Are we racists?

Feb 16 2014, 01:52 IST
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SummaryDeath from racism is even more painfully shameful in a heterogeneous country like India.

Death from racism is even more painfully shameful in a heterogeneous country like India. We can only empathise with the heavy heart Nido’s parents are carrying. We pride ourselves about India’s tricolour flag bringing ‘unity in diversity’ and ours being the world’s most spiritual society, but in the face of regional discrimination in our everyday life, everything becomes hogwash.

A colleague of mine visiting Kolkata on research work was telling me that after a wonderful dinner at a restaurant in Park Street, when the restaurant manager approached her, she spoke appreciatively. The manager was very happy and asked where she has come from. She replied Bangalore, when the next words he whispered totally shocked her, “Kolkata could be better if there were no indecent Biharis spoiling the city”. The irony was that she was from Bihar. Having grown up as a Bengali in West Bengal, I can vouch for such culturally racist sentiments. Marwaris are offensively referred to as Mero, Biharis as Khotta, Oriyas as Ure and all south Indians as Madrasis. When I look at other states, similar codifications apply; North-Easterners are Chinkis, Keralites are Kurkurias. In Karnataka, the derogatory words for Tamilians are Konga or Pandi, Tamilians call Andhraites Kolty and Kannadigas Kalli and all north Indians as Setu. Whereas the word bhaiyya is respectful in north India, for states south of the Vindhyas, it’s a belittling reference to north Indians.

From retail distributors in Pune, I have heard gripes about the alleged parochial arm-twisting in Maharashtra that has frightened away all Biharis who’d actually been their low-cost labour base. It seems workers from Bihar are very sincere, hardworking and dedicated. They’d come without families, and distributors gave them room and board next to the godown where several of them stayed together. They were willing to work day and night, whenever required. Local distributors unhappily said Maharashtra is not allowing outsiders to come because of high local unemployment. They also say that as locals have to return to their families at night, distributors don’t have the all-time loading-unloading facility any longer. Whatever may be the business implication for the distributors, for people from Bihar, the situation amounts to preventing their fundamental right to work anywhere in India. At the same time, it’s exploitation of labour and social discrimination that leads to fostering hatred among fellow Indians.

When you look at India’s heterogeneous perspective, there are many areas that can potentially

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