Friday, March 13, 2015

A few words on racism

Dr. Annette Beck-Sickinger, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Leipzig, Germany, recently refused an internship to a male student from my country, India, citing the ‘rape problem’ in India as a reason and implied she would be endangering herself and other female members of her lab if she allowed him in. Although I am aware that the German Ambassador already wrote to her and expressed his views in unambiguous terms, I still write this blog post to say a few things that I wanted to say.

In her now-public e-mail to the Indian student above (a mail written in English so appalling that I was almost convinced for a moment that it was fake), Dr. Beck-Sickinger says that India has a rape problem. I wonder how she arrived at that conclusion. If she meant it in terms of numbers, then I have to admit that she does not understand numbers very well. Sheldon Cooper, a fictitious character in the popular American TV series The Big Bang Theory said recently, “The only math biologists know is, if you have three frogs and one hops away, you have two frogs.” While I have a lot of respect for biologists in general, it seems Dr. Beck-Sickinger is one of the biologists that Sheldon was basing his observation on. I do not know how she does her research, but the way I do it is by starting with Googling some information. Googling rape rates per 100,000 people in countries across the world, one finds that the number in India is just 2 in 100,000. Wikipedia says, 
“Adjusted for population growth over time, the annual rape rate in India has increased from 1.9 to 2.0 per 100,000 people over 2008-2012 period. This compares to a reported rape rate of 1.2 per 100,000 in Japan, 3.6 per 100,000 in Morocco, 4.6 rapes per 100,000 in Bahrain, 12.3 per 100,000 in Mexico, 24.1 per 100,000 in United Kingdom, 28.6 per 100,000 in United States, 66.5 per 100,000 in Sweden, and world's highest rate of 114.9 rapes per 100,000 in South Africa.”
So if these 2 rapes out of 100,000 make India a country with a rape problem, what do the 28.6 rapes per 100,000 make the USA? What about UK with 24.1 rapes per 100,000? Does she deny internships to students from these countries too? How about Sweden with 66.5 rapes per 100,000? When she says female professors across Europe are planning to deny entry to Indian students (something she mentions in her email), does she consider Sweden and UK part of Europe? Or are rules different for dark-skinned people from third-world countries?

(It may be worth mentioning here that another biologist who confirms Sheldon's observation is none other than the famous Richard Dawkins. He tweeted about India having a culture of rape without bothering to check the numbers, and then hastily deleted it when the numbers were pointed out to him.)

Does this mean I am trivializing those two cases out of 100,000? Not at all. In a country of over 1.2 billion people, 2 out of 100,000 means a lot of rapes – about 25,000 rapes per year. But that number, while still about 25,000 more than what it ideally should be, is a mere 0.4% of the six million Jewish people Dr. Beck-Sickinger's countrymen killed during the Holocaust. Does that then make Germany a country with a genocide problem? I would like to know if Dr. Beck-Sickinger was ever denied entry into any country saying there are a lot of Jewish people in that country, and it would be dangerous for them if she was allowed into the country.

Actually I already know the answer - she wasn't. Because while she is a racist, most educated and civilized people aren't so. In the modern world, an act of judging a person based on his or her country, religion, gender or race is punishable by law, or at least severely frowned upon. This basic point somehow seems to have been totally lost on Annette while she was receiving big degrees and diplomas from reputed universities.

India has a diverse population of people from all countries, races and religions, and we do not have a culture of judging people based on their race and country of origin. Today, as the whole world is trying to progress towards attaining equality for all human beings, Annette sits like a frog in her well and denies entry to a prospective scientist on the basis of his race. Not because he is bad at science, or because that he himself is a rapist, but because he comes from a country which she feels has a rape problem. As a result, she has brought shame to all Germans, and to researchers and professors all over the world. She claims to speak for other professors across Germany and Europe, but I doubt that they would like to have her as their spokesperson. For instance, Jakob de Roover, a professor from Belgium, opposed Annette's views publicly.

Of course, some of my own countrymen have endorsed Annette's opinion. Ever since BBC released an illegally made documentary interviewing the convicts of the 2012 Delhi rape case on YouTube, some left-liberal pseudo-secular creatures on my Facebook friendlist have started denouncing all Indian men as rapists. One of them took this opportunity to get some free publicity and Facebook likes for her profile and argued that the racist actions of Dr. Annette Beck-Sickinger were justified. She went so far as to say all Indian men currently abroad should be sent back to India immediately since all of them were responsible for the rape culture of India. When I confronted her on this and started an argument on her Facebook wall, I was obviously called insensitive. Her so-called educated friends even came and tried saying that it was "natural" to think India has a rape problem and the German professor cannot be blamed for thinking that way.

I do not want to go into the details of the documentary here, although I strongly object to the manner in which it depicted Indian men. Whether it should have been made is a debate that can go on, but this post is not about the documentary. When I see a documentary about 9/11, I do not automatically go and judge all Muslim men. When I see a documentary about 26/11, I do not say all Pakistani men are terrorists. I got mugged on the street, not once but thrice, by black men, and yet I don't think all black men are criminals. And this woman has the audacity to question all Indian men (probably based on the interview of a convicted criminal) while she hails from the country that started two world wars and wiped out two out of every three Jewish people in Europe. She did issue a half-hearted apology after her emails became public and she was criticized all over the world. The standard stuff - it was taken out of context... I'm sorry if I hurt someone... blah blah blah. One would have thought she would have been a little better at apologizing, given her education and all, but evidently, education isn't enough.

Annette Beck-Sickinger's actions somehow remind me of Hitler's denouncement of Jewish scientists including Albert Einstein. I could have written pages about it, but what is the point? I could go on to say that Germans haven't learnt their lesson from history and are making the same mistakes again, but then I would be no better than her. As the German ambassador's mail clearly shows, all Germans do not share her views. In fact, I am sure most Germans do not share her views. So I will end this post with the hope that she mends her racist ways and stops judging people by their nationality or race. What good is a biologist who does not believe in the equality of all human beings?