By Farouk Gulsara
Rishi Sunak’s appointment to 10 Downing Street has made people aware of the significant presence of Indians in the African Continent. Indian-African cultural and trade exchanges had been ongoing as early as the 7th century BC. Africans are also mentioned to have significantly influenced India’s history of kingdoms, conquests and wars.
The second wave of Indian migration to Africa happened mainly in the 19th century with British imperialism via the indentured labour system, a dignified name for slavery. It is all semantics. What essentially happened at the end day is a large Indian diaspora in countries like South Africa, Mauritius, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and many more. Many of the Indians who made their way there as labourers, over the generations, began to play significant roles in the economy and professional representations in these countries.
A certain famous Indian diva born in Zanzibar to British colonial civil service who kicked a storm in the rock and roll is, of course, Freddy Mercury (1946-1991) as Farrokh Bulsara.
Idi Amin declared himself the President of Uganda after a coup d’état in 1971. The first thing that he did was to expel Indians from Uganda. His reasoning is that the South Asian labourers were brought in to build the railways. Now that the rail network was completed, they had to leave. They had no business controlling all aspects of Ugandan wealth.
In Mira Nair’s Mississippi Masala (1991), the protagonists, Jay, Rinnu and young Mina, had to uproot themselves from Kampala overnight when Amin decreed that all Indians were no longer welcome in Uganda. With a single stroke of the pen, they became refugees.
By 1990, they are shown to have become residents of Mississippi. The 24-year-old Mina is entangled with a local Afro-American man. This creates much friction between the two families. That is the basis of the movie.
It is interesting to note many Asiatic societies complain that the rest of the world practises discriminatory, racist policies against them. In reality, they are quick to differentiate each other within their community — the high-heeled, the aristocratic ancestors, their professions, the fairness of the colour of their skins, you name it. And they call others’ racists. For that matter, everyone is a racist. The Europeans subclassify their community by economic class. The seemingly homogenous Africans also differentiate themselves by tribes. Remember Rwanda with their Tutsi and Hutu civil war? Even the Taiwanese have subdivisions. China and Russia have varying ethnicities across the vast span of their lands.
Interestingly, the politics of the oppressed is much like what we read in George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) and saw in the South Korean 2019 Oscar winner Parasite. Like how some animals are ‘more equal’ than others, the maids of the Parks feel more entitled than the freeloading dwellers of the bunker. Even amongst the oppressed, there is a class consciousness to sub-divide the oppressed.
Race-based politics is so passè. In the post-WW2 era, when the people of the colonies needed to unite to reclaim their land, it made a lot of sense to join under race. Past that point, it did not make any sense for the dominant ethnicity within the nation to claim the country as theirs. At a time when purebreds are only confirmed to be prized pets, it is laughable that politicians are still using racial cards to get elected. Each nation’s survival depends on its competitiveness, anti-fragility, and ability to withstand a Black Swan event. Race does not fall into the equation. With changing social mingling at school and the workplace, interracial unions are the norm. How is race going to be determined anyway? The fathers? The mothers are not going to take that lying down, of course!
The Afro-Americans were emancipated in 1863 after the Civil War, after generations of living as slaves. The black community, at least, still complained that they had received an uncashable cheque from the Bank of America for insufficient funds. Many Indian (and other races, too) labourers were no longer labourers by the second generation and had managed to springboard themselves out of poverty to occupy important positions in society. What gave? Did the coveted American dream slip them by?
Coming back home to Malaysia, it appears that we will forever be entangled in race politics. In an era when minions around us who were basket cases decades ago have leap-frogged by leaps and bounds in science and technology, our leaders and people stay inebriated in the intoxicating elixir of race superiority. Imagine starting a political party in the 21st century where only people of a certain race can hold critical positions. In day-to-day dealings, expertise is compromised to maintain racial purity. Intertwined with race these days is religion.
Farouk Gulsara is a daytime healer and a writer by night. After developing his left side of his brain almost half his lifetime, this johnny-come-lately decided to stimulate the non-dominant part of his remaining half. An author of two non-fiction books, ‘Inside the twisted mind of Rifle Range Boy’ and ‘Real Lessons from Reel Life’, he writes regularly in his blog ‘Rifle Range Boy’.
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Disclaimer: All the opinions stated in this article are solely that of the author.