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How can one person decide the criteria for being Indian?

US Vice President Kamala Harris often makes reference to her Indian heritage. Picture: Julio Cortez/AP

US Vice President Kamala Harris often makes reference to her Indian heritage. Picture: Julio Cortez/AP

Published Feb 5, 2021


Dear Mr Yogin Devan

I have recently read your opinion piece titled ‘Kamala Harris, far from being Indian’. Honestly, I found your ignorance intolerable and so I find myself writing this letter. So, if you are reading this, care to go on a journey?

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You start off by stating that she is “no more Indian than a Myna” because they both lack the ability to speak the vernacular. I am a Govender and a die-hard Rajinikanth fan, but even I can’t speak Tamil to save my life, nor can the majority of my family. I can bet there are many South African Indian families alike. I guess we are all just Mynas – far from being Indian. So, what does that make us? Should we stop ticking the “Indian” box on every census form?

Also, would it surprise you that the incoming Bollywood actors and actresses initially don’t speak an official Indian language, just English, and they have to learn Hindi before they start their careers. It was divulged in this Netflix reality-tv-type-documentary, “The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives”. So, by your standards, these people are living in India but still far removed from being Indian, right?

You then go on to say that her grandparents and mother were born in Tamil Nadu, but in your opinion, the link is not strong enough. Well, at least she can trace her ancestry. I’m not sure about you, but those of us whose ancestors boarded the ships as indentured labourers, don’t have that privilege to track down and specify which part of Tamil Nadu or any part of India our roots lay. So, does this make us less Indian because we can’t drop a location pin?

But to the most ridiculous part of your article – she lacked the “typical features of an Indian child, the shiny straight black hair.” I honestly did not realise that there was a set-standard of features – wow – did I miss out on something. Growing up in my family, those “typical features” you mentioned, resulted from GHD or any other hair iron. Yes, I concede, some do have straight hair but my mother and her six siblings all have naturally thick, course, curly hair, are they far removed from being Indian? It is beyond belief that you pin one set image onto an entire race of people. How did you even come up with these “typical features”, which movie did you watch? I don’t have any other polite response aside from, “No we all don’t look alike”.

Back to your point, how do you justify people like Masaba Gupta (a celebrated Indian fashion designer - Google her), her mother is Indian and her father is from the West Indies. She grew up in India and had similar features to what Kamala Harris had as a child? Does she make the cut as an Indian or does your standards discredit her too?

It is insane how you are defining the standard of Indianness of an Indian female, which you are clearly not, based on the most inconsequential things. Why? Also, who gave you the right to put a definition and a prerequisite to Indianness? I too like wearing pants and I too can’t make dosas, and my rotis aren’t even close to round - Oh no, am I not Indian? (detect the sarcasm, please). You also criticise that she’s a Baptist, since when does religion effect your race or culture? Your whole article sets out a checklist for what constitutes an Indian and I have not met a single criterion. By the way, have you ticked any of those boxes?

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Why were Indians, Tamilians especially, excited about Kamala? REPRESENTATION, that’s why! You cannot deny its importance, but if you do, why? Do you not feel an ounce of emotion when you watch Leeanda Reddy perform her stand-up or watch Keshav Maharaj bowl for the Proteas? Did you even watch the Kandasamys? It may not be important for you, but for the rest of us, it shows a glimmer of societal progress.

In the end, why does Kamala’s ethnicity pose a problem for you? Why does she and so many others have to meet your criteria to prove Indianness. My ethnicity is not up for debate! Who I marry, what I eat and how I dress, does not define my cultural background, I am what defines it.

Also contrary to your belief, Mynas can talk clearly! Surprise, surprise, even the Mynas didn’t live up to your expectation.

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Finally (if you’ve made it so far), I would just like to say that in your next opinion piece, kindly try and avoid giving the largest population of Indians outside of India (- or what was) – an unnecessary identity crisis. That’s dramatic, let me correct that; please avoid giving the handful of people that do read your opinion pieces an unnecessary identity crisis.

Kind Regards

Brown Child

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Related Topics:

Kamala Harris