Sharad Yadav is usually an affable politician, but he does have a strange sense of humour. As most of you might know, he attempted to lighten the atmosphere during a dull and dreary parliament session by commenting on the dark complexion of senior minister Ravi Shankar Prasad (who laughed it off), and on the complexion and bodies of South Indian women. This was greeted with loud protests from some women and other members.
This little stunt by the politician was debated for a week on the news and in the papers and he was widely condemned for his outrageous comments. Soon after this, I saw an interesting programme on NDTV hosted by Prannoy Roy where undercover actors in real-world settings raised awareness about racism in society. As expected, it became clear that skin colour is given a great deal of importance in Indian society.
But it isn't that different anywhere else, is it? The murder of the Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris a few months ago caused much outrage around the world. The magazine revelled in provoking one particular religion and was warned several times to stop cartoons which were deemed to be offensive to them, but continued nonetheless. World leaders mainly from Europe and the US marched in solidarity in Paris. There were massive protests at this direct attack on the freedom of the press, even though a few voices critiqued Charlie Hebdo's style of journalism. Overall, the world mourned.
Contrast this with the recent horrific killings of 150 innocent students in Kenya's Garissa University. This was one of the deadliest attacks in on young students anywhere, causing shock and anger around the world. The terrorist group which was responsible was severely condemned. But was the scale of outrage anywhere as near as what was seen in Paris? Not even close.
" Is the loss of coloured lives not as important or memorable as white ones? Both incidents [Charlie Hebdo and Garissa] were horrific and condemnable, but only one got the large chunk of press time and attention."
This leads us to ask an uncomfortable question. Is the loss of coloured lives not as important or memorable as white ones? Both incidents were horrific and condemnable, but only one got the large chunk of press time and attention.
On another note -- as we all know, US President Barack Obama might well be the most powerful person in the world right now. He has initiated some of the most liberal laws on health care and immigration. He has opened up relations with countries like Cuba and Iran (though this nuclear deal still has to be ratified). He has also been careful not to jump into wars like his immediate predecessor. The US economy is extremely strong, unlike what it was when he took over.
Any other President would have been largely praised for such actions, or at the very least, not attacked by the opposition. However, the actions of a group of Republicans are drastically different. They routinely insult him and have expressed a desire to dismantle the legacy of his Presidency when his term ends. The same group and many others still believe that he was born in Kenya and is a Muslim. A survey actually revealed that 54% of Republicans believe that Obama is not American. It doesn't matter that he was brought up in the US by a white single mother and grandparents in Hawaii. Or that his merits greatly outweigh his flaws. They went so far as to invite the Prime Minister of Israel to address the joint session of the US congress without informing the White House. This has never been done in US history and was a snub to the President. This action was widely condemned in the US. Is this just politics or does it go deeper?
As can be seen racism truly is present everywhere. Even the President of the United States is not able to escape it. Coloured people, including Indians, are routinely subjected to what appear to be targeted attacks in the US.
However neither all Americans nor Indians are racists.
More or less our only hope is the youth of India and the world. Let us look at today's India once again closely. It can be said that a large number of youth no longer pay much attention to caste or colour. The increasing number of news items that we read about inter-caste marriages and caste being irrelevant in the workplace is testimony to this. Hopefully someday mind-sets like Sharad Yadav's will become the exception instead of the rule.