George Floyd’s death sent shock waves through the entire world. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement gained traction not just in America but India as well. We have seen it, seen it all-people who never cared enough posting black squares with the wrong hashtag, our racist acquaintances complaining about the gross injustices in America though their attitude remains unchanged, and patrons of fairness cream (now renamed brightening creams) expressing their sorrow without realising the hypocrisy of their actions. While change and introspection are always welcome and the anti-racist movement deserves the popularity and support, one on moving past India’s pride on inclusion and tolerance would realise that little has changed with the racism ubiquitous in India. The BLM movement has become a fad for most ‘racist at heart’ Indians, a way of acceptance or maybe they can empathise with the ‘Blacks of America’ and being the browns and see it as a fight close to home.
I would love to say that Indians have moved past racism but saying so now, would just be wrong and irresponsible when the truth is we cannot seem to move past colourism- a child of racism. We are a nation of browns where certain shades of brown are preferred; the kinds which show the least of brown. Undoubtedly, the brunt of this favouritism is faced by women more than men. Most women who do not match the fairness criteria are pressurised to change their looks(read: skin colour), to become lighter. This colourism is covered with a shroud of so-called care, for how else would one find a suitable groom in this country if not by becoming fairer? Women are bombarded with unsolicited advice about treatments and creams to become lighter. While it is rare for such tips and tricks to work, what they do do is instil a feeling of ‘not being enough’, an inferiority complex over one’s skin colour. If one is asked to ‘improve’ their skin colour day in and day out, it is sure to make them feel inadequate about something they can’t change, even if that something is as superficial as their skin colour. The racist belief that ‘lighter’ is better is etched into the core of society, so much so that in a survey, 71 per cent husband-seeking women stated that they would prefer a fair groom. This practice though racist, is still not as hateful as what haunts our north-eastern citizens.
India boasts of tolerance and diversity when, in reality, those who really make our culture diverse by being different from most of us are regularly bullied and harassed. North-Eastern Indians, because of their Mongoloid features, have to routinely face prejudice and ill-treatment when they step out of their home states. They are called “chinkies”; a word which mocks them because of their physical features and is an insulting way to refer to those from ‘China’. Our citizens, born and brought up in India itself, are mocked by being called ‘Chinese’.
The coronavirus, a threat for all of us, has only added more to their woes; only because the virus originated in China. Apart from usual racism they had to endure, they are also subject to unwarranted hate for no fault of their own because; some Indians would rather see them as Chinese and those to be bashed only because of their appearance. They are being evicted from their homes, spat on and being called ‘corona’ and beaten and abused. At a time when we must come together to help each other, unfortunately, what we have rather seen is a spike in racism and xenophobia.
Now if this is the plight of our own citizens, one can only imagine what those who are actually not from India must have to go through.
Students from African countries often come to India for education and to discover the land of Mahatma Gandhi but what they are often shocked to find is profound racism. Many landlords want to avoid black tenants and those who do accept them, do so, only to charge them extra money. The word they become most familiar with and learn the fastest is ‘Kallu’ – a constant reminder of their skin colour. In hopes of furnishing a friendship, they learn Hindi and try to laugh often, and yet they are unable to gain trust or good faith. Indians are sceptical of them, considering them to be drug peddlers, cannibals and what not. Africans in India are afraid; afraid to fall prey to vicious attacks of the likes that engulfed a Congolese teacher over a ride on an auto-rickshaw. There have been cases of African nationals being attacked by village locals over trivial reasons or no provocation at all. A sigh of relief comes from knowing that the Punjab and Haryana Court considered the usage of racist slurs to refer to Black people of African origin ‘unacceptable’ and even rebuked the police for stereotyping black people as ‘drug peddlers’.
In my opinion, it is highly unlikely for anyone to be truly bereft of racist allegations; it is not merely years but generations of conditioning that we have to forego to wake to a better world. It is not our fault that we have become used to these ideas, but it would be our biggest mistake if we refuse to grow. We have miles to go ahead, and so many things to change; be it full-fledged racism or its close associates like colourism and xenophobia.
By: Ananya Mohit