PART I : THE FIRST TWENTY FIVE SHADES
Two white policemen hold guns over a rabid chimpanzee, his blood squirting all over the street.
“They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill,” reads the caption.
That is a cartoon that came in print on page 12, New York Post, owned by Ruport Murdoch, on 18th February, 2009. If you missed that cartoon on the newly inaugurated President of the United States of the time, you could view the same on many websites but in the Post, which withdrew the cartoon and apologized.
Those were the days when US economy was being dragged into a white hole. George Bush, the man who almost single-handedly led his country to the verge of that hole, was probably playing golf in his ranch and gloating about his courage to let Lehman Brothers, and the great American Dream of millions to own a home, get sucked in. Barack Obama, the new President, had just signed the first Stimulus Bill to save the business houses from going down the hole.
The dying Chimp was not drawn in mere outlines. He was painted black. His mouth was wide, thick and white, the way white cartoonists of old depicted “Negroes”. A few months earlier, when Obama was campaigning for President, many whites wore T-shirts depicting him a monkey.
Some in the media made muffled noises, tried to call up the cartoonist, Sean Delonas, notorious for his prejudices. A civil rights activist here, a black priest there, a couple of people from the media made polite and appropriate sounds.
Shortly after Obama won the election, an American e-mail friend wrote to me : “Now we have a monkey couple and its brood in the White house”. He sent me a photoshopped picture of Obama, evidently cut-and-pasted from an internet site.
I replied : “Monkey couple? During the last two centuries, America had known three handsome couples in the White House : John F Kennedy with puckered eyes and a pretty brunette for a wife ; Clinton with an oval face, oral office reputation and a blonde wife who was not dumb but acted like one through the oral episode; Obama ten times better and younger looking than George Bush with a wife very pretty but for a crooked jaw”. My American friend broke off the correspondence.
Having built a rich (though in deep debt) nation over the carcasses of Red Indians (called Red, so you could to tell them apart from the Brown ones of South Asia) and the sweat and blood (and some carcasses) of black slaves, racism runs through the veins of the United States, much like casteism (which is worse?) streams through Indian artery. 2008 Presidential election showed that racism was somewhat overrun by male chauvinism. Obama won the primaries because he was opposed by a woman (“Iron my shirt!” screamed a couple of youngsters at Hillary’s New Hampshire campaign). Obama won the presidency because any man, even a black man, was preferable to the Republican candidate who wasn’t ready to repudiate the legacy left behind by George Bush. Also because Obama’s alternative to Democratic candidacy was a woman.
In the preceding years starting 1872, 36 women, all representing minor parties, had run for president and lost miserably. As for Republican and Democratic parties, none of the forty-odd aspirants through these years even won a nomination for President or Vice President, Hillary Clinton included. Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska, who won nomination to be Republican candidate was put to much ridicule – all for being a female candidate for Vice President. John McCain, her male campaign partner for the Presidential post with his incessant capacity for verbal gaffes was subjected to less media ridicule. So mcuh for gender equality in the most Advanced nation in the world.
I get many Obama jokes, some relayed through Australia, a few directly from the US. When one of the direct ones was about Obama’s skin, I wrote back: “That joke is on me. If there are fifty shades of human skin and Obama is somewhere in the middle of it, I am five shades darker than him”. I haven’t heard from the funnyman since. Two down. The third from North Carolina seems to be more indulgent towards my comments and pointed asides.
A ‘joke’ that went viral on e-mail chains reads thus:
“A little boy said to his mother; ‘Mommy, how come I’m black and you’re white?’ ” . “His mother replied, ‘Don’t even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark!”
Don’t scoff, this is the text of an e-mail circulated by Montana’s US District Judge Richard Cebul from his courthouse chambers. That is western enlightenment for you. The judge probably has heard of the Radha-kyun-gori-mein-kyun kala (why is Radha fair while I am black) divine syndrome that our very own black-skinned Lord Krishna is believed to have suffered from.
That judicial humour also tells you what justice you could expect from some of American courts. To be fair, US Supreme Court had often – though not always – ruled in favour of emancipation and fair, if not equal, treatment of blacks. In 1923, it banned Indian (Hindu) immigration to the US on the ground that even if Indians could be of Caucasian origin and somewhat light skinned, they were not white enough to qualify.
I am not forgetting that Kamala Devi Harris ( African-American and Indian American rolled into one) is the Attorney General of California State and is in line to be a judge of the Supreme Court. US Supreme Court has never had a black Chief Justice while several states have, In the meanwhile a black (and low-caste, if you will) retired Chief Justice of India is being constantly hounded with allegations that have never been proved. Balakrishnan certainly was not the most accomplished CJI we have had; nor had made any thundering pronouncement through his long haul at the apex Court, but there was no suggestion of corruption when he was on the bench. I have read at least three blogs by people from Balakrishanan’s own State, Kerala, making fun of his humble origin, and of the colour of his skin. One fiercely asking for his blood is a former judge of the Supreme Court, Krishna Iyer, whose decision as a vacation judge gave Indira Gandhi the opportunity, whether intended by the judge or not, to declare emergency in the Country and thereby thwart democracy.
In 1992, Rodney King, a black American on parole, was killed by four police officers and the cold-blooded murder was videotaped by a person from the balcony of his house. Despite this evidence, the officers were acquitted. The riot that followed killed 53 people. (You’re right. India is not alone in killing those demanding justice). Finally two of the officers were imprisoned and two were acquitted. A month after Rodney King died, two other decorated officers killed another black man by cracking his skull. In court they produced false evidences that he was carrying drug. Post mortem reports were tampered with. Larry Nevers, one of those who were imprisoned for second degree murder came up with a book : Good Cop, Bad Verdict.
Nevers received rave reviews and support from his white readers. Bad verdict usually went against the coloured man.
Colour prejudices work both ways. O.J. Simpson, the black football star of the nineties, was accused of killing his white wife Nicole and her ‘friend’, and fleeing from the scene of murder in a Bronco SUV. When caught up by the police, he threatened to shoot himself with the words “gonna go with Nicole”. Prosecution thought they had an airtight case against him with DNA reports, with those near-confessional words, and other pieces of evidence. In the murder trial, a black-majority jury acquitted Simpson. In a civil trial of Simpson for “causing damages through wrongful death”, decided by a white-majority jury, Simpson lost the case and all his fortune. Both trials happened in open courts, widely televised. Everybody knew that it was the colour of the skin, not evidence nor known facts, that decided both cases.
If you think only the semiliterate – because I can’t find a better English Equivalent to Gawar – white members of police departments in America continue to be racist and contemptuous of the blacks, make another guess. During the primary campaigns for Democratic seat in 2008, Bill Clinton, the famous ex-president who is forever busy lecturing the world had said to Ted Kennedy : “A few years ago, this guy (Obama) would have been carrying our bags.”
To be fair to the brother of the man who ended segregation in schools and buses half a century ago, that remark by Bill Clinton made Kennedy change his mind about supporting Hillary Clinton. He went on to support Barack Obama. Among the voting public, a Kennedy voice counted.
To be fair, too, Mitt Romney did not allude to Obama’s skin colour in the 2012 campaign. This, despite the fact that Mormon religion that he practised and preached had its scripture saying that darker men are dark because they were cursed by God. On the other hand, Mormons – at least some of them – claim that their prophet Joseph Smith was assassinated because he preached freedom for blacks.
The economy of the United States since its inception depended on colour discrimination – a firm division between white (pale or pink, blonde or brunette. Albinos counted depending on their parenthood ) and black (dark grey, deep brown, brown, cream, red…..absolutely anything but a few pale-pink shades that fall in white category ). This, in spite of the lofty and original proclamation in the Declaration of Independence that’s often lauded as the best sentence ever written in English language:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
If you have the impression that Abraham Lincoln was the first President to consider black slavery repulsive, you’re wrong. Most presidents of the United States of America (collectively and pompously known as the POTUS), at least the first few of them vehemently, most others condescendingly,, preached abolition but practised slavery. George Washington, the first POTUS, a story about whose truthfulness as a child is taught in many primary schools in India and who was averse to slavery to the extent that “I can only say, that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it (slavery).” Nonetheless, Washington owned more slaves (all black of the above description)than any other rancher in town. Washington was not averse to whipping them for incompetence or laziness. He did not want to “purchase another slave unless some circumstances compelled such a necessity”. History does not show how often those compelling circumstances showed up in his life. The second President, John Adams, held slavery in such abhorrence that he neither owned or purchased a slave although he lived in times “when such a practice was not disgraceful’. Even in the reign of a president with such strong dislike of slavery, the freed black men who migrated to free states could legally be re-captured by their original owners and put back in chains.
Slavery was not an issue, at any rate not the most significant issue, when the Southern states proclaimed secession and forced a war on the Union. The cause was something similar to East Pakistan seceding from West Pakistan – economic and social and regional discrimination and export restrictions. Not all confederates who volunteered to fight in the war were slave owners, not even farm owners. While many in Lincoln’s Government and outside (mostly Northerners) were staunchly for the abolition of slavery, Lincoln vacillated for what he believed to be practical reasons. To Horace Greeley, editor of New York Tribune he wrote during the war:
“If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union“. In other words, if the Secessionists had agreed to stay in the Union on condition that they be allowed to keep their slaves, Lincoln would have readily agreed.
Lincoln initially announced abolition of slavery only in the Southern states – more for punishing the belligerant confederates than as a matter of lofty ideology. While in principle he might indeed have shared the disgust of the first few presidents about white man enslaving coloured man, he believed in the popular dictum that blacks were inferior and unintelligent. Lincoln had no intention to grant citizenship to all the freed slaves in the white man’s country. Some were exported to French Haiti; others to Liberia where freed black slaves had already established a colony, conveniently called “their own country”. Jefferson, the President who did not like slavery helped the French with arms, ammunition and money to the colonizers to quell the Slave Rebellion by blacks and mulattoes (mixed races). Haiti became free in 1804 after an eleven-year old struggle, summarily dismissed as rebellion. (So was the one and only battle for independence that Indians fought against the British). Haiti was the second nation, after the US itself, to shake off colonial yoke. Interestingly it was a white French man, Jacques Vincent Ogé , who led that black rebellion.
The 13th Amendment, proclaiming the emancipation of slaves, was not all States ratified it immediately. A Times of India Report of 20th February 2013 states:
“It turned out that after Congress voted for the 13th Amendment in January 1864, the measure went to the states for ratification. By December 1865, the amendment had received the three-fourths’ vote it needed when Georgia became the 27th state to ratify it. States that rejected the measure included Delaware, Kentucky, New Jersey and Ole Mississippi down south”.
However, a three-fourth majority in ratification was sufficient to pass the amendment. “New Jersey ratified the amendment in 1866, Delaware in 1901, Kentucky in 1976, and Mississippi finally rolled in by 1995″.
When the Union won the war, the black citizen won freedom to walk into penury amidst riches, humiliation in the midst of speeches of equality and freedom. Ku Klux Klan took birth around the same time; and assumed further vigour in the nineteen twenties. Confederate states enacted laws that segregated blacks in housing, schools, rail, buses, jobs and the military. They disenfranchised the blacks while even illiterate whites were allowed to vote . In the North, de facto segregation already existed. Blacks were not slaves, but not even a distant equal.
In early Nineteen hundreds – not that it has changed much since then – American attitude towards Indians (of South Asia) was shockingly similar to Bal and Raj Thackeray’s attitude towards South Indians, Muslims and Biharis in that chronological order. 1900 saw the formation of “Asian Exclusion League”, again shockingly reminiscent of Thackeray’s Shiva Sena. In 1907 Bellingham, Washington, lumber mill workers – mostly Sikhs – were attacked in their homes and work places and beaten up; many of them had to be hospitalized. Some of the victims were “corralled” in the City Hall; over four hundred of the Indians were jailed “for their own safety”. Not a single perpetrator of the crime was prosecuted.
The day after the killing, Dyer warned the people of Amritsar: ‘You have committed a bad act in killing the English. The revenge will be taken upon you and upon your children“. Dyer was tried, and at least some members on the committee of Enquiry found that “(but) there was no rebellion which required to be crushed.” Nonetheless, Dyer received awards and commendations from parliament and the public. British populace, including those living off Indian soil, congratulated him. Many years later Rudyard Kipling, the man who wrote “Jungle Book” with Indian characters and Indian locale, expressed the wish that he were a soldier who commanded the killing of a thousand more Indian rebels. Kipling justified British occupation of India as White Man’s Burden.
You wouldn’t find many Sikhs in Bellingham today; there is a remarkable number of them in Oak Creek community near Milwaukee, over 2200 Kilometres away. In August 2012, 105 years after the Bellingham riots, a White Supremacist band drummer, Wade Michael Page simply walked into a Gurudwara, Sikh Temple, with automatic guns and loads of ammunition and shot down six worshippers including a priest and a policeman before being shot dead. His Myspace Page showed him wearing a White Power T-shirt and standing proudly in front of a Nazi Flag.
An year ealier in Norway, Anders Behring Breivik, 32-year old self-proclaimed Rightwing extremist, exploded a car bomb killing eight people and injuring hundreds in Oslo. Two hours later he walked into a summer camp at a resort island and shot dead at least 69 youngsters and wounded more than a hundred. Reason? He hated Muslims. Not many of those wounded or killed could have been Muslims, for even after the massive immigration of recent years, Muslim population in that country was less than 4%. Muslims, particularly women and children, rarely attended beachside indulgences.
Both these young white Christian extremists had made public their prejudices, hatred and intention to massacre long before they went into action. They were on facebook and hate sites, much like the Muslim clerics of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Terrorism works both ways; and ironically enough, all terrorists end up destroying their own kind most of the time.
I write on these two events because the cause for the riots and killing were mainly the result of colour and religious prejudices . 1984 Delhi (3000 Sikhs) , 1992-93 Bombay (1000 Muslims and an unknown number of Hindus) and 2002 Gujarat (2000 in all ; 2/3rd of it Muslims) can easily make Bellingham riots seem like classroom ragging. American cops of that time would then appear like winged angels viewed against our own Delhi, Bombay and Gujarat police. On the genocide of Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, her son Rajiv Gandhi, Prime Minister in mourning and with a “I am young; I too have a dream” message to the world, commented: “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes“. Indira Gandhi was the big tree; loss of three thousand Sikh lives merely a minor earthquake. If intellectuals in the Country found that comparison revolting, they didn’t say it in so many words. Rajiv Gandhi and his party won the next election with a record majority.
In Muslim Countries, Sunnies kill Shias and destroy latter’s places of worship as if killing and carnage were a hobby. The so-called Arab Spring in Syria has something to do with President Basha-Al Assad being of the Alawi sect while the rebels are mostly, if not all, Sunnis. Abdus Salam, the only Nobel-prize winning scientist (not including medicine) from the Islamic world was hounded out of Pakistan for belonging to the Ahamdiya sect. Ahmadiyas, one of whom has published the best English translation and interpretation of Quran, are killed on a daily basis. Hasaras in Afghanistan, an off-shoot of the Shia Sect, are treated like the blacks were in nineteenth Centtury America and Dalits aire n twentieth century India without the privilege of reservation that the latter enjoys. Hosni Mubarak, a man of moderate religious views (he called for the ‘optimal’ interpretation of the Holy Quran for a healthy religious intercourse) has been replaced by Muslim Brotherhood who have begun to air extremist views and to enact Sharia laws.
Katherine Mayo came to India in 1926, a self-styled “”. She nonetheless watched India from British Government guest houses; and found much that was horrific. She was supposedly horrified by animal sacrifice (after gorging Turkey for Christmas and tender lamb for Easter?), child sex, child marriage, Sati, status of women, glaring social inequalities, poor health conditions of girls and women, filth and things much worse. Without denying any of her claims on these terrible social crimes, Gandhi called her 1927 book – Mother India – a drain inspector’s report.
Subsidized or not, uncommitted or otherwise, what filth she couldn’t dig out herself, she borrowed from the racially and religiously prejudiced missionaries of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Preposterous claims like parents taught their children to masturbate (and allegedly themselves masturbated little children) so that they could sleep well were quoted prominently in the book! Mayo attributed India’s alleged poor health, life expectancy and supposedly smaller physical stature to life-long masturbation. In terms of progressive cultural lifestyle and practices, Mayo classified Muslims, fair-skinned North Indians and darker-skinned Southerners in that descending order. Being a segregationist back home, her disgust at dark skin runs through between lines. After describing the drain that was supposed to be India (which to an extent it certainly was and continues to be after 85 years since), she wrote:
Mayo wrote Mother India around the same time as Hitler wrote his Mein Kampf, where “Negroes”, “Orientals”, particularly Indians and Chinese were described with contempt. He wrote that even if one were dealing with genuine representatives (of India) that whole affair (of negotiating with such individuals) would be bound to turn out futile, if not positively harmful”.
In 1939 Subhash Chandra Bose tried to meet Hitler and was summarily rebuffed after nearly a year-long wait. Obviously Bose had not bothered to read Chapter 14, Part II of the by then notorious “Mein Kampf”.
In the 18th and 19th Centuries, the British, in its frenzy for colonizing the world and fighting other continental European countries in that effort, never practised slavery with that name within their own island-country. Britons – whose grandparents had not migrated to America nor were exiled to Australia nor were engaged in the business of capturing innocent Africans (even tribal Chiefs) and selling them to Americans – found it equally rewarding to pick up Indians – mostly brown Biharis and darker-skinned South Indians – as indentured labour and to send them to Mauritius, Madagascar and a lot many African, Caribbean and South East Asian Countries. If you wonder why the grenade-shaped and spiky bread fruits bear that name without having anything to do with bread, nor is a fruit, it is because they were abundant in the tropical places and were fed as staple food to the indentured Indian labour in place of the bread (Roti) they were used to eating back home. Cheap food for cheap labour. Indentured labour were not treated any better than slaves in British African colonies starved of African slaves after the latter tasted freedom. An online report states:
For nearly eighty years, between 1834 and until the abolition of indenturedship in 1917, the plantation economies in countries ranging from Sri Lanka in South Asia to Surinam (formerly Dutch Guiana) in South America have survived by the hard labor of these Indian laborers or “Coolies”.
If you think Hitler was openly and fiercely racist, you have not read what Winston Churchill, the paragon of British virtue, Nobel laureate (he won Nobel Prize for Literature for a multi-volume compendium of his verbose official letters), twice Prime Minister of British Empire, wrote to the Peel Commission in 1937. (Lord Peel’s was a Commission set out to propose changes to the British Mandate for Palestine following the outbreak of the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. ):
“I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”
You could never come across racism more contemptous than Chruchill’s. It meant that Palestine, the cradle of civilization, did not belong to Palestinians. They were mere dogs in the manger with no residential rights. Churchill and a few others from the superior race would decide who would reside in the manger. Eventually, in 1948, they did decide on a life of danger, ignominy and helpless fury which continues till today while the world looks on). By the same logic, though Churchill did not spell it out probably for fear of American reaction, Indians were mere dogs in the Indian manger for thousands of years, but that gave them no right to own the manger that was India. The right to own belonged to the stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, who had come in and taken their place”. Unfortunately for him, Churchill lived to see dogs reclaiming the manger all over the world. In the meanwhile,the skewed population growth in the British Isles is beginning to make the white Briton a dog in the manger called British isles.
That turn of fortune, though, has not extended to Palestinians till date. Jews, forever preys of other races since Biblical times have suddenly turned predators in a land – Israel – that was captured for them by their former tormentors according to Churchill’s vision. God’s command to Jews – in Torah as well as Old Bible – is to kill by the edge of the sword men, women, children, infants and cattle when they conquer an enemy. The enemy, who admire the same “Book”, though poorly organized and weakened by internal squabbles, similarly aim to destroy the Jews – to kill by the edge of the sword (or burst of bombs and rockets, whichever) men, women, children, infants and cattle. Racial fear stalks the birthplace of three religions of the same God.
Hitler echoed Churchill’s views with characteristic Nazi arrogance. In Mein Kampf, again, he wrote :
“I as a German would far rather see India under British domination than under any other nation”.
And Subhash Chandra Bose was naive enough to believe that he could enlist Nazi help to free India! That India needed to be under some white domination, neither Hitler nor Churchill ever doubted. Prime Minister Chamberlain must have read Mein Kampf and Hitler’s views on India’s freedom with much satisfaction. In 1938, he signed a peace treaty with Hitler, bartering away Czechoslavia thereby betraying the people of that nation. A few weeks later in January 1939, Chamberlain addressed the House of Commons and said that he shared “Hitler’s desire for mutual confidence and cooperation between our peoples”. Cooperation was for not interfering with each other in their attempt to keep existing colonies (for Britain) as well as newly acquired nations (for Nazi Germany) under subjugation. Most probably Chamberlain also secretly agreed not to interfere with Hitler’s attempt to annihilate the Jewish race. British began to acknowledge holocaust after Nazis lost the war. Contempt for Jews, so well-nurtured by Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice gave way to feigned love and concern. Nevertheless, I still find European Jews – at least two of my friends – rather embarrassed to admit their Jewish origin.
All right, Chamberlain and Churchill had his political compulsions; Hitler was raging for revenge against Germany’s abject defeat in the First World War. He had to have some scapegoat for the ignominy, and of course anti-semiticism was in the blood of all Europeans. HG Wells, the great science fiction writer and thinker had no such compulsions. Predicting a future Utopian Republic Wells wrote:
“And how will the new republic treat the inferior races? How will it deal with the black? how will it deal with the yellow man? How will it tackle that alleged termite in the civilized woodwork, the Jew? Certainly not as races at all. It will aim to establish, and it will at last, though probably only after a second century has passed, establish a world state with a common language and a common rule. All over the world its roads, its standards, its laws, and its apparatus of control will run. It will, I have said, make the multiplication of those who fall behind a certain standard of social efficiency unpleasant and difficult… The Jew will probably lose much of his particularism, intermarry with Gentiles, and cease to be a physically distinct element in human affairs in a century or so. But much of his moral tradition will, I hope, never die. … And for the rest, those swarms of black, and brown, and dirty-white, and yellow people, who do not come into the new needs of efficiency? Well, the world is a world, not a charitable institution, and I take it they will have to go”.
Those words were not a part of his superb science fiction, but personal view on what the white race should do with the inferior races. The special concession for Jews owed to the lightness of their skin. Wells added : “The swarms of black and brown, and dirty white, and yellow people.. will have to go…It has become apparent that whole masses of human population are, as a whole, inferior in their claim upon the future …to give them equality is to sink to their level; to protect and cherish them is is to be swamped in their fecundity“. HG Wells did not live in the middle ages, but in the 20th Century; he was a contemporary of Adolf Hitler.
Wells, always a man of science, was only following the dictum of a ‘scientific’ theory – eugenics – that was strongly in vogue among the scientists and pseudo-scientists of the time. Wells was an intellectual convert from Christian faith in the Biblical version of Genesis to Darwin’s theory of Survival of the fittest. He theorized that Darwin’s idea of nature directing the course of action in culling the unfit for the benefit of the rest was not progressive enough. It had to be directed and accelerated by the elite, he said, and it wouldn’t do to be squeamish about it. Jews, he said, were an inferior, ugly, badly attired race; blacks (which obviously included all non-whites – as far as human colour of skin was concerned, there was only black and white, no greys) even worse. Among the gentiles, there were the feeble kind with “‘transmittable diseases, with mental disorders, with bodily deformations, the criminally insane, even the incurable alcoholic! All are to be put to death humanely—by first giving them opiates to spare them needless suffering!’ He summarized his view on eugenics “ as the first step toward the removal of “detrimental types and characteristics”.
The theory was so strong that nearly all non-Jewish scientists in Germany joined the Nazi Party while the Jews were done away with or , if they were lucky, managed to flee. During the war, the retarded and genetically sick in German hospitals were gassed to death to make way for wounded soldiers. Jim Crow laws that was in force (in different shapes and hues) in most states in the US prevented meeting of whites in any forum – whether at races, sports, transports, schools, housing colonies or anywhere else – on the theory that mixing with a person of even one-eighth Negro blood would contaminate the white race and gradually render it inferior. Eugenics was practiced in one form of another, resulting in massive human rights violations – including extreme racism and anti-poor approach across the United States, Continental Europe, Britain and the Soviet Union. One credit must be given to Hitler’s holocaust against the Jews and annihilation of the sick and feeble during the Second World War – when the horrors became public after the war, the word eugenics became so repugnant that most countries put a break to it. Except, as I understand, Ex-priest Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union.
The theory of eugenics was supposed to be based on Darwinian biology and his theory of evolution. Darwin, a true scientist, simply interpreted the ways of nature, admitting that it is a slow, gradual process that continuously improved species. (Look at yourself in the mirror. You are almost certainly taller than your adorable dad, who is just as certainly half-inch taller than your role-model Grandpa. Evolution is doing double time these days). I have tried to comb through the complete works of Darwin online and found nothing wherein he suggests that one human race is inferior to another. A ‘quote’ that’s often cited as Darwin’s by many – mostly Christian proselytizers to discredit Darwin – did not come from Darwin. A blog by Duane Browning points out that the shamelessly false and abominable comment on African races came from a book entitled “The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan” written in 1905 by Thomas F. Dixon Jr. Darwin knew that if there were black apes, there were also white monkeys; the latter were smaller in stature, and less skilled than the former.
I have not found any proof that the ruling British practised any kind of deliberate eugenics in India. Perhaps it had something to do with their considering the whole Indian race as inferior; there was no question of annihilating a whole sub-continent. (HG Wells would not have minded; there was enough opium in India for humane killing).
The European conquerors starting from the Dutch to the British, however, tried a hand at genetic engineering. Dutch, Portuguese, French and the British that came to India in that rough (but overlapped) order and occupied small and big provinces here and there in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries brought with them young but lonesome soldiers. They were encouraged to “marry” (many of them married in Church; a few perhaps invented the now popular live-in-relationship) ‘native’ women. By the time the British took over the entire subcontinent, the offspring of the inter-racial relationship came to be known as “Anglo-Indians” or Eurasians. The resident generals and colonels of the British army claimed that their native wives were from Indian nobility, even royalty, while the Sergeants and Privates made similar claims privately without much substance or credibility. Unlike some wellknown Indian politicians and a South Carolina Senator, however, they did not openly disown their children. They nurtured their new families imparting their language and way of life. (However, most Anglo Indians I know preferred to wash than to wipe).
Marriage between native males and European ladies was discouraged. Offspring of such reverse-engineered marriages were not even recognized as Anglo Indians. The term was also bracketed for Europeans born and brought up in India. (Thus Brigadier Dyer qualified as an Anglo Indian, but he called himself English). By 1850s, British (not to forget Irish, Scottish and Welsh) ladies discovered that travel to and from India had got faster and that ladies’ rooms were available in the trans-ocean steam ships. They came to India, then the land of opportunities, by the hordes. This white rush put an end to mixed-race marriages. Suddenly, Anglo-Indians were no longer equal to Europeans. A semi-official anti-miscegenation law set them apart from the pure whites.
By the turn of the twentieth Century, Anglo Indians were a race of their own – not that all of them had the same racial features or characteristics – and were rewarded by the British with middle-level jobs in the railways, customs and the military. Even today, people from the railways and Indian Air Force speak Anglo-Indian slangs. Anglos were a talented people – excelling in sports, music, education, journalism, poetry, flying, train and transport operations. In 1880, the minuscule population of Anglo Indians had 19% Government jobs, Even smaller number of Europeans 29%, jointly outnumbering Hindu Indians, who were 45% among the class. Muslims were a distant 7%.
When the time came to leave India, the British left most of the Anglos stranded. Not particularly interested in staying back in a culturally inhibited India, Anglos were uncomfortable. Many Anglo Indians were of Portugese, Irish and other European blood rather than of British blood. Many of them were Roman Catholics while the English belonged to the Protestant Anglican Church. Probably these factors contributed to the feeling of alienation from the British side. Many of the paler ones (not yet married to anyone darker), and had the foresight to procure a British citizenship in advance, managed to pass off for persons of British origin and fled with the rest. On the other hand many of European origin decided to stay back – some for the love of their adopted country, some out of curiosity and some on account of their job compulsions. My landlord in Kazipet, a true-blood Welshman (married to a fine Anglo-Indian lady beautiful even in her sixties) told me that he opted to stay back and took up Indian citizenship because he didn’t hope to get servants in Wales. Tom Altar, a prolific actor in Hindi films (mostly in the garb of a wily Englishman) must have been too young; Ruskin Bond, the writer, was too fond of Mussoorie to leave India. Children of Shashi Kapoor, an Indian actor and Jennifer, his devoted English wife, do not count as Anglo Indians. One of their sons could not succeed in the family trade of Hindi films because he was too white. Their daughters don’t seem to have even tried. Jennifer acted as an Anglo Indian woman in a highly acclaimed Hindi film about Anglo Indian life.
Smart, intelligent, talented and capable of surviving adversities, Anglo Indians turned out to be the perfect antithesis to the theory of eugenics. Nonetheless, there was the genetic prejudice from the British to let them freely enter England; cultural prejudice from the locals to let them stay back and freely live their own happy ways. Yet many rose to high positions in India and abroad – the present Indian Air Chief is an Anglo Indian; so is a vociferous and politically active British MP. The names that excelled in the fields of music, sports, journalism, education and military career are too numerous to recount. Numerous schools like Bishop Cotton (Bangalore), Jesus and Mary Convent , La Martiniere etc. at several places, Frank Anthony’s(Delhi) and Colleges like St. Stephens (Delhi) now proudly carry on the old Anglo-Indian traditions with Indian students from elite societies.
When their pet jobs in the railways and customs were lost to Indians in independent India, and the 19% job benefit in select trades was gone, many youngsters lost ambition and became school drop-outs and were compelled to take up subordinate positions. Not pleased with the paradigm shift, most Anglos have managed to migrate to Canada, Australia, South Africa and even England (which the old Anglo ladies whimsically called ‘home’) during the succeeding decades.
Several decades ago, Trevor S-, an exceptionally handsome and nearly white Anglo Indian friend of mine was heard to muse: “Better to be a mule than an ass”. I pointed out that mules were fathered by asses and mothered by horses. “Exactly”, said Trevor, bitterness palpable in his voice. He had ended up in the driver trade in the Air Force. Last heard, Trevor lived in Sydney, happy in a well-paid job operating earth movers and cranes. Though at home with Western ways of life, Anglo-Indians still stick together in their new homelands and reminisce over their lives in India. Perhaps memories of old prejudices linger, but there is also the lost love for Indian curries and obedient servants (‘bearahs’ and ‘Ayahs’). It might take another couple of generations before the Anglo Indian race disappears into the mainstream of their host countries. Although Anglo Indians in India have become an endangered community, Indian Parliament reserves a nominated seat for them as a constitutional right.
One Anglo Indian I recently met was a waiter in a middle-level restaurant near Bangalore. A fine, dark-skinned gentleman in crisp white shirt and tie who spoke excellent English, he turned out to be the remnant of a once-affluent family that had migrated to Australia. I am presuming that he couldn’t get through the migration interview with his dark skin. He was initially too embarrassed to tell me his name: Clarke Gable. This was one Clarke Gable whom life didn’t seem to have treated well.
The first incident of government-supported experiment in eugenics in India was imposed and supervised by Sanjay Gandhi, the second son of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1970s. Whole bus loads of poor people – farmers, labourers, unemployed, bachelors and childless, old and even teenagers – were forcibly taken to “Family Planning Centres” and vasectomized/tubectomized without consent or consultation. The notoriety of the dastardly acts put a halt to any genuine attempts at population control in India. The second, and certainly far more cruel, attempt at culling of humans – not strictly eugenics, but worse – was attempted a few years later by members of the ruling party with the knowledge and tacit approval of Sanjay’s elder brother, Rajiv Gandhi. Nothing, absolutely nothing in history, can match the human massacre that took place between Hindus and Muslims when India won its ‘nonviolent’ independence. 24 years later, Muslims of West Pakistan massacred a million or more (figures bandied about range up to 3 million) Muslims of East Pakistan, which later resurrected from the ashes as Bangladesh. Army from West Pakistan took meticulous care to decimate the intellectuals, scientists and writers of the East. United States under Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger sent a fleet to support Pakistan, certainly aware of the carnage, but practical wisdom (fear of Russian intervention) left the sixth fleet stranded in Bay of Bengal.
Way back in 1942, Kwame nKrumah, then a student in Pennsylvania, a few years later the Founder, President and Prime Minister of Independent Ghana – and a founder-member of the OAU – walked into an American restaurant requesting a glass of water. The white waiter – or possibly the owner – showed him a spittoon.
In late nineteen- fifties through sixties, Sammy Davis Jr. , the man billed as the greatest entertainer ever, could not share the same dressing room as his band and backstage team. At Sammy Davis shows, Davis sat outside or by the swimming pool smoking during intermissions, while his white assistants changed and celebrated inside the makeup room. Sammy’s “Rat Pack” shows with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and other celebrities of the time ran to packed houses, but Sands Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip refused him a room till Sinatra threatened to cancel the show. In the US as well as in India, entertainment people are a little more tolerant of other races and religions than the rest. People like Mel Gibson who tended to shoot his mouth against races (black in the first breath, and as if to compensate Jews in the second) and then offer extended apologies are rare in film circles.
The title of Davis’ autobiography, yes I can, was borrowed by Barack Obama for his 2008 election campaign by rephrasing it as “Yes We can”. Having forgotten Sammy Davis already, and not particularly in the habit of reading black biographies any way, the white supremacists of the time did not comprehend the significance of those three words which won Obama black and female votes.
John F Kennedy was no segregationist by any account – it was he who ended segregation (at least proposed the statutes) in housing, bus rides, voting and schools with the Civil Rights Acts which were later signed into law by Lyndon Johnson, his Vice President and successor. Yet President Kennedy did not dare invite the greatest showman of the time – very same Sammy Davis who had worked hard for Kennedy on the 1960 campaign trail – to his 1961 Inauguration ball. The President-Elect was afraid of the political repercussions on the presence of an interracial couple – albeit more famous than most of those invited – at the party. Davis could have been accommodated despite being black; but his marrying a white woman, May Britt, would have made his the presence not just unwelcome to many of the invitees, but also illegal as per US anti-miscegenation laws of the time.
Although the Supreme Court subsequently overturned anti-miscegenation laws for all the states in 1967, Alabama took thirty three years to repeal its own miscegenation law. Law or no law, in 2009, Judge Keith Bardwell of Louisiana refused to issue marriage license to a black man wanting to marry a white woman. Jim Crow was still stirring in his grave. The learned Judge was ““concerned for the children who might be born of the relationship and that, in his experience, most interracial marriages don’t last.” The learned judge was ignorant in statistics; at least fifty percent of white-to-white marriages also ended in divorce. Obama, a product of an inter-racial marriage (which admittedly did not last) was the POTUS when the judge expressed that concern. Local judges ignoring Supreme Court decisions with contempt is not a phenomenon patented in South Asia.
White women marrying black men is no longer unusual in the US today, but a white man marrying a black woman is extremely rare. Well-to-do blacks, celebrities and sports stars often seem to prefer white women. Asians in the US, interestingly, neither marry nor date a black ‘African-American’ woman though they might try and -often stealthily – go out with a willing white woman. Indian Mama might grudgingly (and with some secret pride) accept a white daughter-in-law coming home with her foreign-returned son, but a black woman in her place would be unthinkable. Neena Gupta, a gifted Bollywood actress who had a daughter from a short relationship with cricket star Viv Richard of West Indies decided to bring up her baby all by herself. She didn’t find many admirers for her brave defiance of Indian social restrictions. Her film roles became fewer despite her superb histrionics and boldness in front of the camera. It took her thirteen years after the birth of her baby to find a partner and nineteen years to marry him after the latter’s divorce.
We all know of Rosa Parks, the brave black lady who refused to vacate a seat for a white man in a “Coloured only” section of a bus. Rosa was not the first one to do that. It was Claudette Colvin , a 15-year old school girl. She refused to change seats in favour of a white woman. “”That’s my constitutional right, you know,” she screamed while resisting forcible removal. Claudette was arrested , handcuffed and later convicted for violating the Jim Crow Laws of the time. She fought all the way to the Supreme Court . It was her fight that led to the amendment of segregation laws. However, you will not find Claudette mentioned in the annals of black history. Reason? She was unmarried and pregnant at the time. Even blacks had Victorian morals.
Rosa Parks, a black seamstress married to a black barber similarly refused to make place for a white man in the black section of a bus 9 months after Claudette Calvin showed the way. Imagine, a seamstress, exhausted after a day’s work, refusing to vacate a coloured section seat for a man – not an old man, but a white man. Just like Claudette, Rosa was jailed for the offence and sentenced. The black leaders thought it OK to take up her cause because she was married; she had only violated Jim Crow laws but not the Victorian morals and the African virginity code. The incident led to riots and strikes. Rosa died a 90-year-old heroine in 2005; she is immortalized in our feeble memory by a movie named after her. I dug out the name of young Claudette from some forgotten annals of black American history. A benign US Congress named Rosa “the First Lady of Freedom Movement”. The First Lady of Free White House came more than half a century later without making much of the sacrifices that Claudette and Rosa went through.
By the way, judging from her photos, Rosa would have passed off for a “fair-complexioned, homely girl of good character” in any Indian matrimonial ad, the word ‘homely’ assuming its ridiculous Indian meaning.
Marin Luther King was a precocious student and a pious preacher; later Nobel Peace Prize winner. Of Democrats and Republicans, the two major parties in the US, he had this to say :
Actually, the Negro has been betrayed by both the Republican and the Democratic Party. The Democrats have betrayed him by capitulating to the whims and caprices of the Southern Dixiecrats. The Republicans have betrayed him by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of reactionary right wing northern Republicans. And this coalition of southern Dixiecrats and right wing reactionary northern Republicans defeats every bill and every move towards liberal legislation in the area of civil rights.
By Dixiecrats, the Civil rights leader meant rightists from the Democratic party in the Southern states who were against Civil rights for blacks. King introduced the concept of nonviolent resistance to American soil after a trip to India. On his visit to Memphis for a demonstration, King said:
What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead.
The difficult day lay straight ahead. The ‘sick white brothers’ shot him through the jaws. That was the violent end of a non-violent black man who had a dream that ” my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”[II
In 1960 A jubilant Cassius Clay returned to his country with the boxing gold medal from Rome Olympics, but the restaurant that he tried to go in to had boards saying : No Niggers. Denied dinner there and shamed, Ali is said to have thrown his medal in the Ohio river in disgust. Some say that he was beaten up by white goons on a bridge over Ohio river after which he flung the medal he always wore till then. Soon thereafter the Christian Cassius Marcellus Clay re-emerged as a Muslim Muhammad Ali. Asked why he refused to be drafted in to the military to fight in Vietnam, Ali replied : “No Vietcong ever called me Nigger”.
If Martin Luther King of the “inferior” black race was precocious, white Lieutenant William Calley was one who passed out of school with C’s D’s and F’s. Commissioned in the army and sent to Vietnam, he shot 109 Vietnamese civilians of My Lai village in cold blood. His defence for spraying bullets on unarmed men women and children was this :
“”I was ordered to go in there and destroy the enemy. That was my job that day. That was the mission I was given. I did not sit down and think in terms of men, women and children. They were all classified as the same, and that’s the classification that we dealt with over there, just as the enemy. I felt then and I still do that I acted as I was directed, and I carried out the order that I was given and I do not feel wrong in doing so.”
Captain Madina . who was said to have ordered Calley denied ordering the mass murder, said he had ordered the killing only of Vietcong – the Communist Vietnamese army. Calley was sentenced to life imprisonment. Most Americans were outraged; Jimmy Carter, then the Governor of Georgia, ordered that the national flag be flown at half mast for a week in the state in honour of the convicted murderer. Many other governors followed suit. Finally, Life imprisonment commuted to 20 years in prison, Calley served 3 1/2 years in his quarters. Captain Madina, whom Calley accused of ordering the killing, went scot free.
Admiration for Calley for the massacre he committed was nothing new in American history. Annihilating the native American race (called Red Indians who were no more red than the Chinese and Japanese are yellow) was a game rather than a fight for survival by the immigrants. Stalking and killing an ‘Indian’ was as much a sport for the visiting white man as it was for the British visitor shooting tigers in India. Tribal chiefs, much like the royalty in India, facilitated such murders in return for personal favours or for the mere recognition of their status. When Katherine Mayo who was yet to act horrified by the atrocities of Brahmins against the lower castes in India was a ripe 23 in age, on December 28, 1890, 300 men, women and children of the Lakota tribe sought asylum at Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. They were allowed to set up camp at the Wounded Knee Creek and were disarmed. The US Government troops then opened fire and killed 290 men, women and children natives (all unarmed barring a deaf and mute man who didn’t hear the order to disarm). Thirty soldiers died – not from native attack, but from ‘friendly fire’ (a notorious American expression that was resurrected when Afghan civilians were killed in ground or air attacks by the US army ) through the melee. The Government awarded bravery medals to 20 soldiers for their ‘bravery’. Pine Ridge Reservation exists today, steeped in poverty and alcoholism, much like the aborigine reservations of Australia. Slightly over a century and a decade later, the same US Government was to threaten the Iraqi Government of Saddam Hussein into disarmament and then finish off an entire army and civilians including women and children through sustained aerial bombing and thus forever erase any semblance of peace in that Country, if not in the whole of Middle East. Saddam killed Kurds; in return George destroyed the cradle of civilization.
To us Indians, this reaction to Calley’s fake conviction would have a deja vu effect. You would remember how, after the Sikh Massacre of 1984, fiercely the parliamentary constituencies of Sajjan Kumar, Jagdish Tytler and HKL Bhagat defended them; prevented arrests by mob resistance and repeatedly elected them. Like Germans stood behind Hitler till he lost the war, India voted en masse for the managers of the carnage in the next election. Business tycoons might praise Narendra Modi’s record of development (not to forget giving them free or cheap land), but Gujarat repeatedly elects him, and a thin majority among Hindus in other states might rally behind him, for his well-demonstrated bigotry.
After becoming a singer of fame, Nat King Cole bought a house in a posh white neighbourhood. Kuk Klux Klan placed a burning cross in his front lawn. A member of the property owners’ association warned the black man that they did not want an ‘undesirable man’ in the neighbourhood. “Neither do I,” retorted Cole. “If you find one, tell me. I will be the first to complain”.
Speaking of Nat King Cole, I must put in this anecdote out of turn. When I was still a teenager, I had not seen a photo of Nat King Cole, but was all admiration for his music and velvet-smooth voice. Attending a jam session in Bangalore with an Anglo-Indian friend, I was coerced to sing a song. After much protest, I sang Autumn Leaves. I am sure that my notes were off-key, my voice jarred.
“You might not sing like Nat King Cole, but you certainly look like one,” said an elderly lady of pale skin, who laid claim to Irish birth. I was elated, assuming that was meant to be a compliment. I did not understand why there was so much giggle and guffaws at that comment all around the room. Not until I saw a Cole movie and discovered that the fun lay in both of us being black.
Americans could do no wrong. In 1988, US Navy shot down an Iranian passenger airline Flight 655, killing all 290 civilians aboard. Mistaken identity proved to be a lame excuse. It has never been proved that the crime was inadvertent. Yet George Bush Sr; then President of the US, refused to apologize. He said :
I’ll never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are.”
His son, George W. Bush Junior, dismissed the killing of thousands of women and children in air attacks by manned flights as well as drones as mere “collateral damage”.
No American citizen can be arraigned at the International Criminal Court for genocide or any other crime. United States has refused to ratify the ICC Statute; so has, incidentally, India. Narendra Modi will not have to face International Criminal Court even if a conscientious Western country grants him a visa.
Old Britishers, slave traders and then indentured labour contractors, were far cleverer than the white diminishing population you find today in England. They – barring men like Churchill – rarely wore their colour prejudices out in the open. In any case, not as much as the Indian themselves did with their darker-skinned brethren. Indians were often treated as dog-poo by the British while in India, but treated more courteously in England where the nobler (and usually lighter) ones went to study. On the other hand, Indians derived much pleasure (except when it was expedient to pretend otherwise) from describing how their countrymen were humiliated by the white men. A Khushwant Singh short story tells us how a high-ranking Indian civil servant, pompous and derisive of other Indians in general and of his own ill-educated and obese wife in particular, was thrown out of a first class train compartment by low-ranking British soldiers. The moral was that snooty Indians got their just desserts from the white Britishers, however low ranking. The story was written to humour Indian readership, always weary of insolent government clerks or babus. A running joke in Indian Air Force billets, a decade after independence, was how a British Warrant Officer from the ranks made a fool of an Indian senior officer when the latter complained to the white man about white lower ranks not saluting him. I confess that I had often in the past repeated that racist ‘joke’ to the amusement of other Indian listeners.
An idiotic joke that has gone viral on the e-mail networks goes like this:
A white man asked Mahatma Gandhi why all white men were of one colour while Indians came in many different colours. The great man replied, horses come in many colours while donkeys are all of one colour.
Gandhiji knew many white men to realize that whites – ranging from Scandinavians to Italians and Marilyn Monroe to Elizabeth Taylor were not of the same shade any more than the brownies from Kashmir to Kanyakumari were. Having read English poetry (among many things) while in England, he would have known that a “fair maiden” meant a beautiful girl; implying there were not-so-fair maiden in Europe who were not beautiful. (A logic shared by a Punjabi student of my digital electronics classes in the eighties. “How can a Madrassi woman be beautiful?,” he asked me: “They are all so dark”. The term Madrassi encompassed all South Indians; that I was a dark Madrassi myself made no difference to him). I estimate that there are thirty shades of brown (including the so-called yellow and black) and that there are at least twenty shades of white between Albinos and the Mediterranean Jews (not to forget the ‘Honorary white’ Japanese). A week in Mauritius sun, German women could be mistaken for ladies from Andhra but for their lighter hair.
Gangs of men, like those in a labour camp, or a group of dacoits, or junior clerks in government offices release their feeling of inferiority by inventing jokes about their leaders or superiors. That’s how Sardar (headman) jokes came into being. For the same reason Sikhs, by giving themselves the title of Sardarji (headman with even more respect) became the butt of many such jokes. Most Indian jokes about the white man were invented out of this gene-embedded inferiority complex developed over three centuries. .
In any case Gandhiji was never so crude as to give an openly derogatory and senseless answer. His true retorts like “European civilization? Not a bad idea” or “Was I ashamed of my scanty clothes while meeting the king? No, the king wore enough clothes for both of us,” bore his class.
We have all heard how Gandhiji was thrown out of a South African train and how that led to his fight against the South African whites and later against the British. Gandhiji found much wrong in the white’s treatment of Indians in that country; I have not heard a single quotation of his regarding their even more abject treatment of the blacks. Educated Indians, most of them descendents of imported bonded labour, were as contemptuous of the natives as the whites were. I understand that the Blacks are yet to forgive people of Indian origin for this. However, Neither Martin Luther King nor Nelson Mandela bore a grudge against Gandhi when they said words to the effect that Gandhian principles mentored their ideology of nonviolent struggle. King, a Christian priest, succumbed to that principle at the prime of his youth; Mandela survived to forgive his tormentors.
Some twenty years ago, my son and I went into a fancy Tamil restaurant, he holding hands with his (current) German girlfriend. Many eyes followed him, evidently with a tinge of envy. The girl did not miss the meaning of those looks.
“Your people in India still admire white people,” she commented as we sat down at a table. She was merely stating a fact that she plainly observed.
“Not exactly,” said my son. “If the Africans, instead of the British, had colonized the world, you would be admiring black men and wearing boot polish for face cream”.
That was a possibility that had not occurred to me till I heard this speck of wisdom from my young heart-string. Indeed, the white colonization of most of the rest of the world gave them a superior air; that made their colour superior, their talk, their posture, their manner of eating and bottom-wiping ways superior. Black dogs, black horses, black cars and black slate roofs are much admired, but not black men. Black meant slavery, subordination, inferiority . Nowhere in Mahabharat or Ramayan does Ram or Krishna (or dark-skinned Draupadi, for that matter) ask themselves why they are black. Not even in Gita-Govind times of the 12th century Krishna asked himself that question. All gopis were infatuated with his looks. Radha-kyun-gori-mein-kyun-kala intrigue is a twentieth century product after three hundred years of white rule in India. In Europe, even in mid-sixteenth century, Othello the black Moore was considered gentleman enough to be a general in the army and suitable enough to be loved by the white and beautiful Desdemona. The attitude changed when slave trade began. Within the next century, that change took a drastic twist which has failed to straighten ever since.
As late as 2012, an European woman working in an Indian IT company in Bangalore wrote in a tabloid:
“I get some special privileges because I am white. I can’t help it”.
She wasn’t boasting. Even after six decades, the abjectness is far too evident to a casual white traveller. Indian tourists might be the biggest spenders while in Malaysia, but a Malay, Chinese or Indian shopkeeper in Kuala lumpur would rush to please the white man who just walked in while contemptuously making the brown man wait and twiddle his toes. Small and medium businesses in China employ white men in insignifcant but well-paid jobs just for the pride of it. Prominent Babas and Gurus in India promenade a couple of white faces among groups of their devotees. Hindu and Muslim preachers love to quote western authors to substantiate the bonafides of their scriptures.
A taxi driver in Kuala lumpur street told us that he travelled throughout India and found Indians very dirty.
“Only in Kerala they are clean,” he remarked, “because Keralaites are all Muslims”. Prejudice is blind and ignorant; it also runs in fifty shades.
You might think that Apartheid has been wiped off the face of the earth when South Africa won its freedom. It hasn’t, in India. A hundred and fity years ago, a scheduled caste (also known as untouchable, acchuth) had to warn his presence on a public road by tapping the ground with a stick. In some villages of Rajasthan today, low-caste women need to take off their slippers and carry them in hand while passing upper caste houses. Poor, low-caste women get raped, beaten and/or paraded naked by upper castes in villages. Come to think of it, most of us in India are untouchable these days – we are asked by police to stay far away from a public road when a modern day Brahmin – known as VIP – passes in a cavalcade of foreign cars..
Negro is a taboo word in the United States now. Not in India. A North Indian character in a modern Indian novel says South Indians are Negroes. South Indians have no compunction making fun of an African student or bus traveler, loudly exchanging notes that there is a Negro travelling with them. Black students in Chandigarh hate the treatment they get; so do those studying in Madras. If you can’t tell the African boy from the local one by colour, there’s always the textured hair to give a clue.
There are many variations of castes (also known as colour, Varna), in this Hindu-majority Country including the ones ordained by such scriptures as Manusmriti (Memorising Manu) and Bhagavat Gita (God’s song) and ratified and justified by Mahatma Gandhi himself. Manu ordained different categories of names to be given to newly born Brahmins, Kshatrias (warrior class) and Vysyas (trader class). To Shudras – the menials – he commands, give a name that’s despicable. Manu also describes the school uniforms to be worn by the first three castes. Shudra’s don’t find mention; they are not supposed to be educated. Manusmriti has lost its relevance in the law books, but not in human minds.
We also have Christian and Islamic scriptures on how to treat slaves and servants – those whom “your right hand possesses”. In neither of these Holy Books raping a servant or slave is a sin. Historically it was Arabs, not Europeans, who began slave-trading in black Africans. When Turkish-Mongol-Arab conquests of India began, Hindu men who lost the battle were beheaded and their women were made slaves. The luckier ones became concubines. Others jumped into funeral pyre of their husbands and became divine-ranked Satis, thereby establishing a ‘holy’ tradition. Any tradition that did away with females was considered holy – infanticide, starvation, kerosene burning (which came later). Christians conducted inquisitions, witch-burning (on pointed stakes) and guillotining. Bride burning among Christians is not uncommon in modern India.
In the last Century and the one before, the untouchables (as humiliating as ‘Nigger’), Harijans (like ‘Negroes’. The word, coined by Mahatma Gandhi, literally means God’s People) or Dalits (modern equivalent of Af-Ams, preferred by most whom the description fits) or, officially, Scheduled castes (because their caste names appear in a schedule of an amendment to Constitution) got fed up of their humiliations and joined Islam or Christianity. While Islam used force and threats, Christian missionaries offered monetary incentives, education and, of course a passage to heaven. Once converted, the poor untouchables found that their condition was no better than before. They continued to be low-caste Christians, rarely invited to weddings let alone have their children marry the higher-caste ones. Those who joined Buddhism under the organizational guidance of a disgusted Bhimrao Ambedkar (disgusted, presumably with Gandhiji’s justification of the four-caste system) found nothing different happening to them, except that their right to reservation was not taken away. By that, however, ‘Bowdha’ (meaning Buddhist) became a derisive word among caste Hindus.
To the converts to other religions, the consolation that their faith in local gods and goddesses as well as ancestors were lost. The promise of a distant paradise was no immediate relief. Worse, Christian-Muslim converts lost the benefits of reservation (in education and jobs) that became a constitutional right of Hindu low-castes. Quite a few reverted to their old faith. Many who did not convert retained parts of the old faith as well as new but with no social benefts. That’s how the parents of Justice KG Balakrishnan became Hindus again. Now both Hindu and Christian bigots ridicule his ancestry. KR Narayanan, another brilliant low-caste Hindu and a career diplomat rose to be the President of India. Not many Keralites managed to attain the lofty positions that these two attained, but you wouldn’t find many Keralites exhibiting pride in their achievements. Long-dead caste leaders are celebrated with enthusiasm. Even Sri Narayana Guru, the man who said “Do not ask, tell or think caste” is remembered merely as a saint of his somewhat lower caste. As in the rest of the Country, caste and religion decide the voting pattern in Kerala, famous for its high literacy rate.
Mata (Mother) Amritanandamayi, a pleasant-faced darkish woman born into a lower caste has somehow managed to be an exception. She conducts temple rituals that were reserved for Brahmins since Vedic times, embraces her devotees of all castes that run into millions, and is worshipped as a demigoddess by many. Mayawati, twice the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh,the largest Indian State, aspires to be the Prime Minister of the Country after the next elections. A crude and incredibly self-centred woman who has done little but rhetoric to uplift her people, her low caste is her trump card.
Among Goan Christians I was surprised to find Brahmin Catholics and non-Brahmin Catholics. Both bore Portugese-sounding names, but the similarity ended there. As you’d expect, Brahmin Catholics are fairer, the non-Brahmins darker. An inter-marriage was unthinkable. I am writing of a situation that I found among Christian Goans forty-odd years ago. I doubt it has changed.
Islam has perhaps a hundred different sects; Sunnies consider Shias inferior and even heathen; the latter return the compliment. The social and religious status of some other sects like Ahamadiyas and Hazaras is worse than that of the lowest Pariah Hindus. The Pariah word, although common in English language with an entry in the dictionaries, is considered so loathsome that it once got a loud-mouthed politician from Tamil Nadu into serious trouble. Quite a few Shia intellectuals in India joined the BJP, a Hindu-extremist party and have become their spokesmen and office bearers presumably in the belief that Hindu extremism is less dangerous than Sunni extremism. They have a point. In Pakistan, founded by a Shia Muslim (though nobody there would admit that fact any longer in Pakistan), Shias are killed, their mosques bombed during prayer hours and houses burnt as a routine. At the time of this writing, a Hazara community has been carpet-bombed from the ground; at least fifty are counted dead as of now.
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World envisions a global Society with five castes, surprisingly similar to Manu’s and Bagavat Gita’s four castes. Huxley’s Brahmin caste, known as Alpha, has tall, handsome, highly intelligent men while the lowest caste is Epsilon – short-statured, stupid, and, of course, dark and ugly. Like bees in a hive, and like Indians from ancient times, the whole human society would be genetically engineered. That would be some five hundred-odd years from now. If that reads like a horror story, take heart. Huxley’s futuristic vision was meant to be an ironic anti-thesis to the writings of white supremacists like HG Wells.