Last week there has been series in HT on how we treat foreigners and those who might be different from us. Our racism is largely, but not exclusively, based on colour. Caste and ethnicity is the biggest factor in India’s racism. As a student and now as a professional, I have also felt sometime that we have some rooted prejudices. Mumbai, the largest city of India and having population of over 1.5 crores is perhaps very proud of its cosmopolitan culture. We have people from all parts of the country. Forget whether we are racist in treating blacks and whites from foreign countries as it has already been covered by this newspaper. Lets’ talk about racism that we have for our own country men on basis of their ethnic origin.
The identity politics of the state has further fueled this racism and is a dent on image of Mumbai worldwide. Politicians are trying to make each of us realize that we belong to particular community, speak specific language, have different cultures and this is leading us to feel that we are not ‘Indian’ first.
Some decades back we had a political propaganda against “Lungis” (South Indians), then Muslims and most recent “the Bhaiyyas”(North Indians especially from UP and Bihar). In our daily talks, I have heard many of us using phrases/slangs like “Kya Marwari hai” for a person whom we consider miser, “typical Gujju mindset” for the one who is more interested in money, “Chinkis” for any resident belonging to North Eastern part of the country. Maharshtrians are identified by the word “Ghati.” Though it is meant simply for the people living around Western Ghats but now this term is mostly used in derogatory manner. Anyone south of the Vindhyas is a Madrasi, and never mind if it includes residents of Karnataka and Kerala. They are ridiculed for their accent. Once during my college, a batch mate asked a friend that if he is South Indian then How come he has “fair skin”? A dark complexioned guy/gal is always jeered. We had a friend in hostel who was very dark skinned and automatically many of the hostelites started calling him “kalia” or “kallan”.
“The Bhaiyyas” is used as abusive slang. Recently I was in a garment store at Dadar. A customer and shopkeeper had heated argument on price of jacket. They were abusing each other and trying the customer was trying to make shopkeeper realize his “aukat”. Then as he was leaving he said “Bhaiyya hai saala.” I smiled because they both didn’t argue in Hindi Language and yet shopkeeper was “labeled bhaiyya”.
Similar sort of racism you will come across if you are caught by a traffic police. If you know the tongue of traffic police you are easily let off else you are in trouble. Yesterday I complained to my flat owner that their was problem with the ceiling of flat. He said sarcastically that this problem was all because of “ghati” living on the above floor.
One more thing which i have noticed in Mumbai is so many organizations entertaining only people belonging to particular caste/community. As long as these groups are for cultural purposes it is very fine but the moment they restrict the group to themselves ONLY, it becomes racist. We have several groups of Marathas, Uttar Bhartiyas, Gujratis, Jains, South Indians, etc. Most of these groups are headed by political leaders and are used in creating and mobilizing vote banks. We have various housing societies which allocate or don’t allocate flats to people belonging to particular community.
We become perfect in whatever we practice. And with my experience I can say that in Mumbai Knowingly/unknowingly we have become racist. We all use racist remarks in everyday life and don’t realize that too. Interestingly we are practicing racism against our own countrymen. Mumbai is known for its cosmopolitan culture. Cosmopolitan means free from local, provincial, or national ideas, prejudices, or attachments. But within this beautiful city we are creating local boundaries.
The concept of inclusive society is slowly becoming farce in our Mumbai.