A Sudanese student hits a local woman when driving his car. He abandons the vehicle and escapes. A Tanzanian student arrives at the spot 30 minutes after the incident takes place. She’s dragged out of the car, and then stripped off her clothes and paraded around. She cries for help, approaches a cop who doesn’t budge, gets into a bus but the driver just won’t drive. She is thrown out of the bus along with her friend. The good samaritan who tries to cover her up with his tee is attacked too.
That’s the story we have been told and that’s the story we should really believe. The incident that occurred in the outskirts of Bangalore has caused a stir in the political circles as well as social media. People are crying racism and cultural intolerance. Brand Bangalore is at stake even as the government tries to woo investors in a 40Cr biennial event. Political mudslinging is on. The credibility of Bangalore’s cosmopolitan nature is being questioned. The local media, on the other hand, are highlighting drug abuse and overstaying by students from Africa.
But, there are things which my friends in the social media or the electronic media do not know. The real problem is not the incident. The problem lies in the effects of rapid urbanization, lack of cultural tolerance and mob mentality. The locality in which the incident took place is about 2kms away from where I live.
The area surrounding Chikkabanavara, Kirloskar Layout, AGB Layout and Sapthagiri Hospital on Hesaraghatta Main Road is dotted with Engineering and Nursing colleges. The absence of IT companies has left the area relatively “undeveloped” when compared to the eastern and southern parts of the city. When the corporation boundaries were redrawn in 2007, around 110 villages were brought under BBMP apart from merging 7 City Municipal Councils (CMCs) and 1 Town Municipal Council (TMC). These newly added localities offer cheaper rents with a decent neighbourhood. The presence of colleges in the area which I’m describing has brought in a large number of “outsiders” to the locality. The demographics of the region include our North-Eastern friends, North Indians, Afghans, Africans and, of course, “locals”.
The definition of “locals” often amuses me. If we define locals as people who have lived in the same place for ten years or more, one would find only a thousand or two thousand locals in this locality. Most people have settled here in the past 10 years after buying plots at cheaper rates. People who couldn’t afford a plot in the older city limits, like my father.
The “problem” began around 2008 when the colleges in the vicinity achieved name and fame and hence brought in a huge population of students. Real estate boomed and the locals started constructing houses and PG accommodations for these “outsiders”. A once quite residential neighbourhood became noisier with rich students showing off their bikes and cars. Cars playing music at extremely high volume at midnight became a common thing. Loud parties only added to the troubles.
Around five years ago, one morning, I found my mother standing in front of our house blurting out something to my father. When I asked her what it was, she said she wanted to tell the new African girl living diagonally opposite to us that stepping into the streets wearing nothing more than a towel doesn’t go down well with Indian culture. I asked her to drop the idea. My mother, however, was quite disturbed. She told me that the people who were walking on the road were staring at her and such people may not understand what “freedom of life” means. She had made her point.
When a cab driver from North Karnataka drives around in Bangalore, the dresses worn by Bangalorean girls seem vulgar to him. And he, comfortably, assumes the girl to be a North Indian. Typically, a girl from South India (except the big metro cities) wouldn’t wear modern dresses. And then we have people staying here for decades without making a honest effort to learn the local language or to respect it. When an auto-driver is addressed as “Bhaiya”, there’s anger brimming inside him.
Such issues are not limited to Bangalore alone. And such issues need not always involve an African. Incidents like these happen everyday. While in some places it’s the locals versus foreigners, in other places it’s about locals versus North Indians. It doesn’t have to be about language or culture either. It can be about Localite versus Coastalite. It can be about Bangalore versus a village on the outskirts. Kannada versus Tamil. Maharashtra vs Bihar. Local versus South Indian, if you’re in Delhi. It’s about the Madrasis and Chinkis and Mallus and Kaali-Peelis and Sardars and Gujjus.
Rapid urbanization has brought the villages closer to the cities than ever. It has also brought people from different regions speaking different languages in the name of jobs and education. Cultures are mixing faster than ever. There’s no cohesion in the mix. There’s only friction. A dominant culture suppresses the reserved culture. The reserved culture retaliates.
While the incident that occurred was unfortunate and even as the allegations of racism gain support and the investigations gain momentum due to pressure from the different quarters, the question that we need to ask ourselves is – “Are we all culturally educated?” When I say “all”, it includes the locals, the non-local Indians and foreigners as well. The locals should be patient and friendly to the outsiders so that the line that divides them into “locals” and “outsiders” disappear. The outsiders too – irrespective of whether it’s an Indian from another state or it’s a foreigner – have the responsibility to understand the culture and traditions that exist in the place they are choosing to live in. When we switch from one company to another, we ask our friends about the work culture there. We read about the company, understand how things work there and slowly adapt ourselves to the culture that exists in the new company. Why can’t we incorporate this into our lives? Why can’t people learn how to live in Rome? Why can’t people learn how to treat Romans? And why can’t people learn how to treat the guests?
The lack of cultural education is a serious problem in our societies. The inability of the two parties to live cohesively or make any efforts towards living cohesively has historically caused disaster and will continue to do so. Cultures are like dogs. When a foreign looking thing (living or non-living) approaches a dog at unfamiliar and unexpected speeds, the dog attacks. This mob-attack is not pure racism. It is not just about intolerance. This attack is the story of Bangalore’s two-faces. The cosmopolitan face and the other face!