Ignoring racism is dangerous

Ignoring racism is dangerous

Racist prejudice has raised its ugly head yet again in Bengaluru. On Monday night, a mob in the City’s Kothanur locality chased and assaulted several African nationals, some of who were grievously injured and required hospitalisation. As disturbing as the attack is the attempt by the police to downplay the gravity of the incident. Senior officials have dismissed it as mere “pushing and jostling,” the result of a verbal exchange sparked by road rage when what happened on Monday night was serious racist violence. The mob used stones and bottles to attack. CCTV footage reveals that at least one person was thrashed with chairs. The attack cannot be attributed to spontaneous eruption of anger either. Road rage may have been the immediate spark but the violence was rooted in deep prejudice against Africans and in negative stereotypes of the community as immoral and criminal. There is an attempt to shift the blame to the victims; the latter are being accused of provoking the attack with their ‘misbehaviour.’ And cops seem reluctant to take tough action against the racist mob’s vigilantism. They have warned the victims against filing a complaint and no arrests have been made.

This is a familiar story that routinely unfolds in various Indian cities. Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Bengaluru pride themselves on being cosmopolitan and modern cities but the way we let loose racist slurs and violence against Africans in particular underscores that hate and insularity better describe our mindset. All Africans are looked up as drug peddlers, pimps and prostitutes, a perception that prompted former Delhi law minister Somnath Bharti to order a midnight raid last year that saw scores of African women being taken into custody. Worryingly, when racist attacks happen, the public and police look on passively.

Racism is not something we reserve for foreigners. People from the North-East too are frequently attacked and subjected to racist slander and violence. They are taunted and subjected to physical and sexual assaults. In the wake of rising violence against people from the North-East, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a directive in 2012 that verbal slurring of the community would be punished under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. But what use are laws, even tough ones, when they are not implemented, and when the police refuse to register complaints against those who indulge in racism? Refusing to recognise racism and punish the guilty gives it a fresh lease of life. Denying the existence of racism will not make it go away. Racism undermines our claims to being a plural society.

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