India’s Obama moment


Anyone who’s someone has written ad nauseum about Obama in the blogging space. Parallels within the Indian political context have been drawn too, as India after all is the biggest democracy and if US can, so should India right? Muslims and the Dalits have so far been the front runners for India’s Obama candidate. However, if I may say so I disagree! They may have been historically a marginalized section, but what with every other political party falling over each other to woo these sections, they’re certainly not ignored.
I will now proceed to add my own two bit to who I think fits the bill. For me, India’s Obama moment will come when someone from the North-East or maybe even the Nepalis of West Bengal occupy India’s premier post, without someone shouting “chinkis” or “Bahadur” at them. Bahadur meaning ‘brave’ in Hindi, has taken on a whole new meaning when applied to Nepalis. What was once a term of respect has now transformed into a generic term to mean watchman and often used in a condescending way. While its a crime under the Indian Penal Code to discriminate against Dalits, the blatant and overt discrimination faced by those from the North East, is surprisingly ignored.
For all our loud declarations of how we’ve arrived on the world map finally and how the world is now sitting up and taking notice of India and Indians, we are still horribly primitive in our thinking. Like I’ve mentioned earlier in one of my posts, we raise our hackles at any perceived racist treatment meted out to us. But we have no qualms about using racist labels for others. Delhi, for all its world class city pretentiousness, is still an overgrown village where respect is hard to find. For anyone! But maybe more difficult for those who look different. That individuals discriminate against a section of Indians is damning but what is more appalling is the discrimination by even commercial centers like lounges and discotheques. A year ago I had gone with a group of friends including a few ‘non Indian’ looking friends, to one of the popular discotheques in Noida. Due to a chain of events, we found ourselves split into two groups, one which looked ‘acceptable’ and the other which looked ‘unacceptable’. No prizes for guessing what came next! But anyway, I’ll still elaborate. The ‘acceptable’ looking lot was admitted without any fuss, but the other group was refused entry without any acceptable reason. The person in charge did not see it fit to give an explanation. Eventually, we all decided to move out of the place to a friendlier one. At first, it did seem like a case of racism. Yet a few friends claimed to having seen people from the North East frequent the place. So it couldn’t possibly be racism, I rationalized. While I feel like kicking myself now for not showing any spine and standing up for my friends, this blog post is a small attempt to assuage my guilt. The fact that this horrendous treatment of people from the North East is common occurrence in Delhi and possibly the whole of India is not really acknowledged as such. I wonder sometimes whether this blatant xenophobia and racism stems from some kind of fear of our own inadequacies. Maybe we have been so scarred by the experiences of the Raj era that we need to pick on someone, on whom we can transfer our own insecurities?
For a mainstream Indian, insulated from such insults at least in India, it is easy to ignore these incidents. We stay smug in the thought that after all we’re superior to all races, second only to the whites. What’s ironic is that even as we dismiss those with oriental features as ‘dirty chinkis’, they in fact have an equal if not more disdain towards the darker races. As Martin Jacques writes in ‘The Global Hierarchy of Races’ , racism is not the preserve of any particular community. And as he has so rightly pointed out, racism is underplayed as a national and global issue. We as Indians probably don’t even realize when we use racist stereotypes. It is only when someone of our own gets the boot, that we suddenly realize that such lables and stereotypes are ugly.
I guess we have a long way to go before we elect our own Obama. We may be the largest democracy but not the oldest or the most sensitized one and that makes all the difference!

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