“India Is the Most Racist Country I Have Been To” — an African-American’s POV

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This piece was originally posted on Homegrown.

In February of 2016, a Tanzanian student in Bangalore was pulled out of her car, assaulted and stripped by an angry mob after a 35-year-old pedestrian was knocked down by a Sudanese student in another car. This horrific incident added fuel to the “India is racist” debate, with light being shone on various other indicators of our racial intolerance as a country. Terms such as “colonial hangover” and “xenophobia” flew across social media, and the hypocrisy of our intolerance was pointed out, since Indians travelling abroad often complain about white-world countries discriminating against them for being “brown.”

Now, we have yet another painful indicator of our own violent shortcomings with the horrific mob attack of several Nigerian students in Greater Noida, around 40kms from Delhi. At least four of them had been admitted to the hospital at the time of writing this article. In the days leading up to the attack, locals in the enclave where these young men lived had become convinced that a young Indian boy’s suspected drug overdose was linked to them somehow. In fact, they were even accused of cannibalism a few days before it all went down like this. The victims’ injuries range from swollen chests to broken ankles.

Opening up another layer of this subject, our obsession with light skin was tossed around in this debate, with names of beauty products such as “Fair & Lovely” coming up. Dark-skinned opinion leaders and celebrities have spent years fighting against discrimination on the basis of colour in India, with movements such as the “Dark ‘n’ Beautiful” awareness campaign joining the dialogue.

In a 2013 map based on the World Value Survey which measured the social attitudes of people in various countries, India was ranked among the top four most racist countries, along with Bangladesh, Jordan and Hong Kong. Another map showed India as one of the least hospitable places for foreigners to visit, which is ironic considering our culture of treating guests as Gods.

Even within the nation, Indian citizens from the Northeast have spoken out about social persecution they face from a majority of the country’s population. In 2014, a 20-year-old named Nido Tania from Arunachal Pradesh studying in Delhi was attacked in South Delhi market, beaten to death by shopkeepers using rods and sticks. The violence occurred after the men allegedly shouted racial slurs at Nido, making fun of his hair and appearance, which angered him and started a brawl that cost the young student his life. This is one of many incidents in India’s history that spurred a fervent outrage over discrimination against Indians from the Northeast, within their own country.

To a recent Quora question that asked “Which is the most racist country you visited as a tourist?” an American answered “India.” His explanation for the same is one that reflects the intolerant atmosphere in our country, whose ugliness rears its head every now and then. And it’s more relevant now than ever before.

Here is Dave Adali’s answer on Quora:

I am an African-American in the IT field and I have thus far had the good fortune to live and travel extensively throughout Western and parts of Eastern Europe and many countries in Asia. I have lived or traveled in the UK and most of the EU countries as well as Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and several other Asian countries including India. Of all the countries I have been to, India ranks way up there among the most “racist,” IMHO. Indians aren’t so much “racist” as they are intolerant. Indians discriminate against fellow citizens to a degree that I have NEVER encountered in ANY other country.

Without a doubt, Indians are the the most color obsessed people I have ever encountered anywhere in the world. No doubt because of all that saturation advertisements for “Fair and Lovely,” “Fair and Handsome” and all manners of skin-whitening creams, lotions, soaps, etc. Even if you are 100% Indian, your fellow Indians might still discriminate against you on the basis of the color of your skin, which region of India you come from, what language you speak, your religion, your caste etc, etc. If you are of obvious African ancestry, including African-American, you can find life really, really tough in India if you are going to be in India for a while. Indians can be such unabashed, in your face racists.

In the interest of fairness, I should point out that oftentimes, lighter-skinned Indians despise darker-skinned Indians every bit as much as much as they despise us people of African ancestry. Apart from that, there is also considerable antipathy between North Indians and South Indians.

Indians outside of India endlessly complain about the intolerance and racism they have to put up with in places like Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, the Middle East and even Africa. These very same Indians conveniently choose to ignore the fact that Indians themselves can be such pathological bigots against their fellow Indians, other Asians and especially people of African ancestry.

In Amritsar, one of my best friends was Gyan, a Nepali whom I initially mistook for a Chinese. Indians disdainfully call him “Chinki” or “Bahadur,” which Gyan hated. As a matter of fact, Indian citizens from India’s North-Eastern states, who often have Chinese facial features are routinely referred to, usually disparagingly as “Chinkis.”

I have a very good friend “Terrence,” also an African-American in the IT field. His wife “Rekha” is the the assertive and independent-minded daughter of Gujarati Jains who arrived in the US when shewas 7 years old. She and her husband met in graduate school and have been married more than ten years now. They have got 3 kids, all of them with dark complexion and curly hair, physical traits which her relatives back in Gujarat hated. When she took her kids to Gujarat for the first time, her Gujarati relatives took to calling them, usually disparagingly, “Africans” and “Blackies.” She finally had enough, especially since the older kids were now old enough to understand what was being said about them. So shegave the offending relatives the following ultimatum, “Treat my kids right, or get out of my life — and stay out of my life!”

India is a great country to visit briefly, because the country itself is endlessly fascinating. An American journalist once described India as “a land of jarring incongruities.” That is what makes India such a worthwhile tourist destination. Some African-Americans have sought my advice about going to Indian for hands-on IT training. My stock advice to them is be prepared to deal with unabashed in-your-bigotry because Indians hate dark-skinned people, including fellow-Indians. You can expect to have things even worse if you are somebody of African ancestry. As for housing, be prepared to live long term in a hotel. Available housing can be hard to get even if you are an Indian. Because Indian landlords routinely discriminate even against fellow Indians who happen to be from the “wrong” part of India, speak the “wrong” language, belong to the “wrong” religion or caste, etc. As somebody of African ancestry, you face a double whammy in a culture that hates dark skin.

If you are Caucasian or White, you should be alright, since the people automatically show respect for white-skinned people. Heck, I have seen Indians discriminating against fellow Indians in favor of White foreigners. This is NOT an anti-Indian rant, just my experiences and observations. My apologies in advance for any toes I might step upon.

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Nadya Agrawal is the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Kajal Magazine. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and wherever fine Bollywood movies are bootlegged.

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