Attack on Nigerian students: Beyond emboldening skin-colour bias, hate crime is a sign of widening communal divide

Even as Sushma Swaraj climbs on a "white" steed and rushes to the rescue (seriously, she should be a subject for a Marvel comics series) someone has to say it: We Indians feel superior to Africans and our hang-up over skin colour manifests itself. Add to that the "fear" we have of the black man and we find comfort in the frenzy of the mob.

The attack in Greater Noida on a group of Nigerian students who were targeted because of an unconfirmed rumour stating that Africans had intoxicated an Indian Class 12 boy is one of the recent examples of this bias.

Parents and neighbourhoods got together to protest the presence of African residents in the area. The idea perhaps was to get them out of the area. Make them go away. And so, they went about beating up some of them (Nigerians) who happened to be in the vicinity. And why not, they are Africans. It's no big deal. Their innocence or guilt is not even a factor.

Representational image

Representational image

Of course, if it is an African he has to be a drug dealer or a bootlegger or someone dealing in counterfeit currency. Sure, there are some Africans who give their people a bad name like there are so many Indians who make us look stupid (recall the political "leader" on the plane last week), but to jump to a conclusion with so much venom and prejudice which leads to violence not only underscores our inherent "racism" but indicts us for being pretty much savage.

Are we so naïve as to believe that even if there are some errant Africans on the Delhi-UP border doing the dirty work there is no Indian criminal connection?

If we feel that we are victims of white prejudice in places like America because we are brown-skinned how is the attack on the Nigerians any different?

Why do we do this? Why do we assume that dark people are bad or that we are grander humans? We are taught colour bias from childhood. Darker siblings suffer from complexes choked down their throats. Pre-teen girls are told to stay out of the sun else no one will marry them. Brainwashed by movies and books, we see a dark-skinned person on the street and we are reflexively scared.

It is the same mental makeup. Blackmail. Black deed. Black mark. Blackguard. Blacklist. Blackball. Black humour. Kala paisa, kala dhanda, kali jaban. It is even embedded in the speech.

Every incident like this adds to the fear that we are splintering into rigid communal groups at a much faster rate. It is a perception sped forward through social platforms and the Internet but one cannot help the feeling that the "them" and "us" divide is crisscrossing the nation with far more visibility in the present than it did in the past. Perhaps we were always like this and we did not see it.

Today, it is at the core of our politics, our statecraft, our employment and educational infrastructures, our doctrines and even our social and economic totem poles.

But whether we were assaulting each other on religious differences or engaging in caste wars or attacking people from the northeast because they look like the Chinese or when we were exulting in the Aryan-Dravidian split, not much of it came to the fore in this "in-your-face" fashion.

Perhaps because the publicity in the past was muted and did not have these out of control vehicles madly careening about the information highway as they do today. This flood of audio-visual publicity creates the reality for most of us. And if it is flung in our face as great big clods, it must stick.

Besides, hate seems too easy to sell. Just package it in strips of fear and suspicion and there will be enough takers.

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Updated Date: Mar 28, 2017 22:10:07 IST

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