives on the values of quality, growth and truthfulness”.
They’ve still got hope. The question is do we? Or would we rather sit around patting ourselves on the shoulders about how 'tolerant' (how I have grown to equally loath the word and the debate about it) we are. And anyone who says we aren’t, can go walk into oncoming traffic.