The death of Nido Taniam has unleashed a volley of questions, unsavoury but absolutely necessary, on whether the Indian urban populace is racist or not.
Racism, in its most brutal form, has shaped world history, had once given colonial economics an unprecedented northward force, and has also been at the heart of the 20th century reformation and demand for equality.
Predominantly, it has been very much a Black and White case – with the latter propounding a theory of God-endowed superiority which was substantiated by dehumanizing the former.
This of course has been documented in volumes for years now and just when racism should be a forgotten chapter in the third millennium, Nido’s death and the ensuing debate has called for a fresh introspection.
Are we Indians, once victims of racism, then racist?
This is not so easy to answer because in urban and educated India, racism is very elementary and at the same time perilously subtle. If one goes by the lexical connotation, Indians may not overtly be termed racists and the Constitution too guarantees equality.
But having said that, there is within our urban populace an accepted system of preference, a system which is defined by the colour of your skin and your appearance.
This preferential-ism is at the heart of what we today are calling Indian racism. It is not as blatant as those ‘Blacks not allowed’ signboards in apartheid South Africa, but certainly more dangerous because it is endorsed – whether knowingly or unknowingly is debatable – by the most visible and influential of the industries - namely the electronic media, the film and glamour world and the hospitality industry.
And this preferential-ism was okay until somebody got killed.
So Nido’s death is perhaps the catalyst for an honest introspection, it is an opportunity. The protests against racism that are today rocking the national capital are probably the first of its kind in recent memory, but the issue at hand is very old and the least addressed by the mass media.
We are still a nation where fairness creams promising success are sold in the market, where national icons irresponsibly endorse beauty products which openly discriminate against those with a darker skin.
Our news channels have anchors who are mostly fair-skinned. Heroes and heroines on the silver screen are seldom dark skinned, and even if they are in real lives they are presented otherwise. There are thousands of popular paeans and odes celebrating a screen goddess which refer to her white skin and then construct a standard model of beauty that is shamelessly racist.
Five star hotels and airlines, when recruiting, prefer the fair skin. And very openly, matrimonial classifieds declare that the concerned person is fair-skinned and/or needs a partner who has so.
Yes, the examples are cliched, and one may of course argue that what has just been said is too common to be critical. But doesn’t the crux lie here?
Can’t we see that we have programmed a system where racism has been internalized and rationalized to be accepted to a certain degree, where norms have been set over a period of time by a minority who are continuing the discriminatory dynamics of the white over the coloured that was found in colonial India?
Perhaps not. Because the whole process starts at the very school level where freedom fighters are photoshop-ed to a fair skin, where the gods and goddesses are given a fair skin and the demons painted just the opposite; where the princess subscribes to certain set standards of beauty, and where the fairest of the kid is chosen to present the chief guest at a function a bouquet or is asked to carry the school flag at the Republic Day parade.
This goes up to the college or the university level where a prospectus will have the ‘Indian whites’ smiling on its cover! Then come the advertizing sign boards in every traffic signal, the people celebrating happiness in pizza parlour hoardings, at posh cafes and often popping out of the shopping websites with a promise of a never-before holiday to some distant destination.
All these practices are actually painting a middle class urban India in which we are blackening out, depriving and silencing the majority of our population – the Indians who are not ‘whites’.
In the name of visual aesthetics we are discriminating, we are creating an environment where the colour of your skin and your appearance start counting. It is almost tantamount to saying that to be fair-skinned and good looking is to be blessed, and to be otherwise is unfortunate and hence thrive for that.
And so internalized and intricate is this process, so very subtly and righteously marketed, that we, the educated urban Indians, refuse to accept the element of racism and give it various names like accepted norms of beauty, charm, a camera-friendly personality, presentable face, soothing sight and et cetera.
Now if this is not discrimination, if this is not racism in today’s India. What should we call it then?
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