“You whites think you’re so much better.” “You’ve married someone beneath yourself.”
These are common comments that I hear, particularly on this blog. And sadly, they mostly come from Indians. I find such views to be confounding and even irritating. The way I see it, there is no superior or inferior culture. We are all people…. all the same creations of God (and if you believe in reincarnation, we can be born into any culture and have probably existed in other cultures). But I do wonder where these views come from?
What exactly do Indians have to feel inferior about and why? They are resilient, hardworking, intelligent, and adaptable people.
Are us whites to blame? I don’t think so. Sure, there are racists everywhere, in every culture. However, the foreign tourists that come to India don’t usually treat Indians as inferior or second rate. In fact, they usually show more manners and respect towards those Indians doing menial jobs (waiters, taxi drivers, hotel staff) than Indians themselves do. I speak to all people the same way in India, and say thank you to everyone from the doctor to the security staff that stamp my receipt at the supermarket. Us whites also don’t go around flaunting our white skin like some Indians think we do. In fact, most of us want to be browner, and spend so much time ridiculously cooking ourselves in the sun. We hate the idea of our “white fat” showing (my family refused to reveal their tummies in saris), and think brown skin is much more pleasing to the eye.
But what about the British occupation of India? Many Indians claim that the British, and their rule in India, were responsible for making Indians feel inferior. There may be some truth in this, but not in the most obvious way. I recently read a fascinating book called Being Indian by Pavan K. Varma, who has had a distinguished international public service career. The book aims to demolish misconceptions about India and Indians, and examine what makes Indians tick.
According to the author, the British succeeded quite spectacularly in creating an elite group of Indians patterned after them. As a colonial power in India, Britain was opposed. But as a democracy, a strong military force, and economic power, Britain was admired. Some of the elite Indians managed to sustain their newly acquired western characteristics without diminishing themselves as Indians (Jawaharlal Nehru, for example, was proud to be an Indian despite often wondering whether he belonged in the east or the west). However, most did not. Instead they tended to measure their self-worth in terms of how well they were able to imitate British and western lifestyles. In doing so, they set an unfortunate standard for other Indians in the future, and created a way of thinking that anything Indian was inferior to anything western.
The author goes on to say that the insecurity manifests itself in an excessive sensitivity to any criticism or praise coming from the west. Criticism is countered with “disproportionate aggression”, while praise is welcomed with “unbecoming effusiveness”. I have experienced this often. On the occasions that I happen to forget that India is not “my country” and say something negative, I’m quickly reminded of it by the harsh responses I receive in return. “Stop making India look so bad. What right do you have to criticise India?”, I’m told. “You don’t have to be here if you don’t like it”. I don’t hold any such precious feelings about the country that I do come from. If someone who lives in Australia and has made it their home says something negative, I’ll analyse it objectively, and if they’re right, tell them so. No country is perfect.
So, are the author’s observations correct? Did Indians create their own inferiority complex by trying to imitate the British? If not, where does this notion of western superiority come from? And from some Indians who have never even visited the west! What do Indians really feel inferior about and why, to the point that they will tell me I’ve married below myself? I’m curious to know.
(Note: please excuse me for any generalisations. And to clarify, this post is mainly based on Indians in India, not those living successfully abroad who have more realistic views of the west).
© 2010, Diary of a White Indian Housewife. All rights reserved. Do not copy and reproduce text or images without permission.
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