All Visitors are Gods, But Some Visitors are Higher Gods

March 11, 2009
Vinod Joseph

Recently, an Indian I know suffered verbal abuse of a racist nature at a public place in the UK. Commiserations from friends and well-wishers flowed in. Amidst all the support and handholding, which were all on the usual lines (not every Brit is racist, it’s the recession which makes people so nasty, don’t let a sicko disrupt your life), one comment stood out and set me thinking: ‘We (Indians) treat these people so well when they come to India.’

My initial reaction was to agree with that comment. I could think of so many instances when I used to work in Mumbai or study in Bangalore when I have gone out of my way to help foreign visitors. I have taken detours so that I could walk visitors to destinations they had trouble finding. I have spent valuable minutes answering questions in painstaking detail, questions on everything ranging from why Indians defecate in public to why Indian trains are usually late. 

My initial reaction was buttressed by this blog post by Peter Foster, one-time Telegraph reporter based in Delhi who has very recently moved to Beijing  with his family. In his post, Foster tells us of a recent experience in Beijing where an old man saved his life (from his kids) by doing some carpentry work for free. Foster goes on to wonder if he would be just as helpful to a newly arrived Chinese immigrant in London asking him for help in broken English.

So, on the fact of it, one gets the impression that Indians and other Asians and possibly even Africans are very helpful and friendly towards foreign visitors whilst nasty westerners are not. But is this true? Is this the full story, the whole truth?

How do Indians treat illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in India? You might well say that an illegal immigrant does not deserve any respect or warmth. Fine (though throwing them out of the country without even the semblance of a trial is not, in my opinion, the right thing to do), let’s look at the case of Nepalis in India. How do we treat them? I have known restaurants in Colaba (Mumbai) which has a small floating population of working class Africans, treat poor African customers shabbily (the treatment Indians reserve for servants) and at peak times, even turn them away.  African students in India are frequent targets of racist abuse as are people from India’s north-east.

Arabs are legendary for their hospitality, (force) feeding their guests even after they say No, even when they don’t have enough food for themselves. Hospitality is supposed to be a duty and a matter of honour. However, this hospitality rarely extended towards the hundreds of thousands of Indian, Pakistani, Nepalese, Filipino and African workers in Arab lands.

In short, the fabled Indian or Arab hospitality is restricted to prosperous, white Western visitors.  This phenomenon can be seen throughout Asia.

Bhutan is a country which strives for Gross National Happiness rather than GDP. However, it has always treated its Nepali-speaking population as second class citizens even though Nepali migration to Bhutan started in the beginning of the 20th century at the invitation of Bhutan’s rulers.  Many Nepalese have been forced to leave Bhutan for refugee camps in eastern Nepal. 

After the Chinese revolution, the Chinese government gave scholarships to African students to study in China.  As elaborated in this article, the Chinese government’s enthusiasm for Chinese students was not shared by the Chinese populace. African students in China were frequent targets of racist abuse. Hatred towards African students was the focal point which helped galvanise Chinese students into organising themselves, which ultimately led to the student demonstration at Tienanmen Square.

Foster is right in saying that if a Chinese immigrant speaking broken English looks for help in London, he is unlikely to receive the sort of assistance which Foster (speaking broken Mandarin) received in Beijing. However, an African immigrant in China is unlikely to get more any help than a Chinese or Indian immigrant in London.

Prosperous Singapore, Hong Kong or Japan are no better than their poorer Asian neighbours in this regard.

I am not for a moment saying that a coloured person in the West who is the victim of racism doesn’t have the right to protest. However, Asians treating White people so well and treating other Asian minorities and Africans so shabbily, is a manifestation of the racism that is so deeply entrenched in the Asian psyche. In my opinion, if Asians can learn to treat all their visitors with respect and dignity, (rather than treating a few select ones as Gods and feeding them till they burst), if Asians can bury their prejudices and work with poor African countries in improving their common lot, they will be able to deal a death blow to racism.

Vinod Joseph is a professional who works long hours. When Vinod gets some free time, which is not very often, he likes to write. When he is not in the "write" frame of mind, he reads. Vinodís first novel Hitchhiker was published by Books for Change in December 2005. Vinod blogs at www.winnowed.blogspot.com. The usual "employer caveat" applies and Vinod's employer has nothing to do with Vinodís writings. All views expressed by Vinod are his personal views.
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March 11, 2009
05:17 PM

Excellent I agree. We Indians are racist for and perhaps more so than white westerners.

March 11, 2009
05:41 PM

Racisim must be looked by the laws of the land. If you at Japan, you can stay in Japan for more than 10 years, get a residentship, still you can't vote! I remember a friend of mine along with 30 Indians stopped at Macau immigration into HongKong. I simply asked the officer what was the big deal if we went to Macau to blow up some hard earned money. Not that all rural Chinese villagers blow extensive money. The attitude changes as soon as you cross from HongKong to Shenzhen where Indians are treated as foreigners.

What are the barriers for you to mix, practice your religion? is the second thing. Most non desi restraunts in Tokyo don't entertain crying kids, huge families. The famous one is Dhabha and if you have kids, please see the expression beneath the smiling Arigato!

Japanese call whites "red skinned" for western gaijins. If you work in Shanghai, you will notice how the discrimination is done to rural Chinese or how the Beijing resident hates Shanghai dialect. There is a kind of race. Race mixes with class especially with the HongKong/ Malay community who speak Cantonese amongst themselves among a Chinese crowd who can't understand Cantonese.

Recently I saw in a bangalore bus, some african college kids who knew how to argue with the conductor asking him to pay back 5 rupees. Conductor would have paid 5 rupees to a white Brit! But he treated the africans like Indians and so they were a bit annoyed. Question to be asked is how we mingle with the other class/other Indians/non whites/asians? compared to the Brits! the answer is so obvious becoz we have an image which makes us race conscious.

Aditi N
March 11, 2009
06:19 PM

Very nicely written. At the end of the day after I am just exhausted from my exchanges with certain prejudiced individuals on DC, I always feel like I am on the verge of deciding that I will not write here any more. I cannot relate to anybody and so I convince myself that I do not have an audience here or that my articles and words will fall on deaf ears. And then I find sudden, unexpected solace in reading your words and finding like-minded authors on this forum.

I particularly related to this statement of yours:

"African students in India are frequent targets of racist abuse as are people from India's north-east"

I witnessed this firsthand in a suburb just outside Bombay where African students were harassed by locals who openly addressed them with racist invectives, booing them as they walked the streets, calling them "Negroes" and "Niggers". And this was for no apparent reason. I was 10 at the time and I still knew there was something wrong about doing that to those men but maybe only because my parents were very critical of such behavior towards those African men.

I just wonder at times how I would feel if I had to walk the streets here in the US with people screaming such abusive, racist words at me.

Knowing a subset of commentators we have here, be prepared from some sort of a backlash though, for it will come.

March 11, 2009
07:04 PM

"At the end of the day after I am just exhausted from my exchanges with certain prejudiced individuals on DC, I always feel like I am on the verge of deciding that I will not write here any more. I cannot relate to anybody and so I convince myself that I do not have an audience here or that my articles and words will fall on deaf ears."

oh aditi, that is how I have been feeling lately too!

anyway, vinod I agree. thanks for this article. as I have said on other threads here I was always aghast at how I was often favored over my desi counterparts. we would go out to dinner and the waiter would come and ask ME "did madame like dinner" WTF?!?! you just ignored the crorepati to my left and the madhuri dixit lookalike to my righ to ask ME if I liked my dinner? really? why?

it really used to make me mad.

I also witnessed the strange attitude of desis in india towards chinese and africans. it was not pretty. then again there is not a country on earth I have been to where I have not seen racism towards someone or the other. India is no better or no worse in that regard.

March 11, 2009
07:13 PM

Aha. After so many anti-west threads, finally something to be ashamed of India, something we can all sink our teeth into and feel collective shame and guilt. It is our daily fix to fill our empty lives to sustain the self-worth and self-righteousness by finding something to be ashamed of in India and finding reasons to emulate from the white-man's world. So we are so proud to be ashamed of India, and it feels so good to feel bad about bad of India. India shining and incredible India sounds so offensive and jingoistic, that if it ran for election in India, it would lose the deposit.

March 11, 2009
07:33 PM

kerty: shame has brought change. what has complacency ever brought? its is a futile emotion.

March 11, 2009
07:42 PM

...and kerty, you would know, right. you continue to live in the white-man's world.

March 11, 2009
07:47 PM

SD, yeah we all know that acknowledging any kind of shortcoming is the beginning of the end, yes? ;)


(best to stumble on in complete ignorance and with one's head implanted firmly in one's arse....)

March 11, 2009
08:17 PM


This is not really reflection of race or racism. It is about having space, turf, autonomy, freedom, to be free from somethings. These are turf battles to be free from the 'Other'. How else would you explain Tamils shunning Sihalise and Northies, Marathis shunning Biharis and Bangladeshis, Kashmirs shunning Pandits and Hindus, Panjabi Delhites shunning Biharis, Hindus shunning moslems and xians, Moslems shunning Kaffirs, one caste shunning another caste, Southies shunning Hindians, Indians shunning English, New-agers shunning Sanatanis, and Suburbanites shunning slumdogs? There are turf battles raging on at every level. Its a divide and destroy mechanism at play.

When Ravana sent his army to kill Rama, Rama used a Mohini Baan - it made each Rakshasha see Rama in each other, and thus Ravana's army ended up slaying each other and got defeated. Now we have a similar Baan used by Ravana's army - so now Rama's army sees Ravana in everybody. Net result is that Rama's forces are being defeated as they fight each other, as they see Ravana in each other.

March 11, 2009
08:37 PM

"The possibility that the current Indian Hindu-Muslim or upper versus lower-caste
conflict may be, in a significant sense, a variant of a modern problem of 'ethnicity'
or 'race' is seldom entertained ... 'racism' is thought of as something the white
people do to us. What Indians do to one another are variously described as 'communalism',
'regionalism' and 'casteism' but never 'racism'"

Dipesh Chakraborty

the point being: "race" as such, is not a biological reality, yet we do have racism everywhere, including of course India. we indians, like anyone else, can pretend to be fount of the milk of human kindness and blame the "whites" alone for racism, while simultaneously treating the blacks, chinese and other castes like shit or worse and justifying it by the unbearable and insufferable smugness of cultural superiority, as is on display on this thread by we all know who.

March 11, 2009
08:44 PM


"shame has brought change. what has complacency ever brought? its is a futile emotion."

Shame, guilt, inferiority complex, lack of confidence, slavish mentality - they are negetive energies that breed upon each other, thrive on the back of each other and create a self-fulfilling prophesy for each other. Ask any psycologist, and he would recommend therapy to patients suffering from such syndromes.

It is sense of pride, autonomy, confidence, self-worth, can-do mentality that unleashes positive energies and bring about accomplishments. Progressive Societies exhibit these values, promote these values, as a result, they are able to take on any adversities, correct any mishaps, take on impossible societal challenges. America is a perfect example of such society - it is not perfect, but its people can overcome any odds because of these energies. The day these values are shaken in America, it too will cease to be a confident nation.

March 11, 2009
09:43 PM

If Americans never felt some sense of shame for our long history of racism and discrimination then today we do not have a black president.

we need to be a bit ashamed of our mistakes and proud of our accomplishments.

It does not have to be one or the other.

There must be a balance. Only then will a nation have balance.

March 11, 2009
09:46 PM

I meant...only then will a nation have progress.

March 12, 2009
12:52 AM

Discrimination against people who are removed from you in terms of looks or race is pre-programmed at a genetic level. You would find that in almost every species and that is the default natural behaviour. Pretending that everyone is the same in spite of tens of thousands of genetic isolation and evolution makes little sense from an evolutionary perspective. In the US, the model is slightly different. Even though colour is not supposed to matter, you would find that cultural memes that are Eurocentric are clearly given preference. Discrimination doesn't happen as long as the native memes are displaced by these Eurocentric memes, something similar to surrogate babies carried by pregnant women of unrelated genetic makeup.

In India, there is a general perception that West Africans are involved in drug trafficking and do often get involved in scuffles with the law or the locals.

Although I do agree that Indians (and perhaps many other nations) go overboard in pleasing whites. That's got to stop.

March 12, 2009
07:48 AM

Indians are as racists as any western or Chinese or African.

Prejudice is well built into the human mind.

There is no one in this world, who is not prejudiced.

There is no one who is less prejudiced than the other as well.

Most sophisticated Indians and western people just hide their internal prejudices and cover it up.

Recently, I was deliberately making derogatory comments at Convent educated Indians, ie. Indians who studied at English Medium schools.

These English Medium educated people consider themselves to be somewhat superior to the people who study in vernacular mediums.

Their argument is that as they know better English, they have a better and more logical argument.

One of my friends commenting in DC, wanted to provoke the lovers of English by deliberately typing bad spelling and bad grammar.

However, do all English medium educated think the same way. Certainly not.

After sometime, I may make some derogatory comments on IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) guys deliberately as these guys also consider themselves to be from an upper caste.

Then, we can also observe a NRI and non-NRI bias with NRIs thinking that they have better brains or ideas than the natives.

The story continues.......

Today, many urban pub going think that they are a superior race compared to the rural alcohol drinkers, who drink to beat their wives.

The Liberals think the conservative Indians as filthy and unsophisticated. The conservatives think the liberals as "loose insensitive selfish".

These prejudices will not go away.

So, it will not help if one feels shame or guilt about it.

The only way one can handle it is to put some self in others shoe and feel it.

A liberal should think like conservative once in a while.

A Indian should think that he is an African once in a while.

A feminist should think like a men's rights activist once in a while.

All these does not absolutely no harm.

I often wonder, people with totally closed minds talking about open mindedness.

Here is the test:

A open minded person will never get provoked or his blood will never boil when he sees a wall in front of him. He will never get irritated at others behaviour or others statements.

A open minded person will not think of changing other people or their attitudes, but will accept the other prejudiced the way they are and the way they are not.

It has been scientifically proved that people discriminate other people who look ugly.

Vinod Joseph
March 12, 2009
09:03 AM

Dear All, thanks for your comments and feedback.

Commonsense (Comment number 10), I agree with Dipesh Chakraborty. Hindu-Muslim divide/antagonism does have racist overtones. My theory (and it's only a theory) goes like this:

When the Indian subcontinent was colonised by waves of Arabs, Afghans, Iranians and Turks, the invaders saw themselves as belonging to a superior race/religion. Though most Muslims in the subcontinent are of the same ethnic stock as the non-Muslims, they are perceived (by themselves and others) as outsiders and conquerors. The same holds true in the case of the caste divide. When the Aryan invasion theory was propagated (and I believe this theory has more than an element of truth in it), many Indian upper castes were very happy with the theory since it gave them an affinity to the all-powerful Europeans. Now the reverse is true and upper castes hate being told their ancestors may have come from outside the sub-continent. Nevertheless, upper castes are perceived as outsiders and of a different race, though, even if this Aryan invasion theory is true, there are been so much intermingling of people for the last 5000 years.

March 12, 2009
11:13 AM

Vindod #16

When you inject race, aryan/invasion theory where none exist, the analysis can take its own tortured racist tones. Both are merely theories that seek to explain differences and diversities, but in essence introduce prejudices, divide/destroy mechanisms, and create self-fulfilling prophesy as their authors intended. Why ideologies and politicians that can only succeed by divide/rule of India's diversity refuse to give them up.

March 12, 2009
12:56 PM

Aryan Invasion theory?? From what I've read about it, that theory is outdated and not considered as credible by serious scholars anymore.

March 12, 2009
03:05 PM

the point being that everyone has the capacity to engage in racist behaviour and harbor racist views, thoughts, ideologies. some here (need I name them?) would rather blame it solely on the "whites", Americans, British, what have you.

the theory of a genetic predisposition towards distinguishing between in-group and outgroup is outlandish, to say the least. the creation of categories of people that are later targetted for discrimination is a social, not a biological process. Just because it happens everywhere, does not mean it is in the genes. it would be nice to reduced everything to the genes and then claim that we as thinking humans (well, some like me at least!) have no control over our actions and thoughts - oh well, my genes made me do it.

Racism is no different from castesism, communalism, linguisticism (no such word, but you know what I mean) etc. etc. Same process, same dynamics, same horrific results. But hey, it's fun to blame it on the "whites" isn't it? And if that does't make sense, blame it on the genes, and everyone is happy and comfortable with his/her prejudice, smug with a genetic alibi.

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