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Opinion » musings

Posted at: May 26, 2018, 12:36 AM; last updated: May 26, 2018, 12:36 AM (IST)

Moving labels, that’s all we are

Moving labels, that’s all we are

Sumit Paul

One would think that caste-based prejudices are rampant only in India. But this perception is fallacious. Having travelled across the globe a number of times, I have realised that discrimination is inveterate in the human psyche. The forms of discrimination could be different but the fundamental essence is universal. What is ‘colour consciousness’ of the West? Is it not as reprehensible as casteism in India? 

I studied at the greatest European universities, yet, I experienced colour discrimination. Once I broke down when someone jeered at my skin-colour at Oxford, the hallowed centre of academic excellence in the world. I was a good student, and liked by my white/non-white teachers. But my white peers could never accept me because of my colour. 

I wanted to leave England and go back to Iran. The greatest Urdu scholar of the Western world, Sir Ralph Russell, who taught me Urdu at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, convinced me that discrimination was a neuro-anthropological attribute of all humans without exception. It is a throwback to our troglodyte or cave-dwelling past when homo sapiens discriminated among themselves to grab the bigger share of food, the very basic need for survival. That deep-seated proclivity of discrimination percolated down to the ‘higher’ humans in different forms and shades.  

In South Africa, you will still not find whites and blacks hobnobbing with one another. In a few states of America, there are still written warnings (not) to enter places dominated by blacks. The canker of apartheid still has its echoes and remnants that will never go away completely.  Discrimination on the basis of colour, caste, creed, country, civilisations and even the contours of the body is alive, albeit not blatantly. 

The problem with us is that we are moving labels. None of us is a human. We are either Indian, American, Hindu, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Ahmadiya, Bohra, Shia, Sunni, Lingayat, Shaivite and what not. We are living like ‘pigeonholed creatures’ (to borrow from British anthropologist Verrier Elwin) with numerous identities. We are incarcerated in the dungeons of our own selves —prisoners of a collective fate. 

Where is that absolutely free individual who rises over all differences, discrimination, distinctions and dogmas? To quote Mirza Ghalib: ‘Bas ke dushwaar hai har kaam ka aasaan hona/Aadmi ko bhi mayassar nahin insaan hona’ (It is an uphill task for things to become simple and easy/Even an individual is not capable of becoming a human). 

Until the spirit of humanity prevails, mankind will continue to indulge in all sorts of discrimination. We are all tarred with the same brush. We must concede with Sahir Ludhianvi: ‘Rang aur nasl, zaat aur mazhab/ jo bhi ho aadmi se kamtar hai’ (Colour, ethnicity, caste or religion/All are inferior to a man). 

Until we treat every man as equal and an extension of oneself, discrimination will continue to overwhelm us and degrade mankind universally.

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