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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Macaulay's Legacy - Desi Racism

We Indians love labels, don’t we? And I don’t mean Guccis and Pradas. I mean labels for people, of both Indian and non-Indian origin. Aditya Nadkarni

Seemingly innocent name calling amongst us indicates the gravity. We tend to ignore the deeper ramifications of racism in our words and actions and yet are first to cry racism and discrimination when it a effects us personally.

This was brought home recently when I read Aditya Nadkarni's essay The Racism in Desism in India Currents where she says:

We are desis in a foreign country. Indian-Americans raised in the United States are promptly tagged ABCDs (American Born Confused Desis). And for a certain population of desis, the Chinese become “Chinkis,” African-Americans become “Kallus,” and white people become “Goras.” We see nothing wrong in making casual use of these names. We permit ourselves to do the very thing that would likely offend us if we were on the receiving end. If one were to ever refer to us as “brownies” or, even more disturbingly, as “rag heads,” we would be screaming “racism!” from the rooftops.

In an article here HERE the un-named author points out:

In 1835, Thomas Macaulay articulated the goals of British colonial imperialism most succinctly: "We must do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, words and intellect." As the architect of Colonial Britain's Educational Policy in India, Thomas Macaulay was to set the tone for what educated Indians were going to learn about themselves, their civilization, and their view of Britain and the world around them. An arch-racist, Thomas Macaulay had nothing but scornful disdain for Indian history and civilization. In his infamous minute of 1835, he wrote that he had "never found one among them (speaking of Orientalists, an opposing political faction) who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia". "It is, no exaggeration to say, that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England".

One hundred and seventy two years later Macaulay must have a satisfied grin on his face. His lament for the dearth of intermediaries babus has nearly succeeded. And in the process has created new fissures with graver concerns.

Aditi asks:

It is disappointing to see stale racial stereotypes reinforced by the largest film industry in the world. These scenes are meant to provide comic relief and evoke patriotism, especially among non-resident Indians, lest they forget their “Indian-ness” while living in a foreign land. But animosity towards other races and cultures cannot possibly be a display of national pride, can it?

Discrimination is a loaded word and very negative in its manifestation. Is there another word to describe pride with discernment?

I was struck by a thought when viewing news footage of the astronauts landing on the moon. The broadcaster mentioned the names of each astronaut and the states he hailed from.

It was obvious that as an American they were proud of their state and country.

Aparna Pallavi writes about the plight of students from the North in Delhi and how they suffer racial profiling and abuse. Aditi also mentions something similar in her essay.

What makes an American proud of his state and his country? What makes an Indian discriminate and hurl racial epithets at another Indian? How can what Aditi describes as "regional pride" be displayed positively in the Indian context?

Speaking of comfort zone that cushions the move to another country Aditi observes that except for Indians from major urban centers all others drift to their communal ghettos.

She also laments blatant and subtle caste discrimination practiced innocuously by Indians in the U.S.

While caste discrimination has been banned by the Indian constitution and has caused immense harm to the communal ethos even in recent times, educated people still find it necessary to inquire about one’s caste. Once we are among a group of people with equal educational backgrounds and accomplishments, should it really matter what caste they are from? Even the most liberal Indians feel no qualms about stating caste requirements while listing arranged matrimonial eligibility.

This may be attributed to another of Macaulay's lingering legacy.


Blogger kinkminos said...

she was high on orientalism
i've never been there but the closure looks nice


i agree with your point about the one-sidedness of the application of racist epithets. we third-worlders feel that it is perfectly ok to denigrate western peoples and civilisation, but cannot abide the reverse. we feel justified in doing so, in part, because "they" have laws and mores against it and "we" don't. such weird and wonderful logic, no?

and in part cos it really is unacceptable in "their" society to appear to be racist. "we" are not so concerned with those kind of appearances. our appearances are more to do with the observance of quasi-religious mores of the third kind.

i was once (perhaps still am) (the horror...) one of macaulay's "washerman's dogs." (the kind once celebrated by the signs on gymkhana doors which said, "dogs and indians not allowed.") yet i don't believe that inter-communal enmity and disdain is a legacy of british rule. colonial attitudes were not subtle enough to meaningfully differentiate between various indian castes and faiths and languages and ethnicity. we have only our own petty jealousies to blame.

chak de pakistan!!!

November 10, 2007 9:35 AM  
Blogger temporal said...

you may not have been there but in sunny-sinnistan you would have come across plenty of them!

interesting comment and nice blog!

will delve more there later

November 10, 2007 10:26 AM  

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