JNU’s Gorkha Students Call Out Flipkart’s Racist Ad In Strongly Worded Open Letter
First of all, let us clarify that you are neither hallucinating nor in your dreams. It must be deeply disturbing and astonishing for you to reconcile with this fact that you are reading a letter written by a ‘bahadur’.
Shaabji, we are deeply sorry for not living up to your company’s expectations! We are sorry for this audacity that you may have never expected to see. But shaabji, we must shake you up from your mistaken notions about the Gorkha community.
Even the spirit and tone of your recent clarification letter does not reflect an iota of remorse and self-reflection.
We are hurt but, paradoxically, we are very thankful to your company for this unexpected opportunity to talk about the long history of denial of our political rights and the daily harassment and humiliation which we face on account of our racial identity wherever we go.
You have surely realised by now that your insensitivity and crass competition in the rat race has opened a Pandora’s Box. We argue with hard facts and not just rhetoric. In this letter, we shall be revisiting our political history and our present reality. We shall talk about our economy, freedom, struggle, rights, dignity and individuality. We shall also touch upon ethics (something you seem to be grossly lacking). We hope that you and your employees (including the advertisement team you consulted) are endowed with sufficient mental faculties to be able to follow our arguments in this letter and connect them competently enough to comprehend why Flipkart is guilty of vilifying the Gorkha identity.
The Gorkha community has suffered centuries of exploitation under the British colonial regime. While India celebrated its ‘independence’ in 1947, the Gorkhas are still battling for their rights and dignity. We have survived over sixty years of socio-economic and political subjugation under West Bengal’s blatant policy of internal colonialism facilitated by local stooges. The fetters that curb our right to self-determination are getting stronger by the day. Consequently, the region and community is ravaged by high unemployment, abject poverty and distress out- migration. While a handful of the privileged few always had access to quality education and opportunities to climb further up in the class hierarchy, for the larger majority in our community, formal education has been only recently accessible. A substantial percentage of our people are engaged in back-breaking work day and night to produce the world’s most expensive tea (Darjeeling tea). For the plantation workers, the reward for filling the coffers of tea garden owners and the government has been only a life plagued by poverty, morbidity and a slow but painful death due to starvation. The screams of suffering and death has been silenced and stifled by the continued indifference of a callous government and corporate houses that display the least regard for basic human rights of workers. Any intervention so far has been half-hearted and reflects charity and sympathy rather than delivery of rights and entitlements.
No industrial worker in the history of independent India may have suffered this plight. Adding insult to injury, we are casually and, many a times, deliberately called ‘foreigners’ by the so called ‘authentic Indians’ of our country. The starkest irony being that we are the same community which has time and again received showers of praises for bravery in armed forces by the Indian political establishments. We are again the same community that has been butchered by the same political establishment using paramilitary forces when trying to assert our basic political right to self determination i.e. separate state of Gorkhaland in 1986. Numerous real and fake quotes (from field Marshal Manekshaw, to Hitler and even Osama Bin Laden) valorising the bravery of the community in fighting battles has actually strengthened the narrative of Gorkhas as a martial race. Such a widely celebrated reductionist narrative of Gorkhas as a martial race has been internalised by the community itself without a critical reflection on how it dehumanises the community and encourages more racial stereotyping of the entire Gorkhas.
It is true that many men from our community are employed as security guards but there is nothing to be ashamed of this. We are not the only community in that profession. What matters is that we don’t judge any form of labour (if not forced) by its remuneration or its location on the workplace hierarchy. We leave such prejudiced and judgemental tasks to appropriate hands like yours. Only parasite classes, whose existence depend on sucking the fruits of others’ labour, fail to comprehend the dignity and importance of any form of work.
Apart from disregard for dignity of labour, a larger wrong which is very problematic is to divide and reproduce an entire community in the binary of either security guards or as blood thirsty ‘hyper brave’ soldiers. This kind of representation strengthens the already existing racial stereotypes among the larger population which draws its knowledge (limited) of other communities through popular culture propagated by media. We hope you can fathom the gravity of the damage that your advertisement has thus made by the stereotypical depiction of the Gorkha community as security guards. After watching such commercials and movies (like “Appna Sapna Money Money”), your sons and daughters are at the risk of not only imbibing such stereotypical views but also letting their interactions with Gorkhas in general be influenced by prejudice and bias encouraged by people like you.
Mr. Binny, by generalising such constructed attributes, do you not feel guilty of stifling free thinking, of polluting young minds and of depriving Gorkhas their freedom to express their individual identities and personal attributes that is so unique to each. Such vile attempts are condemnable in the strongest words. As the company head, it is your responsibility to avoid such actions, whether accidental or deliberate.
We do not intend to lecture you on values, but it is worthwhile to reflect upon the so called ‘core values’ upon which you claim Flipkart is based. Not forgetting that the values have been put in a framework to drive the mad rush of accumulation of wealth by a few elitists like you. Nonetheless, should we for a moment reflect upon the value of ‘customer obsession’ then, the said advertisement shows that your firm is far from being obsessed to cater to the needs of the Gorkha community. Instead, it has only alienated and humiliated us. Isn’t it ironic that the value of ‘ownership’ that you claim to uphold has blatantly disowned the contributions of Gorkhas in diverse fields of human endeavor? The ‘impact’ of the value has been such that we have been compelled to write this letter to you. While the value of ‘honesty’ has missed the prefix of –dis-assuming that you are not that ignorant of the fragmentation and ruptures that racism creates on the canvas of societies. Communication has indeed created the impact you wanted, not of content as you wished but the psychological attitude that you harbor. ‘Innovation’ on the other hand has been all but to reinforce the stereotypical mindset of the majoritarian ethos- concretised by the same acts that we condemn in this letter.
Knowing that sole purpose of the existence of your company, for that matter any company, is to amass profit at any cost, we are not in any form of illusion that you are here to address a pressing social issue which is tearing apart the social fabric of Indian society. After all, 200 years of colonial rule and the thousands of painful deaths due to the Bhopal Gas tragedy was a gift from a corporation like yours. Mr. Binny, it is no surprise that a corporation like yours thrives on the consumerism which disregards the very fabric that you feed upon. Far from a symbiotic one, with increasing fortunes, the dynamics of relationships takes a form of a parasitic one, that not only makes the poor poorer but even robs away the basic ‘dignity’ of people. The recent advertisement speaks volumes in this context.
Whenever our fellow Indians are abused and attacked on racial ground in foreign countries like Australia or USA, we were in deep pain and anguish and had pledged to fight against such racial stereotypes. We strongly believe that you and your company employees who probably often land in foreign soil, feel the same. Even after that we fail to comprehend why your company chose to promote such racial stereotypes of a certain community of our own country? Or is it that your principle to fight against racism is limited only beyond our borders where the elite likes of you are more likely to be potential victims? For within India, you are widely recognised as the ‘authentic and rightful sons of the soil’!
Just like a brother who kills his sister in the name of protecting a family’s ‘honour’ or an upper caste feudal lord who chops the hands of Dalit children for touching his field crops and feels no remorse; in your mad profit campaign, you too have failed to comprehend the intensity of injustice you have done by virtue of not being born in a certain ethno–linguistic community. You fail to comprehend the pain and humiliation in bearing the brunt of racial stereotypes as a daily reality.
At last one humble request from our side – expand and grow as much as you can and trade in various goods and services but do not try to thrive in your business by trading another community’s dignity. Your company cannot hold long if you try to flourish by vilifying another community’s dignity and identity.