Jonah Batambuze, a Ugandan-American IT Consultant raised in Chicago met his wife Swetha, (who hails from a Telegu family in Guntur, India), while he was studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland. Swetha, who lived in Ireland for a short period of time as a child, was visiting a friend who lived in his dormitory. That is how they got introduced !
“Before I went to study abroad, I had never really had a close personal relationship with an Indian person,” says Jonah, who has been married for the last 14 years. Due to very little, if any, interaction with Indian or South Asian cultures in general, it took him a while to come to terms with the way things worked in terms of interpersonal relationships.
“For instance, I didn’t know that you usually don’t introduce your boyfriend to your parents until you know you’re gonna marry him.”
He confides that it was, at first, difficult to wrap his head around the idea.
“Not being able to be introduced to the parents seemed like a personal rejection. It’s very easy in that situation to take it personally and feel that there is something wrong with you. You think, ‘Am I not good enough?’”
But eventually, with deeper communication and a zeal to make it work, he overcame such barriers and misunderstandings.
A day before Jonah was to travel to India for the first time with his family in 2017, a friend sent him an Al-Jazeera article entitled, African Victims of Racism Share their Stories, which talked about a mob attack on African students in Noida. The incident jarred him and led him to probe deeper into the roots of the anti-Black discourse in India — a subject he didn’t really know much until then. It made him ponder over the reason behind all this hate.
Upon coming back to London, he put out a message on social media asking Black and South Asian couples to contact him. He was looking for stories similar to his own, in order to dig deeper into the deeply-ingrained prejudice in the Indian society. 10 couples contacted him, and that was the beginning of the Blindian project.
He created the hashtag #blindian project across social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram, as a way of encouraging Black-Indian couples to express their love in photos and videos online, the goal being to reduce the racist stigma surrounding “blindian” couples, normalise these relationships and dismantle anti-Blackness within South-Asian communities. They also create cross-community experiences that unite Black and South Asian cultures and inspire solidarity.
Talking about anti-Blackness in the USA, he said that it is not the same as it is in India.
In India, anti-Blackness is more a part of an internal bias against people who are dark-skinned, than against any particular race or ethnicity. In fact, as a country bearing a legacy of colonisation, it still revels in worshipping the White man and his skin colour.
With time, however, such prejudices are indeed taking a back seat and younger generations are becoming more open to forming relationships with people outside their race, ethnicity, and religion. Such developments can be attributed in part to the advancement of technology, particularly, social media, which has brought people together.
“All of these boundaries that stopped us before to interact, is no longer there. We can jump on a call. We can collaborate together. All of this is possible because of technology.”
“You came to know about the Blindian project because of technology,” he tells me.
With the Blindian project, he has carved a space at the intersection of culture and technology, giving voice to thousands of such couples who have happily been together for a very long time. The universality of love and emotions is what he seems to want to explore through this project. He believes that being open to each other about their needs and respecting each other as a person are the only things that can sustain a relationship in the long run.
Jonah and Swetha are also parents to two beautiful kids, Ajani (4) and Iyla (6), who keep them occupied. They encourage the kids to take part in both Christian and Hindu festivities in London, which has a thriving community of both.
“We go to the temple. We did a namakarana for our daughter. I personally think all of these things make our children richer because they are able to benefit from both cultures; they are able to understand both cultures.”
As individuals who have travelled widely and been exposed to different cultures, they are happy that their children are growing up with the best of both worlds, celebrating both Diwali and Christmas with equal gusto.
You can check out their Instagram here.
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