Thursday, June 4, 2009

Of Race And Men

Theres a great deal of hullabaloo going on about the racist attacks in Australia. After the general elections, the Indian media seems to be going whole hog on the latest scoop, which I suppose should give them enough material for at least a week.
Given the so called plight of our dear countrymen in Australia, I cannot help dishing out some of my own experiences in a foreign country (read Russia) for the past six years.
Now, for those who are not aware, Russia and not to mention a good deal of Europe, have their own fair share of racist episodes.
It only seems like yesterday, when I was studying for a debt in Anatomy, my neighbour came running, huffing and puffing to my room and told me that a young Vietnamese student has been killed just a bit of a distance from our hostel. It was around 9 pm at that time, and immediately a good deal of Indians (from my hostel), Africans, Sri Lankans and of course the Vietnamese students rallied together in protest at the lack of security and the so called racial atrocity against the foreign students (the Chinese were conspicuously absent throughout the whole deal).
Did that incident horrify me? Was I appalled, angry, horrified or for that matter scared at the fact that foreigners can be attacked any time at the drop of a hat?
Frankly..not even the least.
All I bothered about was, how am I going to find time to clear my debts in Anatomy.
Nothing more.
While I did spend all night on the streets protesting against racist groups, in a gesture of solidarity to our Vietnamese colleagues, the incident by itself was not of any life changing consequence.
Now as far as the Vietnamese boy who was killed is concerned, he belonged to another university, and decided to visit his friends in my hostel for a birthday party.
Afterwards he decided to head back home, and chose to venture through an unlighted dark short cut instead of going through a bright nicely lit road which would have taken 2 minutes more of his walking time.
And, needless to say that's where he was ambushed and killed by Skin heads (a radical anti Semitic Neo Nazi group).

In my opinion, its always easy to fume and grunt when you hear, that some Indians in so and so country have been racially abused or targeted. But one ought to know how such incidents take place and how we foreigners ourselves are responsible when we end up as targets.

In my six years of stay in this country, I have hardly come across racial undertones. The Russians, if you get to know them, are quite a friendly race. And for some strange reason, they really like Indians.Especially the elder generation. The minute they hear, that you're from India, they begin talking about how much they like Indian culture, about Raj Kapoor (the only Indian actor they know) and of the film Awara. Not to mention their weird fascination for the song "Jimmy Jimmy Aja Aja" filmed on Mithun Chakraborty.
Whenever we have visited the patients ward, the Russian grandmas always wished us all the best for our future and asked us to study hard in order to be a good doctor.

Either way, I cannot deem them racist or prejudiced.
Yes there are groups of people (read Skinheads) out to create trouble, and over the past few years, two Indian students have even been killed in Petersburg (strangely neither the Indian media nor the government cared two pence about the incident) .
But in my opinion its about being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

When as a foreigner, you decide to visit, or stay in any country, you need to have some knowledge about the place you are about to visit, the nature of the people living in the so called country and a respect for the local cultures and traditions.
I knew about the Skin head problem, even before I came to study here. So frankly it wasn't a rude shock to me. The Indians here on the contrary were the real shock.
All foreign countries carry a risk.
Its up to you to be careful and safe guard you assets when you move about in an unfamiliar surroundings.
Even India isn't that safe.
One keeps hearing of American, German or Russian tourists being swindled, abused and even killed by the locals.
I once met a Russian woman at the Mumbai airport, who couldn't speak English, she obviously didn't know Hindi, and the only currency she had were Roubles. And she didn't know anyone in India either. Fortunately my friend helped her reach a currency exchange and managed to drop her off at a decent hotel.
But just imagine, if she had fallen into the hands of a greedy cab driver. One can very well imagine the consequences.
Its people like these who fall prey to all sorts of hoodlums, because of their own stupidity.

In spite of knowing well about the Skin head situation, in Russia, you have Indian students roaming out alone in the late hours when the streets are deserted, and hitting pubs and discos in unheard of places.
And sometimes I believe they deserve what's coming to them. I have heard of cases of Indians here who act the goat in discos and ogle at the Russian girls as though they have never seen a female in their entire lives. As a consequence they tend to get drunk, misbehave and end up with a black eye, blaming the "racist" Russians.

I an not naive to say that racism does not exist. It very well does. But sometimes, racist "incidents" can be avoided if one is careful enough.
As long as you happen to be a foreigner, one must always be humble, respectful and decent in your mannerisms and behaviour when you are in a foreign country.
This rule applies to even those who visit India. You cannot roam about as if you own the place. You are then bound to attract trouble.
No country is without its share of issues. Even the United States which finally has a Black President, is still plagued by racist attacks in certain areas.
Therefore even though the news of racist incidents are unfortunate, they can at times be avoided.
It finally boils down to the individual to be careful in a foreign country, and be responsible for his/her own safety.
For as we all know, when in Rome....

Image Credits:,,

PS: Since my final Russian State Exams are around the corner, excusez moi from the blogosphere. Hence I shan't be able to post anything new for a while.


Shadowthorne said...

.... Why they have to kill someone? Is it really for fun (and of course blatant race superiority)? I have heard about these skin-head Nazi, from German, France and now Russia. These punks should be dragged to the streets and stoned to death. Get their home addresses, and then you and your mob can deal with their family. I am serious about this.

China is very possessive of its citizen. So if any trouble arises, like the incident you mentioned, they are ordered not to participate and stay away from trouble. Remember the Tiananmen massacre? That is why they were absent.

I hope you are well after this sad incident. And yes, racism sucks.

Kaddu said...

Good one! I was waiting to read something like this from an NRI. The REAL picture, you know. Or perhaps, I should say - "The COMPLETE picture"!

Sandhya Ramachandran said...

Very sensibly written! And racism in the bigger sense of the word is what is blown up. What about clannish people, caste-ists, etc? Aren't they practicing racism too? In their own different way!

It is a pity when the lines blur and people start viewing fellow human beings by their 'attached tags' rather than by who they really are!

Lazy Pineapple said...

Really level headed writing. Albeit what you said about people attracting attention and all even in daylight you can hear racist comments. Its happened to me when a group of british boys walked past me and kept saying' Paki' 'Paki' which was completely unwarranted and made me feel like thrashing them up.

Gayathri said...

very well said..although we keep ranting about the racist attacks abroad,we are blissfully ignoring those in our country,like the one in goa recently..after all,it's all about a 'give respect and take respect'..

Viyoma R said...

Finally getting to hear a different reaction to the Whole Australian attack story...
Interesting ever..a bit lenghty though

All the very best for the upcoming well..hope to see u back soon..with some post like " Finally done with Exams..Heading back to India"
Good Luck!

Thousif Raza M.B said...

I agree with you, that one should get to the bottom of an affair before shouting anything , but in this country if you dont shout, the govt just turns a deaf ear, but the shouting should be sensible, news corp's what can you say?,

nice write up ved, you are getting better and better, i like it

and thx again for dropping by on my blog, really apperiate the kin words :D

will be missing ya, best of luck

take care and keep writing.......

Anonymous said...

Such a calm writeup. As always you have a unique opinion of your own.
& yes I have heard about skin heads. It is really sad how they live their lives immersed in such hatred.

All the best for your exams Vyas. :)

rads said...

Just my thoughts...I always say that when you are in Rome you have to behave and act like one...n that's what I've been following from the time I came to US. The husband and me make sure we reach home by 9 p.m and in case we have to party out of that time, we mostly avoid it or prefer going with a group where we would have help in case of emergencies. Like you said when we are in a foreign country its upto us to take care of ourselves and for that matter we follow the same when we are in India too..who ever said India's safe for Indians...its the same everywhere.

Kaddu said...

LOL @ "who ever said India's safe for Indians"

So true rads! :)

Vyazz said...

@Shadowthrone: Yes Skin heads are a menace. But the problem is that they have proliferated only since the fall of the Soviet Union. Soviet Russia was anything but racist. So much for the freedom of democracy. But frankly like I said, no matter where you go one ought to be careful at odd times. Its immaterial, whether you are in Russia, Germany or even India.

Vyazz said...

@Kaddu: Thnx..and personally I detest the way the Indian media over hypes everything. Its better to know about the real situation from a foreign student rather than listen to the wayward media.

Vyazz said...

@Sandhya: Thnx. And yaeh..the issue has been blown up way beyond proportions. I think Indians live in a constant state of denial. Where actually we just happen to be one of the most racist, casteist and biased people in the world!!

Vyazz said...

@Lazy Pineapple: I have heard the use of the word Paki as a racial slur in England.I suppose it must be used by the ignorant and jobless strata of society.
My point was that no country is without its issues. Why in India itself you have anti Bhramin or Anti Dalit sentiments brewing.
There are racist Russians here too. But they compose of an insignificant part of society.
I guess with the good one must take the bad.
I doubt incidents like these need to be over hyped.

Vyazz said...

@Gayathri: Like I said, we Indians prefer to live in a constant state of denial. Rather than face the facts that plague our own country, we prefer mud slinging and every slight incident against other nations. I cannot think of a more immature behaviour.

Vyazz said...

@Viyoma: Its good I edited some bits and pieces or else the post would have been longer. :)
Totally looking forward to finishing with my exams!!!

Vyazz said...

@Thousif: The thing is, I do not mind if an issue gets media attention provided it is indeed legitimate. Frankly, this issue need not be hyped the way it is. Can you imagine if Europe, branded India as unsafe and dangerous (due to the numerous attacks on its citizens in India), the impact it will have on our tourism industry?
No one can call names without proving otherwise.
Its sheer shoddy journalism, nothing else!!

Vyazz said...

@Choco: Thnx 4 ur wishes!!!
Looking 4ward to being done with the exams once and for all!! :)

Vyazz said...

@Rads: Totally agree with you!!
Safety is in our hands. Frankly like you said, who said India is safe? Its indeed the same everywhere. We no longer exist in the days of the apartheid. Racism if you wish to call it that, exists in pockets here and there. You cannot undermine a nation on that aspect.
Just another over hyping incident by the over zealous Indian media.

lafemmereva said...

I liked that you said that the Indians were a real shock :D That's how it was for me when I came to the US :) First time on your blog. Will come back!

Shreesh said...

My friend in austrila said the same thing .Its more hyped. as such goras are cool and with us on this issue. and gaining an insight from NRI was a heartning thing. best of luck for your stint there
In luv n light

Rashmi said...

Another good post on racism, although i am tired of reading about it everywhere except in here, as i feel people here voice their opinions rather more practically and based on substantial examples, which makes it worth giving it a thought, unlike the media hullabo...although i am part of the same media but completely detest its ways of dealing things with over enthusiasm lacking real facts.

brocasarea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
brocasarea said...

true...we some times behave so badly tht we end up being on the receiving end...!!

here more than colour its the lang and regional bias among ourselves tht creates kannadigas dont like tamilians[also vice versa]....!!

Psych Babbler said...

Totally agree with you! Racism unfortunately exists everywhere in the world, including India. Just because we are 'coloured' doesn't mean we are not racist. However, whilst we may not condone racism, it doesn't mean we react like the Indian media has or Bachan and the SS. And we do not label the entire nation as racists just because there are a few individuals that may be.

Nice post! :)

Anonymous said...

Personally I have never experienced it even while I stayed at US for few months. For this whole incident I will blame the media. The Media are masters in breeding enmity by blowing an issue. If there are killings, they will make sure to happen more.

Yesterday I heard a program in FM, where they are conducting SMS contests regarding this issue. What a way to make money! These programs are enough to make people think all Australians are racists like how we have the general misconception about Pakistanis.

Vyazz said...

@lafemmereva: Thnx 4 visiting. Yeah, the Indians here were really quite a big surprise for me. Somehow I always got along better with people from other nationalities.

Vyazz said...

@Shreesh: Thnx 4 dropping by. In my opinion it is indeed hyped. Even the Indians who live in Australia agree.

Vyazz said...

@Rashmi: The media indeed has a tendency to over hype everything. Its a pity that people fall victim to ridiculous exaggerations. Since you your self belong to the media, I suppose perhaps you can make a difference. :)

Vyazz said...

@Brocasarea: Agree, Indians can be pretty prejudiced as well. I suppose we prefer to live in denial than face facts.

Vyazz said...

@Psych Blabber: Like I said, we Indians never look upon our own faults, and are rather quick to point fingers at others. I suppose its like a nation in denial.

Vyazz said...

@Vaniquest: The media can hype things to ridiculous proportions. Heaven knows when people will wise up to the sort of nonsense they keep dishing out.

Mohit Agrawal said...

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::ScOrPiO:: said...

Wow Man...very well written! but hey we can't live like caged birds for 6 years right? Come speak as if guys get punched on face only in clubs because they are at the wrong place at the wrong time? What about all those incidents happened when our friends went out for shopping/classes and came back with bleeding orifices? Not everyone is capable of leading a prisoner's life for 6 years behind those invisible bars in their hostel friend! Sometimes discos/bars are needed to relieve a bit in our cold blooded Russia :)