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Racial attack on Sonia Gandhi: Are Giriraj Singh’s comments the voice of India?

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Sonia-Gandhi

By Harshmeet Singh

Just when the public was about to forget and move over the scathing comments of Sharad Yadav regarding India’s infatuation towards white skin, Giriraj Singh, a Union Minister went a step further and hit out at the Congress party’s alleged obsession with fair skinned Sonia Gandhi. Here is what he said “If Rajiv Gandhi had married a Nigerian lady and not a white-skinned woman, then would the Congress have accepted her leadership?”  While the rising voices of dissent from all corners are inevitable, it would be worth questioning ourselves if Giriraj Singh is being despised just for saying what is actually the harsh reality of our country?

As expected, the minister’s statement was shaped as an attack on the Congress party by the BJP, when it was, in fact, much more than that. While we may raise slogans and put out placards against racist attacks on Indians in western countries, the fact remains that over the years, we, as a nation, knowingly or unknowingly, have imbibed racism deep into our veins. Right from our ‘preference’ for a very fair bride, as highlighted in our matrimonial ads, to the mentality that teaches us to see every African in India as a drug cartel, our love for fair skin and hostility towards dark skin is blatant. While trying to accuse the Congress of being a racist party and choosing their leadership on the basis of skin colour, Giriraj Singh presented the world with a piece of his own demonic thinking.

The loud applause that Singh received from his ‘exclusively men’ audience, after he made the comment, was a testimony to the fact that according to most Indian males, marrying a dark skinned woman would be an unimaginable sin. While the minister of state for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises offered an apology to Sonia Gandhi, interestingly, he is still in denial of the disrespect shelved out to the Nigerian women. The Nigerian envoy to India made no attempts to hide his displeasure over the minister’s remarks. Despite this, no official apology has been offered towards Nigeria. Coming months before the India – Africa summit to be held in New Delhi this year, his comments are sure to hurt India’s plans of coming closer to the African nations and enhancing trade engagement.

Don’t go out in the afternoon! You will turn black!

Multiple spheres of our society exemplify our affinity towards fair skin. Our past as a British colony played a major role in imbibing the superiority of fair skin into our minds. Questioning a white man with the same authority with which a dark skinned man is interrogated, is still a distinct possibility. There are still a number of professions where the colour of the skin is much more important than the qualification held by the person. The dark person, for instance, was considered a perfect choice for a villain in Bollywood movies, in contrast to a fair looking hero. People from the North East being beaten and discriminated in other parts of the country, workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh being cornered in Maharashtra and asked to go back, North Indians being sidelined when they visit South India, are some of the most brutal forms of racism we witness and yet choose to ignore, in our everyday life. The brutal mob attack on three African men at the heavily crowded Rajiv Chowk metro station last year was another rude reminder of what we have become as a society. With Indians giving offensive racial nick names such as ‘chinkee’, ‘mallu’ and ‘kallu’ to their own countrymen, they can’t be expected to do any better with the foreigners.

One of the best excuses made by the parents to stop their kids from going out of the home is ‘Don’t go out in the afternoon! You will turn black!’ A dark coloured skin is projected as a liability from the very childhood and once we grow up, there is no turning back. Many reports show that there are negligible foreign students studying in Indian Universities as compared to a number of other well known countries. This, in fact, is a major factor behind Indian institutions scoring low in world rankings. With India earning a reputation as an unsafe and hostile country for alien races, this number can’t be expected to rise anytime soon.

India is a racist country. Full stop. Did it hurt when you read this? It should. But rather than getting hurt and waiting for the next politician to come up with a similar comment, India would be served much better if our infatuation with fair skin dies and we accept people on the basis of their qualities and not colour. Let us not make Giriraj Singh’s voice the voice of India.

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What Would Be The Outcome Of The Judgement On Homosexuality With BJP At The Centre?

If parties like the BJP and "cultural" organisations like the RSS realise the value and motivation of such mindsets, they will desist from their present attempts to impose a straitjacket of their pseudo-religious identity on the nation.

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Ruling on gays: Is the BJP out of sync with modern realities? Flickr

More than the social impact of the Supreme Court’s judgment on homosexuality, what will be of concern to the ruling party at the Centre is its political fallout. Hence, the eloquent silence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the subject.

For the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), any expansion of the concept of civil liberties is fraught with danger to their restrictive worldviews since a widening of human rights carries the prospect of greater individualism.

If the rights of the homosexuals to live without legal constraints are conceded, it can only encourage the people to free themselves of other restrictions as well such as on choosing live-in partners (of whatever sex) and eating, dressing and speaking as they please.

Homosexuality, India
SC decriminalises homosexuality, victory for gay rights. Pixabay

It is noteworthy that the verdict on gays has come close on the heels of the judgment which described the right to dissent as a “safety valve” which the government can only shut off at its peril lest there is an explosion.

Moreover, the court had also upheld not long ago the right to privacy which the government described as an “elitist” concept.

For the Hindu Right, as also for other religious fundamentalists, this dalliance with civil rights — the freedom to criticise the government, the exaltation of privacy and now the decriminalisation of homosexuality — entails a push towards liberalism and modernism which are anathema to any group which wants the society to be bound by shackles of orthodoxy and obscurantism.

It is ironic that although the Hindutva brotherhood speaks of decolonising the Indian mind, the two colonial laws which have long been its favourites are the section on homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code and on sedition.

Now that one of them is gone, there is little doubt that these closet followers of Britain’s 19th century politician Lord Macaulay — even as they decry the secular groups as “Macaulay’s children” — will hold on resolutely to the law on sedition as their only safeguard against the “anti-nationals” who, they believe, stalk the land.

Homosexuality
It is ironic that although the Hindutva brotherhood speaks of decolonising the Indian mind, the two colonial laws which have long been its favourites are the section on homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code and on sedition.
Wikimedia Commons

It is also possible that the saffronites will keep a hawk’s eye on any social problems that may arise because of the assertion of gay rights. As the BJP MP Subramanian Swamy has said, with eager anticipation, if a five-judge bench can overturn an earlier judgment in favour of criminalising homosexuality, a larger bench can undo the present verdict if gay bars begin to flourish and there is a rise in the cases of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infections.

Interestingly, what these judgments underline is how the judiciary is more attuned to the changing world than the elected representatives of the hoi polloi who often argue in favour of giving greater primacy to the legislature than the judiciary since they claim to represent the people while the judges are unelected denizens of an ivory tower.

However, one possible reason why MPs and MLAs, especially of the BJP, seem to be out of sync with the present-day world is the presence in their midst of a large number of criminal elements who can hardly be regarded as the most progressive sections of society.

For instance, of the 543 elected members of the Lok Sabha, of whom 186 have a criminal record, 63 belong to the BJP, followed by eight of the Shiv Sena, four of the Trinamool Congress and three each of the Congress and the AIADMK.

Homosexuality
Gay Pride Procession. Pixabay

What the Supreme Court judgment appears to have done is to persuade parties like the Congress, which usually hedges its bets lest it should fall on the wrong side of public opinion, to come out in the verdict’s favour, presumably because it senses that this judgment, more than any other, has become a touchstone in the matter of breaking out from the stranglehold of the past.

To distance a party from it, as the BJP is doing, will amount to virtually alienating the entire youth community. Even if a majority among them do not have homosexual instincts — according to official figures, there are 2.5 million gay people in India, but this may be an underestimate since, till now, it was unsafe for them to reveal their sexual orientation — the youths nevertheless see the ruling as an assertion of living life on one’s own terms and not be held hostage by the dictates of a society steeped in conservatism and of political parties which believe that their agenda can only advanced if the country is made forcibly to conform to khap panchayat-style social and cultural norms.

Also Read: Why JDU & BJP Coalition Will Remain Instant

To these youths, being or not being aware of homosexuality is of little consequence. What matters to them is to be able to make up their own minds and not be told by elders to abide by certain rules which are regarded as outdated by the younger generation.

If parties like the BJP and “cultural” organisations like the RSS realise the value and motivation of such mindsets, they will desist from their present attempts to impose a straitjacket of their pseudo-religious identity on the nation. (IANS)