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Racist gaffe

Union Minister Giriraj Singh is in the news once again for all the wrong reasons. In a video that was broadcast in every news channel, the minister was quoted saying, “If Rajiv had married a Nigerian woman, would Congress have accepted her? If Sonia had not been white, would the party have accepted her?” There is no denying that Singh’s statements smacked of racism and xenophobia. What is perhaps more interesting, however, is the reaction it elicited from people around him. Those around him burst into a mild laughter of sorts. Singh and his peers must have thought that in one swoop he accused the Congress of being racist and shallow.

Although the minister accused the Congress of racism, his suggestion that the party would not have embraced a Nigerian reflects a deep-seated sense of xenophobia. This culture of xenophobia, unfortunately, is one that is embraced by many across mainland India, where it seems perfectly fine to suggest that Nigerians will be rejected by default. Singh’s comments, though, have come in the wake of recent incidents that displayed similar attitudes. Three students of African origin were attacked by a mob at a Delhi Metro station recently for allegedly passing lewd remarks at a woman. Since no woman came forward to allege harassment from these men, it is safe to say that these accusations were flimsy at best.

The three students from Gabon and Burkina Faso also denied those charges. What was most unfortunate, however, was that they were constantly referred to as Nigerians, despite the contrary. It is clear that those in the mob were unable and unwilling to even distinguish Black people based on their countries. Racism, simply put, is a consequence of the lack of knowledge about geography, allied with deep seated cultural ignorance.

In addition, with a deep sense of hierarchy prevalent in mainland Indian society, aided and abetted by casteism, such attitudes are tolerated. When they witness someone with vastly different features and arriving from a seemingly alien culture, this sense of hierarchy and ignorance are accentuated. Although Singh’s comment was deplorable, it nonetheless reflected a common attitudes prevalent in mainland India. People of African origin are unfortunately not the only ones who bear the brunt of such attitudes. Citizens of India from the Northeast and Ladakh are also victims. There is, therefore, nothing astonishing about Singh’s comment.
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