Friday, April 7, 2017

Radhika Iyengar - Are Indians racist?

For him, everything proves everything else. The lunatic is all idée fixe, and whatever he comes across, confirms his lunacy: Greil Marcus in The dustbin of history 
See notes on ideology, below - DS

Students from various African countries residing in India carry a palpable, visceral fear. In January 2016, an angry mob set a Tanzanian woman’s car on fire in response to a Sudanese running over an Indian woman in Bengaluru. Back in 2014, the capital’s law minister, Somnath Bharti, led a police raid on the African community residing in Delhi’s Khirki Extension, under the belief that it was a drugs and prostitution camp. The African women belonging to various countries including Uganda, Nigeria and Congo were arrested and humiliated, many of them compelled to urinate in public for drug tests. India has a racism problem, particularly against Africans, and it is in denial. This racism does not stop at Africans alone. At its most fundamental level, our racism is essentially, a “dark skin” syndrome.

If there was any doubt, former BJP MP Tarun Vijay put all confusion to rest. In a panel discussion on Al Jazeera’s The Stream, the former MP who heads the India-African Parliamentary Friendship Group, spoke about how Indians could not possibly be racist, since they were once victims of racism under the British rule. When an African student on the panel, Mina Wumbey, commented that Indians attacked Africans solely because of the colour of their skin, Vijay appeared calm and distant. As a perfunctory remark, he conveyed that he could understand Mumbey’s anguish, but soon after went on to rubbish her accusation. “To say that Indians can be racist is the most vicious thing,” he told Wumbey. It appeared as though he was taking a personal umbrage to what she had said.
It’s important to note the strong, loaded adjective Vijay used to describe her acquisition – ‘vicious’ – a strategic maneuver to shift the focus from the main issue and turn the tables – in this case, against the Africans. But Vijay’s disrespect is not limited to Africans alone. To assuage the rage held by the Africans in India, Vijay tried to build appalling equivalencies between them and those who belonged to South India. “If we were racist,” he argued, “why would we have all the entire south, which is completely – you know Tamil (sic), you know Kerala, you know Karnataka and Andhra – why would we live with them? We have black people around us.” 

His response is a dangerous affirmation and double-edged too. First, it is an egregious insult on the people from the South, some of whom are dark-skinned; and underscores how deeply entrenched the idea of ‘dark-skin’ is in our psyche.  Second, it alarmingly reiterates the government’s unwavering stance that Indians aren’t racist. Those who challenge this stance are often ridiculed and then questioned about their patriotism – a classic modus operandi employed by the government in the recent past. Keep in mind, Vijay is a spokesperson of the BJP. Photographer Mahesh Shantaram has befriended, closely followed and photographed Africans living in India . His series titled, The African Portraits, which has been widely exhibited, has tried to use his work as the means to give a voice, an agency to his African friends. 

When Shantaram openly challenged Vijay’s default assumption that Indians weren’t racist, Vijay’s first attack was to question whether Shantaram was Indian. Shantaram pulled out his passport to confirm his nationality. Then, Vijay went on to berate Shantaram for counter-arguing him. “You are denying your whole nation, you’re denying your ancestry, you’re denying your history, you’re denying your culture and you’re trying to be ‘good’. That’s very bad,” Vijay told Shantaram, in a paternalistic, authoritative tone. “Don’t spread poison and divisionist (sic) attitude,” he continued. “It’s every easy to spread poison, it’s very difficult to start healing. This is a moment when we must be healing the wounds, occurred because of any kind of bad behaviour or mistake.”

Vijay’s language holds a magnifying glass over the government’s indifference to the situation – he calls it a “mistake”. This incident however, cannot be trivialized as a mere mistake. It is a grievous crime and should be looked at as such. What Vijay carries is a hazy vision of “healing”, for healing can only begin when the country, more importantly its government, accepts the problem that challenges the very essence of humanity. Unless we accept the problem, there can be no solution. Until the government remains in denial, the attacks against Africans will continue.

Extract from A matter of time - An essay on ideology and terror
Arendt (Origins.. pp. 606-607) suggests three elemental features in all ideological thinking; the element of motion, of emancipation from reality, and of logical consistency deriving from an assumed first premise. The first develops as a concern with history and generally comes with a claim to understand the past and calculate the future. The present is seen as fleeting and unstable. All ideologically driven action is calculated in order to ‘construct’ the future. The calculation could be in the name of or for the sake of the Class, the Nation or the People, but in each case, the entity deemed to be the Subject of History is in perpetual motion, developing by some inbuilt law (known to the wise leaders) towards a glorious future. The second element (emancipation from reality) implies the training of followers in the habit of dismissing, ignoring or explaining away all aspects of experience that disturb the ideological world-view. For example, if X act of terror is damaging to the ‘image’ of this or that vigilante group, the truth about event X will not be addressed. Rather, it will be re-cast as an enemy plot; and if a massacre of innocents has taken place, the blame for it will be shown to rest with the innocents themselves, or their ‘community’. In one blow, the consistency of the world-view will be upheld and the purity of the radical ‘movement’ maintained. This relates to the third element - of consistency, or working with inexorable logic from a first premise. This could be a sweeping statement about the inevitable victory of the preferred Subject (class, nation, religious community). Once established, everything that happens serves merely to confirm the premise – if there are no pink elephants to be seen, it is because we are snapping our fingers to keep them away.. and so forth. To these three elements, I would add a fourth, the central place of calculated violence (what Albert Camus called crimes of logic, or historical murder), without which the ideological cause in question cannot be advanced. (From A matter of time - An essay on ideology and terror)

Extract from Leszek KołakowskiModernity on endless trial; (1990); Chapter 20. Why an Ideology Is Always Right; p 233-4: It seems at first glance that ideologies enjoy the same privilege of immunity to facts and the same proficiency in absorbing them, since the frame of meaning they give to human destiny is as unfalsifiable as the meaningful order of the world in the believer's perception. If I decide that the whole of history consists of acts of class struggle and that all human aspirations and actions are to be explained in terms of this struggle, then there is no way in which this principle could be conceivably refuted… Needless to say, once you decide that world history is defined by the struggle between Jews and Aryans, your  interpretation will be as infallibly verified by all the facts as is the theory that whatever people do is 'ultimately' reducible to class interest, or the theory that all events, both natural and human-caused, reveal the divine guidance of the universe. The intellectual attraction of an ideology with universalistic pretensions is precisely that it is so easy. Once you learn it, which you can always do in no time and with no effort, everything is given sense and you are the happy owner of a key that unlocks all the secrets of the world… (ideologies) live on bad faith in that they pretend to offer an explanation of the world in the very acts of bigotry and fanaticism. They want the facts to confirm them in the same way that scientific hypotheses are confirmed, being thereby compelled to distort and conceal unfavorable facts. They are supposed to possess absolute truth and to be testable at the same time. While religions have often had recourse to lying, this is not an inherent part of their cognitive status, since their content is essentially unverifiable; ideologies, on the other hand, carry a built-in necessity of lying and cannot survive otherwise. Unlike religions, ideologies are not beyond science; they are positively anti-scientific.

Thus the prowess of each in absorbing all the possible facts is different. Ideologies are not only bound to devise techniques of lying, but when the facts cannot be concealed, they also need a special psychological technique that prevents believers from seeing these facts, or shapes a peculiar form of double consciousness within which facts may be not only dismissed as irrelevant but also actually denied.

More on ideology:

Also see