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We need to question ourselves

By:Karan Thapar | APRIL 28, 2017(Ref:thehindu.com)

Indians cannot convincingly complain about other people’s racism while keeping quiet about the racism within

I wonder if Harbhajan Singh knows the English proverb ‘a case of the pot calling the kettle black’. I ask because that’s the first thought that occurred to me when I read his tweets and heard his interviews criticising a Jet Airways pilot Bernd Hoesslin for allegedly calling an Indian passenger “you bloody Indian” and, reportedly, physically assaulting a lady and a disabled man.

The English aphorism raises the question, what gives you the right to criticise someone when you’ve been guilty of something similar? By equating the critic with the person being criticised, it suggests he’s no better. It also alludes to a certain hypocrisy or double standard.

The Monkeygate saga

In 2008, during a cricket tour of Australia, Harbhajan Singh was accused of calling Andrew Symonds a “monkey”. Even if not in Indian eyes, in Australian this is undoubtedly racist abuse. After a gap of several days, the Indian side claimed Singh had used a similar-sounding Punjabi swear word. The International Cricket Council (ICC) accepted this.

At the time, Sharad Pawar, who was president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, was quoted to have said that “if the charges are not dropped, the team would come back to India”. Many saw this as an attempt to blackmail the ICC into dropping charges. Mr. Pawar also said the Indian side would not accept new evidence against Singh.

Not only was Mr. Pawar roundly criticised for these two statements, it also led some to believe India was using its cricketing muscle and, perhaps, throwing its financial weight to rescue the player.

Justice John Hansen, who wrote the report that settled the matter, said that this had done “serious disservice to the game”. As The Hindu bluntly put it, Indian cricket “lost goodwill”.

That the Indian establishment would defend an erring cricket player is, I suppose, not surprising even if it’s regrettable. When cricketers are considered national ambassadors, this is bound to happen. But what was truly surprising, utterly wrong, and certainly inexplicable was Mr. Pawar’s insistence that “generally Hindustani racist kabhi nahin ho sakta (Indians can’t be racist).”

I’m sorry, but that’s simply not true. We are, sadly, amongst the most racist people in the world.

Living in denial

As a society we simply don’t understand how despicable racism is. Colour consciousness pervades our attitudes, determines our behaviour and has, possibly, become part of our tradition. We see nothing wrong in advertising for fair brides, calling our own citizens from the Northeast and south India names. When challenged, we claim we do not mean to be offensive, that it’s only light-hearted banter!

This, no doubt, is why our government refuses to recognise the repeated attacks on Africans as racism. Whilst the African Heads of Mission called the recent episode in Greater Noida “xenophobic and racial”, the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson insisted it was “a criminal act triggered following the untimely death of a young student under suspicious circumstances”. Not only was the government in denial but, worse, it tried to create a link and, therefore, an explanation between the mysterious death of an Indian student and the appalling attack on innocent Africans.

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