Of brown, black & racial attacks : The Tribune India

Keki Daruwalla

Too much is happening in near-lockdown India. You can ignore the spiralling Covid figures, also the endless search for the vaccine. A scribe could pick up the suicide case which deservedly caught the nation’s eye, though potential suicides should also give a thought to the grief they leave behind among friends and family. The fast-track laid out for cow slaughter cases in Haryana courts, and the concern for the Hindu minority pockets in the state, is another interesting subject. Being an ex-member of the National Commission for Minorities, I can only welcome this new-found concern expressed by the government. There is, of course, the big shock of all, the incidents in the Galwan valley, to get over. That the Chinese had their batons wrapped in barbed wire, as they attacked our soldiers, makes one shake one’s head in bewilderment. Were our people unarmed? Didn’t the brave Colonel carry his revolver? He should have shot the fellows who attacked him. Our defence experts have not been able to enlighten us why the Chinese, after their fatal procrastination over the discovery of a new virus, have now got into such a hurry to take us on. Possibly ‘deeper strategic’ reasons are behind this rush of blood, say ‘experts’, shaking their silver-haired heads. But best to wait till the air clears.

The Nepalese are not to be left behind with their sensitivities over the Kalapani region. They have been in a cartographic rush, printing new maps and swearing by them. Must ask some wise guy if you can annex territory by just printing maps. We should not forget that we also have updated our political map in 2019, according to reports. I have got that thought from a think tank. Updating maps like adding the phone numbers of your latest ‘conquests’ of the heart, need to be considered provocations.

From this cornucopia of events — don’t forget locusts and the four tremors Delhi had the other night — I choose to pick one small card, and on it is written one single word. We need to ban one word from our crude parlance, a word which comes into use only when people with darker shades than our so-called wheat-coloured skin, get to mix with us. When we are with the whites, how we fume at the ‘colour bar’ and with what righteous indignation. I was in Rhodesia for 45 days as part of the Commonwealth Observers team, and have an idea what the colour bar felt like. And when we brownies, with various shades of tan, burnt sienna, raw sienna, mocha brown, not forgetting coffee imprinted by an intemperate sun on our skin, mix with people from the Caribbean or Africa, how we change colour! Are we chameleons? The wretched word ‘Kalu’ dribbles down from our not-so-red lips. A sneer and a laugh accompany this sobriquet.

That Darren Sammy, a former captain of the fine West Indies team, has woken up to the insult half a decade late shows us the trust the man reposed in his teammates, the Sunrisers Hyderabad. And how they let him down. Ishant Sharma hasn’t apologised for putting out a group photograph, calling Sammy a ‘Kalu’. He should be fined and docked a Test. The Sunrisers must apologise, Sourav Ganguly as the Board president needs to apologise. In cricket circles, we have not been just embarrassed, we have been shamed.

We had African students in the college I studied in — Lamack Lubow, Masfin, Vibhousheth and others. The better students fraternised with them, so did all who came from public schools in Sanawar and Shimla. But I remember boys would insert slips in Lamack’s room reading ‘Kala Kutta’. This was supposed to be humour. We need to educate ourselves. In the age of George Floyd and his brutal death, shouldn’t we educate our children? The word ‘Kalu’, like derogatory caste names which have been banned, needs to be legally placed in the same category.

The political and cultural struggle of the Afro-Americans took over 200 years to come to this level, and yet a harmless George Floyd has a policeman’s knee on his neck for about 20 minutes, and dies. The word ‘Negro’ is outlawed in America today. But in the second decade of the 20th century, it was the poet Aime Cesaire and Leopold Senghor (became President of Senegal later) who brought in the slogan ‘Negritude’ and lambasted the colonialists. Cesaire’s centenary was celebrated along with Tagore’s by UNESCO. Speaking at IIAS in Shimla, I referred to racial memory and the fact that ‘Negritude’ enforced the pride in being black, acceptance of black destiny and culture, and in Senghor’s words, ‘the values and above all the spirit of the Negro African civilisation’. And he expressed sympathy for people ‘who invented neither gunpowder nor compass/those who tamed neither steam nor electricity’.

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