Racism.. and Related Musings on India

My mom had a very emotional post up yesterday on racism. It’s a take on the situation back home in India. We ended up discussing it today and we found ourselves walking away with more questions than answers.

As an Indian (/brown skinned person) who’s been abroad for 6 years now, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like I was treated ‘different’ in places. But, these occasions have been rare. When it comes to these things, I do believe you find what you look for and maybe that’s also why I only tend to notice when such behaviour is blatant and obvious.

I have had a few discussions with family friends back home who believe Indians are treated very badly abroad. My argument has always been to point out that it isn’t necessarily all that ‘clean’ within our country and amongst our people. I remember being driven nuts when I was applying for colleges post high school thanks to being ‘Forward Caste’ and hence, always ending up with the shortest end of the stick.

And if I have to go down this path, it’s worth pointing out that every college in India has a clear division between north Indians and South Indians (and more specifically, between the Hindi speaking ones and the Tamil speaking ones). I was amazed to find the same sort of division where we were in Singapore. We were barely 300 odd Indians in a university of 30,000 and yet, we had a very strong culture of internal division. The same Indians who complain of being racially discriminated discriminate their own kind based on caste, colour, religion, language, sex and the like.

When I explain India to people I meet in the west, I liken it to Europe. At heart, we are a bunch of very different states who don’t really get along. Of course, this hasn’t resulted in world wars in our case but I attribute that to the fact that we have been more ‘farmers’ in personality than ‘hunter gatherer’. Waging war and conflict isn’t our style. We prefer corruption and a back handed approach to these matters. Hence, my thesis is that there are very few things that are ‘Indian’. Describing food, for example, as Indian is flawed. It’s like saying there’s European food. Of course, there are many common threads but that doesn’t necessarily give us the kind of unity that points to a nation moving in one direction.

So, what of India then? India, in my eyes, is a wonderful example of natural system. And as is the case with natural systems, change happens but happens very very slowly. So, things will get better, slowly – I’m certain of that. There is a strong work ethic that is prevalent across the nation thanks to the fire in all our bellies. We haven’t grown up with the kind of comforts that are the norm in the western world and we’d like to see and experience these things. We are a young population and I daresay, we would have made some sort of foreseeable progress in the coming decades.

We will be many things but I would be very surprised if we live up to the kind of progress that has been predicted over the past decade. The gap between India and China is only likely to further increase with time. While other developing nations run, we will continue to amble at our own pace serving the needs of all the families that actually run things (The Gandhis in National Politics, The Ambani’s, Tata’s and the like in Business etc).

I’ve had someone describe my view of India’s future as cynical. I disagree, of course (what would you expect? ;-)). I just think it’s practical. If we have to really move forward and if we look at societies that have made significant progress in short periods of time, the foundation tends to be a strong social structure – a society built on trust and acceptance injected with ideals, a belief in the concept of equal opportunity and probably most importantly, lead by leaders who lived and breathed this cause. (‘I’m thinking ancient Greece, Rome during the golden period, renaissance Italy and the USA in the 1900s)

And in my eyes, as things stand right now, this foundation looks very shaky.