When Congress spokespersons castigate Union minister Giriraj Singh for suggesting the party would not have accepted Sonia Gandhi’s leadership if she had been a “Nigerian lady” and not fair-skinned, a part of me wishes they would specify what exactly they are protesting against. Was it because they think it was an outrageously racist remark against Nigerians, in which case they are perfectly justified in raising the roof? Or was it because they feel their leader has been deeply insulted, as is unfortunately more likely.
Even the BJP minister’s apologies, at least according to reports, seemed to be directed more at Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. He does add, very generously, “or anyone else, if I have hurt them” which might be cold comfort to the Nigerians. But that might be all the apology they get from him, considering what an awfully racist people we really are.
The examples are so, so many – from Somnath Bharti’s midnight raid against the Ugandans in Khirki Extension to the attack on the student from Burundi, beaten up so badly in Punjab that he was in a coma. The student’s father had written to the chief minister for assistance, according to a report in The Hindu, but to no avail.
And if you are lucky enough to escape assault there is no avoiding the hundreds of insults, veiled and outright, that come your way as Kim Barrington Narisetti, an African-American, found during the four years she lived in Delhi. A boy on a bike hurled a stone at her while another, at The Oberoi, jumped up and down “like a monkey and pointing in our direction”. After reading her account, miraculously devoid of bitterness, I wanted to personally apologise to her.
Merely the fact that if you are not fair-skinned, you are way down the social hierarchy is driven home every day in India, from advertisement billboards and films (Bollywood, Kollywood and Mollywood) to shop assistants in Delhi who insist on trying to sell you fairness creams. (Yes, that has happened. The no doubt well-meaning soul was flummoxed when I said ‘No thanks’.)
Perhaps we should we should be grateful to souls like Giriraj Singh, who are only saying some home truths. Remember Lalit Bhanot, who thought it was perfectly reasonable to tell critics of the Commonwealth Games facilities that Indians and Westerners have different standards of hygiene? We may protest till we are blue in the face but the piles of garbage on the road, the paan stains on walls and any public toilet will bear out that Bhanot was merely stating the obvious.