The targeting of a Tanzanian woman by an irate mob following a road accident in Bengaluru, in which a 35-year-old resident was knocked down dead by a car driven by a Sudanese national is being projected as a case of racial discrimination by a dominant section of the media. The incident, which appears to be more a case of road rage rather than a hate crime, is indeed shameful and needs universal condemnation. However, to draw conclusions from a single incident is not only dangerous, but a totally irrational manner of going about things.
Yes, in India, there is a problem of tolerance. The caste system and now in a highly surcharged communal atmosphere, religion too is a strong reason for hate crimes as well as social tensions. The age old caste discrimination led to the marginalisation of Dalits in Hindu society, and for centuries, this segment was both exploited as well as looked down upon. In modern India, particularly after the Mandalisation of politics, the caste factor has morphed into a pronounced feature of our everyday living. When votes are sought on the basis of the community you belong to, intolerance for others is a natural corollary.
In addition to caste and religion, regionalism is also equally venomous. Several small parties have come up in various parts of the country and have been espousing regional causes. This obviously has happened because the national parties, primarily the Congress, were unable to fulfil regional aspirations in their overdrive to consolidate their footprint on the Indian map.
The latest incident has occurred in Bengaluru, which has always been perceived as a metropolitan city like Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi. Many have questioned the changing of the nomenclature of some our cities, citing it as a process of retardation in their evolution as cosmopolitan centres. By going back to ancient names or what the locals thought these cities would have been called, the authorities have solely played to the gallery. There is no evidence to show that Bombay, after it was rechristened Mumbai, is any way better off post the name change. This thesis is equally applicable to both Bengaluru and Kolkata. In fact to the contrary, the metropolitan image of the cities has been dented. Fortunately, no one has thrown up the suggestion that Delhi should be called Hastinapur or Indraprastha, or by any of its previous names.
The very existence of parties like the Shiv Sena is on account of its insistence that every community living in Mumbai should play second fiddle to the Maharashtrians in the state. Soon after its inception in the 1960s, the Shiv Sainiks targeted South Indians and subsequently Gujaratis. Presently, the Biharis are on their radar. Due to myriad reasons, including the role of regional chauvinistic forces, Mumbai is not the same city it once was. It has shown signs of deterioration and its standing amongst the top cities of the world has evidently been affected.
A section of our countrymen believe that India is one country and one nation. There can be many arguments to support or oppose the assumption. A top politician of Punjab told me during the peak of militancy in the state, way back in the 1980s and 1990s that India has different streams of people with very little in common between them. He observed that Punjab, which was the most productive state in the country, had been colonised. Stating that there was nothing in common between him and a person from Orissa or Tamil Nadu, he went on to argue that there was no similarity whatsoever be it in attire and in the general lifestyle, down to eating habits and their religious rituals and way of worshipping. The opinion of 13 MPs from the state was of no consequence since the 85 from Uttar Pradesh could overrule and decide what should be done in Punjab. A ludicrous argument on the face of it, but it does show how people think.
Discrimination is not an emotion that is exclusive to India. Hate crimes take place all over the world. The African students should go back and see the history of their own countries to find out how Indians were treated in the 1960s and 1970s. Idi Amin’s Uganda or Kenya and Tanzania forced Indians to leave their land and many such displaced persons are settled in Britain and some other Western countries. In South Africa, journalists who accompanied Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2007 to Johannesburg were advised by the Indian staff not to venture out of the hotel on their own as they could be mugged on the street.
In the United States, Indians have been targeted because they were mistaken as hailing from one of the West Asian countries. There are neighbourhoods where one cannot venture out even during the day for fear of being attacked by some intolerant person. The Rodney King case 25 years ago in Los Angeles demonstrated how Blacks were treated by the police then headed by Daryl Gates. There are such stories even in Delhi, where an affluent Punjabi or a Bania may use the most abusive language to denigrate a person from Eastern UP or Bihar.
These are the alarming signs for the world all over. The only way to combat this horrific reality is by being less narrow minded. Between us.