Thursday, 12 March 2009

Is the Fabled Asian Hospitality Racism in Disguise?

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. Racism, rather than goodness of the heart, is what makes Asians treat White people so well! 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 Tiananmen 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, Dynamic Hong Kong or First World 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.


jayguttobom said...

This has to be one of the most ridiculous post I've read. Not only does it contain all sort of factual errors, but it attempts to draw all sorts of wide ranging conclusions using few special cases. I am not sure why you're restricting your post to just Asians, why not ask whether every hospitable people in the world are racist.

Anonymous said...

I think it would rather be a feeling of inferiority in "Asians'" (which I find to be generalization) rather than racism that would lead them to only be hospitable to 'white westerners'. (Not that I agree, again, ignorant to ethnic belongings)This post sounds kind of like a justification to what you mentioned happened in the U.K. But there is racism everywhere, it does not depend on cultural background but rather the person being 'racist'. But I respect your opinion.