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Media hypocrisy on the Somnath Bharti incident - Forgetting that India is racist. With itself.

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Message Kailas Venkita

Protests against Somnath Bharti in Delhi
Protests against Somnath Bharti in Delhi
(Image by Press Trust of India)
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image courtesy: PTI

Hi Media,

I understand your need to criticize the Aam Aadmi party (AAP), Delhi law minister Somnath Bharti, or any other political party if they practiced discrimination of any sort. In the incidents that happened last week, there were several connected issues that were projected by the Delhi Government and the media. Women's security, police accountability, Center's indifference to Delhi's security demands, racial discrimination, drug trafficking, prostitution, vigilantism, anarchy, constitution, etc. However, most chose to highlight women's rights and racial discrimination and use them to trample the AAP. This is puzzling.

It is heartening to see the media talk about racial discrimination. But it is unfortunate we are trying to look at discrimination from a narrow lens of black vs brown. Notwithstanding the unfairness of being selective in criticizing the AAP, I would plead the media to be fair at least about discussing racial discrimination. For a country that consumes thousands of liters of 'fairness' (not a pun) creams every year and displays mostly light-skinned personalities on the television and movie screens, discussing and denouncing discrimination based on race and color is inevitably a little hypocritical. Nevertheless, we should talk about it. Since we also talk about equality of rights under the constitution, let's make sure we bring in the domestic racial discrimination we exercise on each other on a daily basis.

Let's talk about darker 'Madrasis' discriminated in North India, people from the Northeast discriminated as 'Chinkis', rickshawallas from Bihar being discriminated as migrants. I listed only three of the several types of discrimination that happens in India and we can't claim one is worse than the other. These perverse racial chasms are entrenched and built into our cultural traditions; maybe a colonial vestige? Maybe something more ancient? Racial discrimination starts when you identify 'race', when you identify colors in human skin - and associate color to certain socio-economic or aesthetic attributes and benchmarks. Given the inherent diversity of sub-cultures and ethnicities in India, it is easy to confound people's cultural and social variations as racial qualities and then extrapolate them into stereotypes. The seriousness with which media has taken up 'racial prejudice' against Africans may be nobly interpreted as our sensitivity towards our guests. However, burying the reality of home-grown racial roots amounts to covering up our collective guilt and insecurity of being closet racists. Attempting to label the AAP minister as racist is simply concentrating the blame of a larger social problem to one individual.

Not a single news article showed verbal or visual evidence of 'racism' by Somnath Bharti. Not a single documented statement, or a photograph, or a video is in the public domain that shows how the minister was supposedly 'racist'. Despite the heavy media presence during the incident, not a single journalist has been able to corroborate facts to justify the outrage against the so-called 'racist' minister. The whole argument is based on this flimsy premise that since he facilitated the arrest of African women and put them through trouble, so he should be racist. Also, the media has mostly been silent on the counter-evidence produced afterwards by the AAP with a series of videos about the allegations. Lacking data on crime rates involving Africans or on the issues in Khirkee extension, the media unfortunately sought to join the political bandwagon and attack the AAP on an issue like racism that deserves a nuanced, sensitive definition appropriate to the Indian context. In the name of fighting majoritarianism and caring about fringe communities, the media may be culpable of defaming a responsive minister and possibly subverting truth on the ground.

The media and the civil society have been lamenting about unresponsiveness of governments since India's independence. A singular rare act of swift response by a minister to a longstanding neighborhood problem now stands corrupted and convoluted by the very institutions that demand the same otherwise. Conveniently volleying back and forth between substantive and procedural parts of political actions may suit the media's need for constant news-bytes and airtime filled with criticism. But sadly, such unwarranted vitriol spewed towards public representatives might justify their future inaction and/or indecision on complex issues that affect people. Nor does the narrow interpretation of racism help in advancing discussion on the substantial social problem that pains millions of Indians within their country's borders.

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An avid observer of world events. Special interest in contemporary Indian politics, education and research, epistemology, and social psychology. I enjoy writing and commenting on globalization, Indian political dynamics, forms of government, and (more...)

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