By: Atul Cowshish
Tarun Vijay, a former Member of Parliament, is a familiar face of his party, Bharatiya Janata Party, on television. Like all the others of his party who appear on the small screen to defend their party with pugnaciousness, he must have his ‘last word’, which most anchors so obligingly offer, on any topic under discussion to establish that his party is never at fault—and to uphold Indian ‘culture’ as defined by the Sangh Parivar.
So, it was not surprising that the moment the R word was uttered in relation to the attacks on a group of Africans in Greater Noida on the Qatar-based TV channel Al Jazeera he had hit back with gusto. If ‘we’ were racist, why would ‘we’ be living with the people of South India—Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, he asked. He then added: ‘We have black people around us’.
Intent on saving the country’s reputation and ‘culture’, he did not think he was putting his foot in his mouth. It was with no trace of awkwardness that Tarun Vijay said on a foreign TV channel things that only confirmed that ‘racism’ was very much alive in India. He left nobody in doubt that in his opinion the best way to rebut the racism charge against Indians was to cite the fact of cohabitating with ‘South Indians’.
Being well versed in ‘Indian culture’, he did not forget to tell his audience that Lord Krishna was dark complexioned! Lord Krishna, with his ‘blue’ (not ‘black’ skin) is respected by Hindus but the relevant point is that most Indians would rather be fairer than have the skin of the same colour as Lord Krishna.
Tarun Vijay never defined the imperial ‘we’ that he used; it cannot encompass all Indians since many disagree with his views. But it can be presumed that the ‘we’ he has used means Indians who support the Sangh Parivar ideology that makes a distinction between Indians of different religions, races and ethnicity. Tarun Vijay has informed us that the colour of one’s skin is also a consideration in categorizing Indians.
The ‘racist’ Indian has an umbilical ties with intolerance which can be identified with demonizing of the ‘other’. The ‘other’ can come from not only different religious groups and communities but can also subscribe to contrary political beliefs. A lesser discussed but ardent drive of the last three years has been damning the idea of composite culture which is supposed to have prevented India from becoming one nation—the ‘Hindu’ Rashtra conceived by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
Feverish efforts are being made to disown a past when India was ruled by various Muslim rulers and the British. It is a massive exercise that includes revising textbooks, rewriting history books and denigrating many prominent figures from the days of the freedom struggle who are considered insufficiently ‘Indian’.
Tarun Vijay later regretted his remarks. But he had reflected the views of narrow-minded, poorly educated Indians, especially in North India, who live in a cocoon of their own and are ignorant about their complex country. Yet, they are applauded for being upholders of Indian ‘culture’, especially because they are quick to draw their gun when they find someone not accepting their definition of patriotism and nationalism.
During the course of expression of regrets, Tarun Vijay was reported to have said that he had wrongly constructed a ‘sentence’ that created such a furore. That must count as a very strange explanation, unless he was admitting his deficiency in the English language. In that case the more honest course for him would be to decline participation in any debate or discussion conducted in the English language.
One of the first announcements made by Narendra Modi when he took over as prime minister was to declare Hindi as the supreme language in the country and urged everyone, bureaucrats et all, to use the ‘Rashtra Bhasha’ in official communications. It raised the fear of revival of the ‘Hindi imperialism’ sentiments of the 1960s—in South India.
But Tarun Vijay cannot be faulted for using a language he is not comfortable with when his leader, Modi, does the same. He has gone back on his promise to speak in Hindi at all public functions and events. In any case, the explanation about faulty construction of a ‘sentence’ does not absolve Tarun Vijay of his boorish observations.
In his defence, both Tarun Vijay and the BJP, spoke of his ‘cultural’ ties with South India. It was recalled that he had supported the Jallikattu race that the Supreme Court had banned. That was clearly a political act, part of BJP’s feverish drive to become a major political player in Tamil Nadu, a call given by the BJP president, Amit Shah, only a day before Tarun Vijay dropped the R bomb on Al Jazeera.
Tarun Vijay also reportedly claimed to have relatives belonging to Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal. He did not include the last named state (West Bengal) in the list of dark-skinned people. Let that pass. But did think he was flattering his relatives with his ‘dark’ remarks?
The ‘racist’ controversy in India is not new. ‘We’ have failed to treat many Indians as equal citizens because of their facial features. People from the North East are called ‘Chinky’ and many Indians who know the country’s ‘culture’ do not mind thrashing them in mega cities like Delhi and Bengaluru.
A question that the vast army of ‘patriotic Indians’ needs to answer is what has it done to pull down the walls of artificial divisions between Indians: the ‘fair-skinned’, ‘dark-skinned’, the ‘Chinkies’, the cow vigilantes, and so on.
The TV discussion in which the BJP stalwart was a participant was about attacks on Nigerian youth in Delhi which was described in most media stories as racist in nature while the government of India disagreed.
In recent years the number of African youth in India has been increasing. With it, the attacks on them also seem to have increased, much to the embarrassment of the government. But the same government does think that attacks on Indians in the US are racial in nature.
Frankly, therefore men like Tarun Vijay only add to the government’s embarrassment. Syndicate Features