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We Are Like This Only... But Don't You Dare Say We Are Racist Or Intolerant

31/05/2016 8:17 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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Ethnic equality concept and racial justice symbol as a black and white crumpled paper shaped as a human head on old rustic wood background with contrasting tones as a metaphor for social race issues.

South Indians loathe the "Hindikaaren" people -- that is, anyone living beyond the borders of Tamil Nadu; North Indians make fun of dark-skinned (or to use politician Kumar Vishwas's term, "kaali-peeli") southerners, often addressed as Madrasis; Punjabis hate stingy Gujjus and Gujaratis in turn hate the foolishly fierce Panjus, who can only think of lassi and murder; Kannadigas hate the "Tamilu" people for taking their water, Tamilians dislike the "Kannadam" for keeping their water; the Maharashtrians equally hate and love the Tamilians for keeping Rajnikanth; and everyone hates the "Chinkies" of the Northeast, the region often referred to as the Seven Sisters, as though it is the convenient cohabitation of a few spinsters. And I haven't even got to caste and religion. This, I suppose, is what being nationalistic is all about, the idea of it championed by fierce sloganeering, fervent and sepia-toned patriotic videos, with prejudice in soft focus played endlessly on national television. It's what drives the epidemic of naming and renaming of roads and cities, and the writing, rewriting and manipulation of history to tweak and distort the idea of India.

Patriotism in India is like an exclusive Fight Club where the rules almost require plenty of infighting and name-calling between its member states...

This advertising of national love may well lead some to consider that they are already an accepting people and hence there is nothing to change. But the real trouble starts when certain procedures are used to preserve "nationalism". Patriotism in India is like an exclusive Fight Club where the rules almost require plenty of infighting and name-calling between its member states, its culturally diverse people. But as soon as someone from outside casts an eye of appraisal or steps into its zone, an impulsive and real camaraderie is assembled to vanquish the threat. Often the results are gratuitously violent. The only mistake a Congolese man in Delhi made was to attempt to get an auto-rickshaw, which was sought by three men, who chased and beat him to death. The only mistake that six Africans seemed to have made when they were assaulted by locals in Chhatarpur, Delhi, was that they were living in an Indian neighbourhood. The only discernible fault of three African students travelling on the Delhi Metro, was that they were Black. They were teased, and then brutally attacked with iron rods, furniture thrown at them, their feet bitten, all while the assailants chanted nationalist slogans, as though beating up non-nationals were a sure way of proving nationalist credentials. We are like this only...

[B]eating up non-nationals is a sure way of proving nationalist credentials. We are like this only...

Another deposit of pitiful complexity is added when White people step in. A White tourist, if he or she is not initially struck or raped, is certainly relieved of his or her money -- because White people are wealthy and can afford to be cheated. White women are to be raped because their knees buckle when they see Indian men, and they are begging for it. Duplicitous behaviour towards tourists is so rampant that it has become a national activity. We are like this only...

Then there is the sacrosanct image of India to be safeguarded. Danny Boyle was criticised for the portrayal of poverty in Slumdog Millionaire -- first of all, how dare he, and, second, Indians make better films about Indian poverty. MF Husain, one of India's greatest artists, was hounded out of the country because he painted Hindu goddesses naked; perhaps Hindus depict naked Hindu goddesses better, as is evident in temples all over India. Gladson Dungdung, a tribal rights activist and author, was offloaded from a flight. He had been scheduled to take part in a workshop on environmental politics at the University of Sussex in the UK. The unspoken reason was his open condemnation of the treatment meted out to Adivasi people in Jharkhand. Priya Pillai, a Greenpeace campaigner, was stopped at the airport from travelling to the UK to talk to MPs about the impact of a coal mine on a village in central India. It is as though we don't want to know about the glitches in our identity; any that emerge are brushed under the thick carpet of nationalism and we are endlessly terrified that our flaws may actually become apparent to us when someone talks about them in a foreign country. We are like this only...

[W]e are endlessly terrified that our flaws may actually become apparent to us when someone talks about them in a foreign country. We are like this only...

Domestic disagreement is seen as familial betrayal. The so-called nationalists are so afraid of the fragility of their beliefs that, existing in a state of perpetual anxiety, they jump at a glimmer of belief that is not their own, to quash it and to disproportionally malign the source. Is the idea of India so vulnerable that when actor Aamir Khan, publicly shared a conversation that he had with his wife about their concerns on intolerance, he had to be immediately categorized as an anti-national and sedition charges filed against him? Is the idea of India, even after nearly 70 years of independence, still so under threat that when a university student and union leader Kanhaiya Kumar, organized a rally to question the objectivity of the trial given to an alleged terrorist, that he had to jailed, charged with sedition, beaten by lawyers while in police custody and be the subject of bounty posters offering cash for his murder? Is the reality of India so unbearable that history textbooks for schools have to censored and distorted? If we are like this only... then say it like it is!

Is the reality of India so unbearable that history textbooks have to censored and distorted? If we are like this only... then say it like it is!

Maybe the grand notion of India is indeed very strong, buttressed by an ancient civilization, the miscellany of its culture, the lushness of its languages and its literature, its sheer natural beauty and now its economic prowess. If this is the case and it certainly is, then its identity is unyielding and there is no need to feel threatened. But as long as the exclusive Fight Club perpetuates its existence based on the very diversity that India is all about, there will always be false alarms about the nation being endangered, nationalism threatened. Paraphrasing Wittgenstein: A personal elitism should be accompanied by radical tolerance for others who do not live by your code.

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