I was discussing racist slurs on Facebook yesterday after I heard someone – a white Roman Catholic member of the church (not a pastor but a practising member, as he so proudly put it) – who called in an Atheist tv call in show and referred to the previous caller, who was an Indian, as “Curry Eater”. I didn’t get that at the first listen and had to replay that part to get what he exactly meant. He said it with a little laugh; a smirky little gesture to the hosts of the show as in “hey fellow white guys, THAT curry eater”. Now he said this just as his call ended and therefore the hosts didn’t get a chance to speak to him about it. When they clarified with others in the studio that it was what he said, they got pissed off. Guess what, the atheists on the show also happen to be humanists and they hated that the caller used that term, albeit a mild/moderate racial term, for the Indian caller. Infact, one of the hosts remarked “I eat curry, fucker!”
That was the first time I had ever heard that term being used. As a brown man living in India, I have not faced much racism – the most I have ever heard was from an African-American lady who was hired as a trainer for Ameircan culture & accent training by a BPO company I worked for in Calicut back in 2002-03. When she got angry she would blast at us and say stuff about Indians and Indian culture. Once she said something like “Indian women are only good for making babies” at the girls. Some of us complained to the management and she had to apologize to the girls in question. And I don’t really think of her being a racist; she has many moments of affection to us and even gave each batch of hers a party at the end of the training period. When she got upset she would have moments of outburst and some of the words happened to be racist.
What I have faced is something different – Indians who differentiate & discriminate based on state and culture. The Southern states have a much different culture than Central and Northern India. As do the states in the North East. Language & food is very different too. Can we call such discrimination as racism? I guess when you look at it as descendants of Aryans and Dravidians being the differences in us, maybe. The worst thing I hear is “you bloody South Indians”! To which some of us have countered as “you bloody North or Central or East Indians”! South Indians are ofcourse those from the four southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu & Kerala plus Pondicherry. We descended from Dravidians and hence the differentiation. What I hate most is to be called a ‘Madrasi’ from an ignorant idiot!
Madras is the old name (read that the English name) for Chennai, which is in Tamil Nadu. I have never been to Madras/Chennai – ever. My family is from Kerala. I am a Keralite. An Indian, not from the South ofcourse, using the term ‘Madrasi’ to anyone from the 4 southern states is more ignorant and idiotic and, yes if I may, a whole lot racist as well because he/she clearly has no idea about his own country and people. India is large yes – it’s not that not that large! I remember blowing up at a shopkeeper in Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh) who asked me where I had just dialed using his payphone, as he didn’t recognize the are code. So I said that I had called my parents back home in Cochin. He didn’t know where Cochin was, so I said Kerala state. “Oh Madrasi!” When I corrected him he refused to acknowledge that he was wrong, claiming to know more about the area where I was from than me! So I swore at him and storm out of the shop after slamming the money down on his counter.
A couple of years before that while I was in Bangalore, I was approached by two hostel mates – one guy from Haryana and the other a Sikh from Punjab – while I was chilling in the hostel terrace. We spoke casually for a while and introduced ourselves and all was fine until they asked me where I was from. So I said “I’m from Cochin, Kerala”. “Are you a Hindu, Muslim or Christian?” At that time being 19 I didn’t always tell people I was an atheist so I said “Hindu” as that’s what my family is. “Oh you’re a Brahmin“. In the old Hindu caste system, Brahmins were the priests, scholars & ascetics. My family’s caste is Nair-Menon and we are not from the Brahmin caste. I told them this – but they refused to believe me! Those morons said “If you are from South India and you are a Hindu then you must be a Brahmin!” Again – claiming to know more about me & my family than I do. I was red with rage and told them that if you are from the states that there were from and didn’t accept when they were wrong – they must be idiots! And I walked away!