Understanding what happened in Nido Tania’s unfortunate death in Delhi is important to find an effective solution for racism and other related issues. Otherwise the only thing will happen is what happens always – a lot placards, vague promises, populist presumptions and short-term ineffective solutions.
The existence of racism can not be denied in India. One has to be completely untouched or brazenly naive to deny the existing of racism. But the kind of racism practiced in India is fundamentally different from the Black/White/Brown racism understood in popular culture. What is happening for a long time in India isn’t what Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi experienced. Due to the presence of numerously variant cultures in the sub-continent – not only is the problem of “racism” misunderstood but extremely sensitive and hard to solve.
The discrimination is of several varieties – economical, cultural, communal, caste, regional, xenophobic, skin-color and race. And it’s not just uni-directional. There’s not one perpetrator and one victim. People victimize each other on racist lines everywhere. South-Indians in North-India, North-Indians in South-India. Yes, North-easterners are called “chinkis”, “chinese”, “japani” in mainland. Bengalis are called “rasgullas” – the word “Bihari” is considered an insult. All south-Indians are “Madrasis” or “Idli-dosa” … all Sikhs are “foolish” at 12-o-clock. All Kashmiris are “terrorists”. Even North-east India has a word for outsiders from mainland India “Dkhars”.
We have grown up watching govt ads in public interest about “Unity in Diversity” … remember all those “Mile Sur Mera Tumhara” and many more? After independence and partition, bringing together variant cultures together in the form of one country was a hard task in front of new government. And for many years, the message of ekta / unity were the center-theme of bollywood and television. This was a good approach.
One big mistake however was that this approach “Unity in diversity” was never fine-tuned. Over a period of 6 decades all variant cultures in India should have become mainstream. But 67 years of independence and just north-Indians / Hindi speakers are mainstream in popular culture. This is where you should ask WHY?
This is why till today, students like Nido and many from North-East are still looked at as outsiders in nowhere but the capital of India. When media is screaming racism at his death, they’re right, because north-eastern India is probably the only culture which is least mainstream. Till today, I hear how the directions are given how their food smells “weird”, their women dress “weird”, they look “weird”, they talk weird” … WTH?
Off course it is about lack of education, lack of sensibilities, lack of sensitivity – but mostly because of the extreme lack of exposure to each other. Do you know that till today if somebody from the rest of India has to travel to North East needs to carry special permission – almost like a Visa? You knew about Kashmir, how it’s hard to travel there – but you probably didn’t know about North East. It’s true.
Indian govt kept cultures segregated and termed this “special” – as if it was a good thing. Whatever was left to unite was divided by Caste-Religion-Region vote-bank politics. Had populations been allowed to freely intermingle and the divisive politics kept at minimum, 67 years is a long time for people to unite.
You should ask why north-India is mainstream and others are fringe-cultures? Clearly the nation and independence wasn’t achieved without the sacrifices of people from all cultures, then why this difference? Why the superiority of north-Indians? One-word – Hindi. The native speakers of Hindi got a clear advantage.
You could declare all the love for the national language in the popular inseminated idea about patriotism – but the fact remains that in a culture teeming with language, races, religions – only a foreign language can create unity. A language which nobody owns and can equally call it’s own. A language which can connect India with the rest of the world. English.
This post is not about proposing English language as the ultimate solution to this problem of segregation. English doesn’t need to be declared official – it organically is, and will soon or less be realized. But till then it needs to be understood, that Hindi hasn’t united India, but divided it. The so-called mainstream India needs to come-down it’s high-horse and stop thinking that the rest of India is obligated to know and understand their ways to assimilate.
But people can’t be expected to be this pragmatic, how can this culture of openness be promoted? It has to be promoted in a way that it is sub-consciously absorbed. It can’t be done without popular media. With the influx of foreign programming, English-language media – the new generation is naturally more open to understanding to these differences that modern India has inherited. Now, the rest of India needs to be made sensitive to this.
Film and television, alone can make a lot of difference. Why don’t we see a Punjabi guy romancing a Mizo girl? Why South Indian accent is still shown only in the ability of comedy? I mean 100-Crore Chennai Express was a penny-worth in representing south Indians? Why south Indian actresses have to be exceptionally fair? Dusky actresses happen to do well in Hindi film industries – Priyanka, Deepkia, Bipasha – the list is long. But you move towards south, where majority population is dark skinned, yet the film-heroines are ivory fair? What’s the obsession with skin-color? What is it, latent inferiority complex?
The problem of racism is multi-dimensional and more cultural than criminal. Coming back to death of Nido Tania. The sequence of events tell that first he was ridiculed for hair-color, then he broke the glass, then their was a scuffle. Police got involved and as usual was negligent and dismissive. A minor scuffle got blown out of proportion – and Nido was beaten again. The next day, the young boy unexpectedly succumbed to internal injuries. A tragedy of the highest order.
But anybody could have been in his place, a Bihari, a South-Indian, a Kashmiri – even a “mainstream” looking Delhiite. Racism does exist – may be it was the culprit in this case, may be not. The boy is dead and those who’re culturally programmed to be hostile to outsiders will continue to be like that. Some hearts will change, some will learn the hard way, if a strong anti-racism law become the reality. But a larger, long-lasting change will only come through meticulous work on socio-cultural front. And that won’t happen by screaming in television debates – making everybody a criminal. That is sensationalism, and it thrives on ugliness of the news. The uglier the better. Solutions will only come with well thought-out long-term solutions.
Written by Ishaan Mohan Bagga
Follow him on twitter @IshaanMohan