Two reports — an Italy born Odissi dancer, Ileana Citaristi, roughed up at Puri, and allegations of racial discrimination by African students in Bangalore — were shocking. It is unfortunate that Indians are becoming highly insensitive to and intolerant of people from other countries. Many factors such as declining morals, poor education system that fails to inculcate good values, disproportionate stress on nationalism over universal brotherhood, mindless rage and greed can be cited. Globalisation was expected to erase the boundaries. But what we see is accentuation of differences, stereotypes and communal identities.
I was not surprised when I read about Ms Citaristi’s experience in Puri. The plight of most pilgrims visiting the magnificent and revered temple of Lord Jagannath is no different. I took a group of friends to Odhisha in 2011. The wooden icons of Lord Jagannath, Balbhadra and Subhadra in the sanctum were resplendent.
But when we inched our way close to the sanctum, we were shoved and pulled violently by many servitors. One of them pushed me and pressed my head to the feet of the Lord and would not let me move or raise my head until I parted with a few hundred rupees. The servitors then told us to go around the deities. We found some more servitors waiting in the narrow path pestering for more money.
Ms Citaristi’s experience has exposed the truth that in our country, even places of worship are not spared from corrupt practices. Religion, education and medicine are fields that should be scrupulously guarded against corruption. Alas, it remains a wishful thinking.
I stay at Kalyan Nagar, Bangalore. About 200 African students live here. About the same number of north-east Indian students also stay here. Yes, there are basic cultural differences — over language, food, clothing, etc. We know very little about these students. I feel there is an urgent need for both sides — the local community and foreign students — to engage with each other. Newspapers can play a vital role. Interactive forums, cultural exchanges, etc., should be promoted.