No, Bengaluru is not racist, but yes, it is as racist as any other place or city in India.
The video of a young man being thrashed with a rod by three residents of Banaswadi in Bengaluru has shocked the country. The victim, Jerry, a native of Mizoram, was the neighbour of the accused. He has not come out to the police or the media. A case has been filed on the initiation of Rini Ratle, the co-ordinator of the Northeast Solidarity Forum, but what is it that lies behind this incident?
The Quint visited the area to investigate further and spoke to the family who did the beating. While this is a case of racial violence by an isolated family, this incident is definitely an addition to the complex narrative of racism and a city learning to deal with its ‘new’ inhabitants.
A Grouse Against Everyone
The family in question, considered ‘troublemakers’ by most residents in the area, defend themselves with bizarre arguments. This is not the first time they have entered into a ‘fight’ with a neighbour, a tenant, or a co-resident, but ‘outsiders’ are their prime problem.
People coming from outside cause all these problems over here. The whole night these roads are busy, there are chaiwaalas on both the ends and all of them, whether they are Taiwanese or Korean or people from Mongol descent or from the North-east, move up and down from 12 in the night to five in the morning, punching, bashing, beating and screaming at each other.Carlton Wilson, Accused
The accused, Clifford Wilson (80) a retired security officer, Carlton Wilson (54), former school principal, and Lynn Wilson (52), working with a real estate firm, were arrested on 11 January and are currently out on bail.
The way they have shown in the video, the fellow should not even stand, but he is not even twitching. Because I know the way I caned him, because I have been caning children when I was in school. Of course, now they have stopped corporal punishment but I only hit his legs. What I did was wrong, but when I saw him touching my sister’s breasts, that ticked me off.Carlton Wilson, Accused
Plenty of Allegations, No Evidence
The Wilsons have a long list of ‘allegations’ but no evidence to prove anything. They complain that the area is ‘infested’ with drug-trafficking and forced prostitution and the ‘outsiders’ have left it unliveable for the locals and natives.
These guys have come here to study English and they have these girls sitting behind them on bikes. What is the link between a black African with curly hair and a north-east girl? Or an Arab, Yemen, or Saudi guy with these girls. Everywhere in this area there is this business going on.Carlton Wilson, Accused
Police officials involved in the case accept that there have been sporadic cases of altercations between the house-owners and tenants but deny receiving mass complaints for issues like drug trafficking or illegal sex trade.
Video is strong evidence and we are investigating the matter. I cannot comment on the racism issue right now but we have spoken to the neighbours and other residents. There are complaints against the family.DH Munikrishna, Banaswadi Circle Inspector
‘A Mindset Problem’
After the video went viral, there have been reports of north-eastern residents being asked to leave. Pulki Burman, a Software Engineer from Assam who stays in the same building, says:
I don’t feel scared and my house owner has not asked me to leave, but this family has been a problem for everybody. Six months ago they abused a girl from Manipur. She left after some time. Me or my girlfriend have never been targeted by them maybe because we don’t look like Assamese and I can speak in Hindi. Most of the other residents cannot. It’s a mindset problem.Pulki Burman, Software Engineer, Resident Banaswadi
Racism Alive and Well
Banaswadi, Kammanahalli or Hennur are Bengaluru’s newer neighbourhoods with a large number of foreign students living in rented or paying guest accommodations. The new inhabitants of the city bring with them a different culture, which is ‘judged’, ‘disliked’ and ‘stereotyped’ usually by the ones who have nothing at stake.
House-owners with tenants are usually understanding. They lay down a set of rules but they know a lot restrictions will not work. They may not appreciate different cultures, they may believe in stereotypes, but they have learnt to keep it to themselves. It is usually the house-owners with no tenants who see people from different cultures as intruders and a nuisance. There is no respect for rent laws in India that do not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity or nationality.Ameya Medhi, Resident, Kammanahalli
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Twenty-three-year-old Yoruba Esse, a Nigerian student, stays at Kammanahalli and saw the video after she heard about the incident locally. She knows foreign students are subjected to racism and stereotypes but questions their idea of freedom which she feels is a part of the problem.
Many of us who come to a foreign country suddenly find ourselves away from our parents in a free atmosphere. We want to do things that we could not do in our own country. In India there is more freedom and more opportunity. What some of us forget is that in a foreign land you may have more freedom but it comes with a bigger responsibility.Yoruba Esse, Nigerian Student, Resident, Kammanahalli
Jerry vacated the house the day after the incident. He is terrified and may leave Bengaluru forever. The Wilsons believe that the issue will blow over in six months and police officials assure that they are conducting an investigation to nail the culprits. But what is left behind is yet another case of brutal violence, humiliation, and racial discrimination to haunt the spirit of Namma Bengaluru.
(Names changed to conceal identities)