Leading Edge: SA’s nascent diversity versus India’s growing intolerance

Sunday Times


FOUR souties, three dutchmen, two Muslims, a coloured and a black fella walk into a bar. This is not a joke; it’s the SA team for the first test, although the notion requires the suspension of the disbelief that Hashim Amla and Imran Tahir would be found in a bar.

Into another bar walk 11 Hindus. They are the Indian team playing in the same match. Some of them are “veg” and some are “non-veg”, but only one of them does not belong to an upper caste – fast bowler Umesh Yadav, whose father is a miner.

South Africans wear the divisions in their society as badges of success and scars of failure, and we are decades away from getting over race as the defining characteristic within those divisions.

Despite that unity is at least the grand ambition for most of us and the guiding thrust of the direction in which we would like to believe SA is moving. In India, the opposite would seem to be true.

In the 1984 elections the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), formed four years earlier, won two seats.

Last year, they claimed 282 of the available 543 seats to mark the first time since the ’84 poll that one party has earned an outright majority in India.

This year, the BJP became the world’s biggest political party in terms of primary membership. So, the largest political party on the planet considers slaughtering cows a sin and frowns on women wearing pants. What an endorsement for humankind.

The BJP is a battering ram for Hindus and Hinduism and to hell with everyone else. In a country that is home to 172-million Muslims and 21.5-million Sikhs, besides a range of other minorities, everyone else amounts to a fair few even in a population of 1.25-billion.

And the BJP, bad as it is with its kind eye for violence against non-Hindus and general right wing idiocy and petty fascism, is not the worst.

“They (the BJP) are speaking about laws banning beef in the country,” Uddhav Thackeray, the leader of Shiv Sena, which makes the ruling party look like a Kumbaya club, said last month.

“They should first announce that this country is a Hindu Rashtra (nation) and impose the uniform civil code.”

The latter would force 1.25-billion people of all religious shapes and cultural sizes to abide by laws designed exclusively for Hindus and their customs and make illegal anything that deviates from those laws.

This is India in 2015, not SA in 1966. Or, as an Indian told me in hushed tones this week: “I’m a Brahmin. Because my bloody forefathers pushed other people down, I’m being punished for it – even though I haven’t done anything. How is that fair?”

If I had a wicket for every time I’ve heard much the same thing from white South Africans, Muttiah Muralitharan would not be cricket’s leading bowler.

But the next time we feel inclined to raise a word or a pencil against the lack of diversity in SA’s team or in the upper reaches of our society let’s take a moment to appreciate what has been achieved so far.

It’s far from perfect but it ain’t broken. Broken is millions of people terrified to be who they are.


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