“Why is Radha so fair, why was I born dark?”,lamented Krishna. Or did he? Perhaps he was just play-acting, or better enough, complaining to Yashoda, his mother, about being taunted at by his friends and gopis.
(Radha kyun gori,mein kyun kala)
Indians think nothing about teasing even their most loved God with jibes over colour! He would not have been named Krishna had if we hated persons of colour. Krishna means dark-coloured, as does Shyam, his other name. Krishna also means someone that attracts. There is no way it can pass off as a slur!
Draupadi, the most desirable woman in the Mahabharat, was dark-complexioned and is also addressed as Krishnaa(dark-skinned)in the texts. Sheshnag, who took avatara as Lakshman and Balram, is mentioned as Kalia(black). Krishna Dwaipaayana Vyas as well as his motherQueen Satyawati(Mastyagandha or One who smelt like/of fishes) were also reputed to be quite dark-skinned. There was no irony associated with these names. People of Aryavarta in the times of Mahabharata did not attach any stigma with colour. It was a fact of life, a difference in appearance which did not hurt when pointed out.
There is a fine line between colour and race in the Indian context. Race might have been a factor even then, as treatment of Eklavya shows (although Drona was widely condemned for his misdeed), as it is now. Race,as well as racism, are unfortunate realities of all cultures and civilizations which must not be swept under carpets.
Yet one must grudgingly concede that Kalu,Kallu,Kallan,Kalia are quite common names in subaltern India. Not just as proper nouns, they are also used as terms of mock-endearments. Kaluram (Darkish-Ram) is another respectable common name which was quite in vogue till my father’s generation. Many Kallus and Kallans are found among Hindus as well as Muslims.
“Main hu Kallu-Kallan-Kalia,log dete hai mujhko gaaliyan,” an egoist onscreen villain once boasted.It loosely translates into “I am Dark-Darkie-Darko, people abuse me for the heck of it.”
This betrays a tendency to normalize and regularize such synonyms of dark-skinned.
Darren Sammy has been a World Cup T20 winning captain and quite a well-respected cricketer. Sammy was quite loved both on and off the field for his playing style and antics. Who can forget his ‘pacifier’ and ‘cradling’ celebration styles, ability to earn vital breakthroughs as a bowler and conjure up magical power strokes as a batsman? Sammy showered us with love, and we loved him back. Elementary Psychoanalysis of players from simple backgrounds and inadequate education suggests that it is possible that one might be hurl a racial slur like ‘Kallu’ and yet not be aware of the hurt that it can cause. BCCI hardly takes any initiative in sensitizing players about the gravity of such careless behaviour. Ishant Sharma is not known as a suave or aware cricketer. Someone as polished as Sourav Ganguly or Dhoni would never have committed this transgression. If some Indian cricketers did inflict this borderline-racist misery upon Sammy, it can only be understood and explained in terms of group behaviour which encourages abuse, intolerance, a shared cultural understanding of what the abuse means and the knowledge that the victim is innocent of its meaning. This results in some kind of cheap thrill, which degenerates into a sort of private joke.
That said, white skin is an all India fad. Top film stars have all endorsed Fair & Lovely at one time or the other. A fair girl is not just a means to whitening of generation, she is also considered beautiful- an end in herself. Black might not be shameful, but white is definitely considered desirable in India. Such attitudes ensure racial biases get deeply ingrained in people.
I myself have witnessed some spectators screeching like monkeys to distract Chris Gayle at Motera and Wankhede Stadiums in 2013-14. Although this was downright cheap and disgusting, neither the cops nor the viewers sitting around them were aware of the underlying heinous racial connotations associated with such crass display. Kids end up laughing because they do not know, adults behave as if they are in a zoo!
Indians have never held colour in disgust, although we have venerated the absence of it. We have always backed Windies and Asians in their cricketing battles against England, Australia and South Africa. No one in India would have ever endorsed Tony Greig’s “we shall make them grovel” comment, not now and not even in 1976. Our racism is more of the unaware or mocking kind. We did not mind when Sunil Gavaskar was branded a ‘little man’. The West Indians are our brothers, damn !
Any discussion on racism in Indian cricket must also involve ‘Monkey/ teri Ma ki’ spittle of Harbhajan Singh. It must be mentioned here that Bhajji ended up marrying a dark-complexioned NRI actress. Give him some benefit of doubt, even if you don’t consider even Sachin Tendulkar’s testimony as reliable.
It is high time that not just Ishant, but the whole gang of Sunrisers Hyderabad say sorry to Darren Sammy, and be done with this unflattering chapter. Delay won’t help matters, since apologies are inevitable in this era of #BlackLivesMatter. With a quick apology, Ishant and BCCI can atleast hope to be heard and control the narrative- gives us a chance to make amends and do course correction if required. If this snowballs, it would not help anyone.
#race #racism #DarrenSammy #WestIndies #Kallu
#IPL #BCCI #IshantSharma #SunrisersHyderabad