How Racism Dwells in India

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The deliberate violence against a hapless African-American, George Floyd by white police officers in Minneapolis has triggered a wave of worldwide protests and awareness-campaigns against racism across countries. In India as well, we can see Instagramers and Twitterati trending the “#blacklivesmatter” and bestowing their support for the campaign. 

This is done with so much fervor that it almost pretends that racism doesn’t exist in India at all. Although, when it comes to skin color, India’s dissent to discrimination faced by African-Americans in the West is tainted by hypocrisy and calls for some introspection.

How Indians Treat Africans

Approximately 60,000 Africans are residing in India; most of these are either pursuing higher studies or work. According to the Association of African Students in India (AASI), about 25,000 Africans study in Indian universities, drawn by their high academic standards, low fees, and the use of English language as the medium of instruction. 

Many of these have faced racial discrimination of some kind at some point in time during their stay in India. African men in the capital are often stigmatized as burglars, pimps, drug peddlers, and even cannibals, whereas women are straightaway perceived to be prostitutes. Irrespective of their nationalities many are referred to as “Nigerians” almost as a term of abuse.

Most Africans, when they are searching for accommodation, are faced with an emphatic “no” without any explanation. They also face stigma and harassment from authorities – many have talked about police inquiries at odd hours and have even reported extortion. They are mocked at and ganged against by the university men while the women are afraid to talk to them and most universities delay or deny any action to build camaraderie and respect among students.

Near-fatal mob attacks on African students are also not new. In 2017, 5 Africans were attacked over an unsubstantiated charge of drug-peddling and cannibalism after the death of a teenage boy in Greater Noida. A year before, a 21-year-old Tanzanian woman was stripped and attacked by the crowd in Banglore for an unproven reason.

The videos of mob-violence that come up after these incidents can render the Minneapolis episode as innocuous. Moreover, the government’s response is far from adequate. Most of the time the authorities fail to acknowledge racial discrimination let alone condemning and working against it.  The Indian media and the public as well, speak unabashed against discrimination in the West and their histories and geographies but turn their face when the same happens in their own country. 

Our Obsession With Fair Skin

India’s racial outlook has roots deep in her obsession with fair skin and fair people. Indian cinema is dominated by fair-skinned actors since eternity while dark people are always stereotyped as the antagonists or the sidekicks of the heroes. Newspaper and television advertisements for skin lightening creams and treatments are galore where often a girl who is dark-skinned is associated with low self-esteem before transforming into a confident woman after using the endorsed product.

The matrimonial ads as well, are prefaced with the pre-requisite for the bride and groom to be fair. The words fair and beautiful or fair and handsome are paired up together like they are inseparable. The South Indian obsession with fair skin is also noteworthy considering how even today marriage proposals are turned down if the girl is dusky.

Relatives, parlor owners, and even neighborhood ladies suggesting ‘face-brightening’ home remedies and treatments is a relatable instance experienced by one and all. There have been episodes where dark-skinned people have been mistaken for floor managers or helping staff at supermarkets.

For many years, cultural superiority has been linked to lighter skin tones and has paved the way for discrimination to hold its roots in our society. These are the traits that in time, become moral grounds for condescending individuals, and for those who think they are above the law like the police officer in Minneapolis.  

Discrimination Against North-Eastern Citizens

After the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic, scores of reports emerged about racial stigma against the people from North-East India. Students and elderly alike were being slandered with terms like “corona”, “Chinese”, “chinki”, being spat at, and forcibly quarantined even though they showed no symptoms.

In some regions, they have been denied entry into apartment complexes, forced to evict their flats, and even asked to leave restaurants (before lockdown) as their presence was making others ‘uncomfortable’. Even before the pandemic, the people from these states suffered from racial bias and were called offensive names like “momo”, “chowmein” and many more.

They say that they are respected until they are perceived as from Korea or Japan but when they reveal that they are from North-East, they are subjected to discrimination. Similar to the Africans, young boys from these states are judged from their hairstyles and tattoos as alcoholic, drug-addicts, and pimps and the women are simply termed as “cheap” and approached like prostitutes. 

All kinds of different people from the North-East are typecast as some kind of insurgent. Yet it remains impossible for North-easterners to stand up to discrimination for it means risking their livelihoods which is generally what has brought them to a place like Delhi in the first place.

Not Only Color-Bias

Now when we are talking about the US and other Western countries, we are talking only about their racial biases. On the other hand, in India, some prejudices are a lot older than America itself that endure even today. Dalits across India, after more than seven decades of independence are still not free from untouchability and racial biases. Even religious discrimination against minorities has become rife with a divisive government and a minion media. 

Most of our society is still homophobic and even after much legal support, the homosexual community is still subject to taboo and prejudice. Unlike color-biases which are prominent in the North, religious, caste and sexual prejudices are ubiquitous all around the country, and are topics in their own.

Smiliar to Black Lives Matter movement, these topics need to become a part of our daily discussions and debates. For when we'll talk about racism it will become the part of discussion in media, then among the policy makers and might even one day become a part of our education system which will definitely lead to change.

There can be no better time for introspection and self-improvement than it is today. Along with raising our voices for world-issues, it is also necessary to look within, correct the things which have been wrong for a long time, and set an example for the world to follow.

Written by - Rudransh Khurana

Edited by - Arnav Mehra

How Racism Dwells in India How Racism Dwells in India Reviewed by Arnav Mehra on June 24, 2020 Rating: 5

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