Bikram Vohra on Attack on Africans

Prime Minister Modi with African leaders prior to the summit (File)

How long are we going to keep hiding our heads in the sand and denying our prejudice, a prejudice so deeply ingrained in our minds from childhood? Africans in India will stay prime targets if the government and people continue to be colour blind….writes Bikram Vohra

Prime Minister Modi with African leaders prior to the summit (File)
Prime Minister Modi with African leaders prior to the summit (File)

How do our Ministers so blithely assume that a bunch of goons attacking Africans is not racially motivated? General VK Singh, Minister of State for External Affairs, is the latest to go on record over the killing of a Congolese teacher in Delhi. How he came to this incandescent conclusion against the backdrop of our sordid history on this issue boggles the mind.

Two days ago, the African diplomatic corps boycotted ‘Africa Day’ celebrations in New Delhi in protest against the killing. It is pointless listing the several assaults again, besides mentioning that a Nigerian was being beaten up in Hyderabad just as the minister was babbling on about how it is always an altercation and nothing to do with the victims being from Africa and their skin colour having no role in prompting mob violence.

How long are we going to keep hiding our heads in the sand and denying our prejudice, a prejudice so deeply ingrained in our minds from childhood?

How many Indians invite black students to their homes or befriend them or even date them? How many Indian parents would be comfortable if their children had African friends? Today friends, tomorrow drugs and currency rackets. Good lord, if Cupid has its way, black progeny in the future, what will the neighbours say, woe is me, shame and scandal in the family.

We are so well-conditioned and comfortable in our contempt that most of us actually believe we do not have this prejudice. And this colour blindness is that much more of a surprise really, seeing as how we do it to each other. Fairer Indians feel superior to darker Indians.

But let’s not go there. We have done that ‘skinfair-cream don’t go in the sun, no one will marry you, you will be ahabchi, everyone is wheatish’ routine often enough.

Let’s talk for a moment about the government’s blueprint with intent to change the attitude. Gen Singh says it is non-existent, so if there is no problem and every time a black person is assaulted, it is just another one-on-one confrontation. Then there is no need for a solution. According to him, we all love black people as we should and we hate those who don’t.
Consequently, why is the General’s boss Sushma Swaraj then going to such great lengths to reassure African envoys that her government will take steps to ensure their countrymen and women will be safe? She has just tweeted her resolve of ‘increasing the security and safety of African nationals’ in India.

Why? They are not in peril, every single time that such an ugly incident occurs, the authorities rationalise it. Remember the Tanzanian girl in Bengaluru? Even that was made into an error of judgement and attributed to road rage.

Six incidents occurred in this city involving Africans in the past year. Each one is distilled to ‘they asked for it, they got drunk and picked up a fight.’

So, why the stark contradiction in the official stance?

Because we are liars. Unless the Indian government is serious, we are likely to be ostracised across the world for our dismal record and our hypocrisy.

I quote Dave Adali, an Afro-American, and what he says on a website scares me: “Of all the countries I have been to, India ranks way up there among the most ‘racist’. Indians aren’t so much ‘racist’ as they are intolerant. Indians discriminate against fellow citizens to a degree that I have NEVER encountered in ANY other country. Without a doubt, Indians are the the most color obsessed people I have ever encountered anywhere in the world. No doubt because of all that saturation advertisements for ‘Fair and Lovely’, ‘Fair and Handsome’ and all manners of skin-whitening creams, lotions, soaps etc. Even if you are 100% Indian, your fellow Indians might still discriminate against you on the basis of the color of your skin, which region of India you come from, what language you speak, your religion, your caste etc, etc.”

India has laws against caste-based discrimination.

“Between 1943 and 1950 (India gained independence in 1947) Indian states passed 17 laws to end discrimination. In 1955 India passed the Untouchability (Offenses) Act and amended it in 1976, making it more stringent. Another law, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (POA Act)—came into effect in January 1990.”

But there is nothing specific about discrimination by colour.

So, unless there is some honesty and transparency across the board, this rot will continue.

The first step is for the government to accept that racism by colour is integrated to Indian culture by tradition and by fact. You cannot solve something unless you acknowledge it as an issue.
All acts of violence or discrimination based on colour must be categorised under hate crimes and stringent penalties should be imposed.

This the first basic two-step dance if we want to end this reputation that we have earned. Not only is it ugly, it is also stupid.

We are a coloured people…

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