The beating of young Kenyan woman by a mob and attack on two Nigerian students in a mall near New Delhi ooze of racism that is deeply engraved in Indian psyche. As a brown skin Indian living in America, there is renewed debate about increased racism faced by Indians after recent political changes.
However, most conversations focus around the fact that ignorance is clubbing the Indians together with Hispanics and Middle Easterners. It just feels that it is not the racism we condemn but as Indians our major gripe is that people can’t differentiate us from the ‘others’. Of course there is basis to this argument. Indians in USA are typically regarded as the model minority. And the reason for this ‘model minority’ tag is that we are a non-threatening group of people. We are the hardworking bunch where 54% of the people have a bachelor’s degree and have the highest earning among all immigrants.
It is not that we haven’t experience racism or xenophobia in our daily lives but we have chosen to stay quiet. We jokingly say that as a new immigrant all of us are liberals but when we settle down and earn good money the mindset changes to be conservative. The complaints change from difficulties in getting a green card to how much tax we are paying to the government. However, apart from a few most of us don’t want to do anything about the experiences other than posting it on Facebook.
As much as I hate and get angry about the attacks in Olathe (Srinivas Kuchibhotla an engineer was fatally shot by a white racist who mistook Kuchibhotla to be Middle Easterner) and Seattle (Deep Rai was shot outside his home by a masked man) where Indian origin people were attacked, I think it incidents in Philadelphia (vandals attacked a Jewish cemetery) and increased attacks on Muslims should also be disturbing for us. But it is not. The community did not extend any noteworthy support when the now blocked Muslim Ban was enacted. We don’t want to care about the ‘others’ and live in a bubble that nothing is going to happen if we keep walking the straight line.
I do believe that racism is deeply rooted in our psyche as part of growing up in India. My lawyer parents with their mostly liberal views valued equality and taught us not to differentiate anyone based on the gender, religion or caste. But the society played its part in fracturing the psyche and creating the divisions between ‘us’ versus ‘them’. Numerous examples everyday exhibited the behavior of looking down on anyone who is not from the same state, strata or caste. May be that is the reason why it took my eight year old son to point out that calling someone with Asian dissent a ‘chinki’ is racist.
In light of recent events the question was raised that ‘Why they (Indians) hate Africans so much?’ My argument is that it is not just Africans; at some level Indians do hate each other as well. That is why someone from Andhra Pradesh gets labeled as ‘Gulti’, a north easterner as ‘Chowmein or momo’, a Maharashtrian as ‘Ghati’ and anyone from North India as ‘Bhaiya or Bihari’. A staggering statistic shows that about 81% of Northeast women are harassed in Delhi. Bengaluru has become the capital of racist attacks against North easterners. In 2012 about 5000 people North easterners were forced to flee the city after receiving threatening SMS messages. Earlier this month a Bengaluru landlord beat up a tenant from Arunachal and forced him to lick his shoe while hurling racial slurs.
In 2014, the Bezbaruah Committee recommended that anyone making derogatory slurs relating to “race, culture, identity or physical appearance” be made punishable with imprisonment up to five years, by amending section 153-C and 509-A of the Indian Penal Code. The committee was highly critical of law enforcement and conviction rates in cases like this. Two years later, India still does not have all-encompassing anti-racism law to curb the menace of growing racial violence and hate crimes.
As a model minority we need to understand that the learning from back home and treating everyone else as ‘others’ is not immunizing us from the violence, racism and xenophobia. The recent attacks show that we are susceptible to the same treatment that others have faced and being complacent is no longer an option. As much as we want to preserve our culture and traditions, we have to take the blinders off and realize that we can be instrumental in bringing the change. While we want support our own, let’s not shy away from standing up for things that are not right and lend our support to other minority communities.