Injustice: Racism in India

A culture fixated on white skin

A hand holding a poster which says “Black Lives Matter”
Image from Unsplash

The killing of George Floyd by a policeman in broad daylight has been the matchstick that set fire to the gunpowder of anger and dissatisfaction already brewing in the hearts of many Americans. Their protests have touched millions across the world as more and more people are speaking up about their experience with racial discrimination. The social media circuit in India is not quiet about this topic either. Celebrities are posting black box on Instagram with trending hashtags like BlackLivesMatter.

But not so surprisingly, very few of them are found when the issue hits home. While celebrities protest immediately against injustice abroad, their voices are rarely heard when India faces its age-old vices of racism and casteism.

Hidden racism —

One might wonder how the people of a country discriminated for their skin colour can turn around and do the same thing to another. But racism is not a new thing in India. Black people visiting India and people of North-east India can attest to that.

There are many cases in the past few years where African students were killed or faced harassment in the hand of Indians. Rarely do the offenders get charged.

Black men are stereotyped by most Indians as drug peddlers, criminals and savages. Most landlords refuse them accommodations without offering any explanation. Movies often show vicious idiotic villains as dark-skinned, more often than not African nationals. An English textbook is reported to show a black man’s photo saying ‘u for ugly’.

People from North-east are also subjected to harassment. Often they are called racial slurs like “Chinki”. They are stereotyped as drug addicts or immoral people. The protests revolving around the controversial deaths of Richard Loitam in Bangalore and Dana Sangma in Gurgaon in 2012 shows the long-standing hurt of North-eastern Indians. The recent Covid-19 situation isn’t better for them either as Northeasterners are being targetted, spat on, denied entry in shops and expelled from rented apartments.

The dark-skinned South Indians are also not exempted from experiencing racism from their countrymen. The BJP Member of Parliament Tarun Vijay defended racism after the Noida attack by saying —

“If we were racist, why would the entire South — you know the Tamils, you know Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra — why do we live with them? Why do they live with us? We have black people around us.”

What was even more shocking was that the South Indian politicians, instead of protesting vehemently against this blatant expression of racism, immediately jumped to their feet trying to prove that they were fair-skinned than other South Indians, which shows the lack of respect these politicians have for dark-skinned people.

But what can be the reason for a country’s racism when most of its people are brown-skinned themselves?

Some of this has to do with colonial discourses which have seeped into India when Europeans justified the enslavement of Africans based on their skin colour. The 19th-century racist European association of Africa with cannibalism is still very much ingrained in the minds of Indians. Although, even before the British brought us the discriminatory behaviour based on one’s skin colour, we had our own stories of racism, with classical texts talking about dark-skinned non-Aryans or aboriginals who were often portrayed as monsters and cannibals.

Sadly, it seems like we haven’t managed to escape from that mentality. Indians are still very much obsessed with fair skin, with the dark-skinned child of the household being the butt of the jokes and getting called “Kallu” or “Kalwa” by all. And then we have celebrities endorsing various skin-whitening cream brands. In 2014, the Advertising Standards Council of India(ASCI) had to issue guidelines on the promotion of fairness creams declaring that dark-skinned people cannot be equated to being depressed or ugly.

Not many public figures speak up about racial discrimination in India. The political parties don’t deem it as a serious issue unless it affects their vote bank.

It’s high time we talk about these issues.

Pushing it under the rug is not going to make it go away. We need to educate ourselves, unlearn the age-old lessons of racism ingrained deep within us. As a tropical country, we should be proud of nature’s gift to us — brown skin of charming hues.

We should certainly speak up in solidarity with people suffering in any part of the world. But that shouldn’t mean we turn a blind eye when the issue hits home. While we protest against the killing of black people in the US, we need to use our voices to condemn the racism black people, Northeast Indians, South Indians, the Adivasis — anyone fitting the dark-skinned ‘other’ mould face in India.

It is our duty. As fellow human beings. As the voice against injustice.

Now is the time.

If we keep quiet now, history would never forgive us.

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Artemis Shishir

Artemis Shishir

Writer. Storyteller. Indian. Queer. (he/they). Reach me at artemisshishirwrites@gmail.com.