Many people believe that the recent series of physical and verbal attacks against foreigners in India is a reverberation of the country’s long history of racism. In 2017, Indian based African students expressed concern over the way they were being treated in residences, streets, and restaurants. The story of 19-year-old student Manish Khari was one of the few that painted a clear picture of what was happening on the ground. When Khari went missing on 24th March, his fellow residents believed that he had ended up on a dinner table of five Nigerian students (Sawlani). The residents did not hesitate to barge in the home of the Nigerians to rummage their fridge. To their surprise, their suspicions were quickly negated. Khari’s body was found the next day. A medical report confirmed that the cause of death was a drug overdose. One would have thought that that would be the end of the allegations, but instead, Khari’s neighbors were quick to conclude that the same group of Nigerians had drugged him. The incident, though unsupported by any evidence, prompted a spate of racist attacks on Nigerians across India. Whether the events were ignited by stereotypes among the Indian community or a genuine historical occurrence of cannibalism, they provided a strong indication of race-based prejudice. Indeed, as the author of this paper will attempt to show, racism is deeply embedded in the Indian social fabric at a much worse level than what is experienced in some parts of the United States, such as San Francisco.
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The subject of racism in India did not commence with Khari’s incident. Rather, a range of scientific and non-scientific reports have shown that the country has long suffered from racial prejudice. A fascinating map of the level of racism in the world by country places India on the extreme side. Produced by two Swedish economists who sought to examine the level of economic freedom based on racial tolerance, the map was based on a survey of respondents from 80 countries around the world. The researchers asked the participants what kind of people they would tolerate or not want as neighbors. A large percentage of Indian respondents said that they would not want a person from a different race. The results were not surprising as many incidents around India provided legitimate backing. Apart from Nigerians, Ugandans, Tanzanians, Rwandan and Sudanese foreigners have suffered violent and verbal attacks on the basis of race. Attacks on Africans seem to be predominantly common, followed by racist prejudice among Indians themselves. However, Westerners are rarely attacked based on race. Indeed, Stevens claims that India is very welcoming as long as the visitors are westerners.
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The growing preference for white skin is undoubtedly behind India’s differing racial attitudes towards white westerners and black Africans. This prejudice may be partly fueled by a blend of caste-based attitudes and an inferiority complex that dates back to the colonial times. The country’s obsession for fair skin has been well deep-rooted within the culture since the arrival of civilization when the white man was seen as superior. Unfortunately, such notions remain today in India and other countries. The larger Indian society now believes that skin color is included in the criteria of a person’s worth and that all virtues are connected with “fair” while all negative connotations come with “dark” colors. Various forms of media including billboards, movies, TV programs, and advertisements are to blame for the promotion of these misconceptions as they always depict “fair as beautiful.” The Indian government attempted to counter this problem through the Advertising Standards Council of India by addressing skin-based discrimination. The body banned all ads that depict people with dark skins as inferior. However, nothing has changed much to date. India’s advertisement industry and media continue to promote the idea of fairer complexions. Accordingly, most dark-skinned persons, particularly women, are desperately trying to look fair in order to avoid the stereotypes that are associated with dark skin. It is evident that colorism is a major issue in India, and is no doubt a contributory factor to racism.
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While it may be surprising to know that racism is a recurring problem in India, it is not easy to disregard that the Indian caste system has promoted the practice of discrimination across the country for centuries. The caste system has been significantly weakened since independence. In the preamble of the Indian constitution, negative discrimination on the basis of caste is forbidden. Nevertheless, case-based interactions and ranking continue to influence how Indians, particularly in the countryside and in the realms of marriage and kinship, relate with others in the community. Each caste represents a named, endogamous group for which membership is only achievable by birth (Dumont 248). It is part of a system of interdependence with other groups that are connected to complex networks that stretch across the entire country. There are hundreds if not thousands of castes and sub-castes in modern-day India all of which characterize a South-Asian social structure. The caste system was not designed to be inherently racial, but it does contribute to the conception of racial prejudice. Notably, the original definition of a caste describes it as a breed, race, or kind. Indians may refer to a caste as “Varna” which essentially symbolizes color (Cox 5). Castes were traditionally associated with occupation and class. For instance, the Brahmans (priests) were highly ranked, while farmers and artisans were moderately ranked. Barbers, potters, and carpenters received a low ranking while latrine, butchers, and launderers were considered as “untouchable” leatherworkers. Given that one’s caste system was acquired by birth, it meant that people in lowly ranked classes would remain subjugated in social disadvantage and poverty without the hope of redemption.
The topic of caste is considered taboo in cosmopolitan India and only shows up in “urban” conversations as part of an amusing cultural stereotype where people from high ranking castes are likened to financially sound people while the others are defined along their caste ranks. Certainly, the caste system has not left but merely gone silent. It has been linked to past injustices and created opportunities for members of the “high” class (Dumont 214). These racial quotas have snatched opportunities from various races and reinforced corruption in administrations. Many analysts claim that Indians are in denial of racism. In point of fact, the denial of caste discrimination amounts to colorblind racism (McDuie-Ra 2). The Gujarati riots of 2015 are a clear indication that class injustice has festered in lower caste communities. Back in 1991, an Indian news magazine reported that a person from a low caste in a village in southeast Delhi was punished by torture and hanging in front of 500 villagers after he was alleged to have had an affair with the daughter of a high-caste landlord. Many more stories about prejudice against lowly ranked races have exposed the capacity of the caste system in fueling racial bigotry.
A lack of education of social matters is also a major cause of the current level of racism in India. Ignorance about other people often fuels stereotypes. For instance, since many Indians do not understand that Africa is a diverse continent and that all Africans are not the same in terms of color and behavior, they are usually susceptible to the notions they are presented at first. It is evident that many Indians associate Africa with Nigeria since there’s a large Nigerian population in India. An Indian may judge every other black person based on the behavior and opinions about Nigerians (Prabhu). This close-mindedness can be explained through collective rationalization or “group think” domination. Whatever one Indian thinks about a black person is bound to be embraced by other Indians around him or her. This is not surprising because biological traits of behavior show that the human brain is predisposed to be xenophobic towards strangers or anything that is foreign. Thus, closemindedness, accompanied by stereotypes, pressure toward uniformity, pressure on dissenters, and the illusion of invulnerability underlie India’s racism towards foreigners, specifically black people. The solution to this multiplicity of factors is adequate education on social matters.
Compared to San Francisco, India is far much worse in terms of racism. The Indian caste system has existed for such a long time that it has been assimilated in peoples psyche, further making inequalities that should be seen as horrifying otherwise a normal part of daily life. This is evident in the manner in which many Indians display a shocking degree of acceptance of caste limitations. Such widespread acceptance is less visible in urban areas but is much more visible as one moves from small towns to rural villages. Additionally, the caste system has been preserved over the years through a clever manner by ascribing actions of the past life as the determiners of the present life. All these, ironically, are based on the mere accident of birth. Initially, the caste system was built to sustain social order through hierarchical and hereditary means. On the other hand, San Francisco is much more virtuous when it comes to equality. In fact, the state is nowhere in the list of the top 50 most racist regions on the planet. Cases of racism in San Francisco are very rare, and this is partly attributed to the establishment of an equality-based governance system, education of the masses on racism, and a history of learning about the negative impacts of racism. However, both India and San Francisco are alike in that segregation in the former and racism in the latter malevolently twist the philosophies of purity to foster and retain unsound levels of cultural and social inequality.
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