You can waste your life drawing lines. Or you can live your life crossing them.

Color Me Right

The cognitive behind Indian racism is certainly enigmatic! For a country that has a history of being racially discriminated against Indians have certainly learned to manifest the beast in their lovely own ways. Not only that, they skillfully perpetuate it on others and even on themselves. The ugly footprints of the fiend can be traced in our daily lives. Sadly, the racist beast lurches in the Indian psyche and it is what makes fair North Indian make snide remarks about a slightly darker South Indian or fellow Gujarati call a Manipuri a “chink”.

Last month pictures of Shilpa Shetty, our very own Huckleberry Finn, were splashed all over tabloids and national dailies. When rude anti-racist remarks were hurled at her many Indian sentiments were hurt, TRP ratings went up, viewer ship increased and cash poured in the buck buckets of television networks. The point proved in the end was that, color of skin still remains to be a sensitive topic for Indians and one which must not be broached upon without caution.

Despite all this what surprises me is the hypocritical streak that marks Indian idiosyncrasy. We didn’t waste any time in crowning Shetty the new anti-racist icon. But, what happens when Indians themselves become racist. A Caucasian would always receive an extremely pleasant and even fawning response, while an African descendant would be entitled to no such luxury. A case of the tormented becoming the tormentor… who knows? One could find out only if one could delve into our collective mind scape, which of course is impenetrable. The only time a Korean friend of mine, living in London heard open remarks on the color of her skin were from a group of Indians there. Hold on, there is more…I can never forget how a Sudanese friend, who was in New Delhi last year on scholarship, could not walk the streets without receiving at least a few abrupt stares. And I can cite numerous incidents where Indians ridicule Indians on the basis of their skin color. It amuses me till no end to see fairness creams being lifted off the shelves from stores. Separate (of course) for men and women! Educated Indians would know that it is politically incorrect to call a black a black and would not shy away from openly abhorring apartheid but why do the statistics of Indian Matrimonial show that 98.8% of their customers make it a point to mention that they seek a “fair and “tall” spouse.

The real problem lies in our Anglo-American centric world view. Moreover our educational institutions don’t teach us enough about other societies. We all would know what Mark Twain wrote or what George Bush said in his last conference, know how and why Halloween is celebrated and just about any bright child can locate New York or London on the world map. But, how many of us know African literature or something about Brazilian politics or anything about Vietnamese tradition or even get close to spotting Tahiti on the world map (If they knew such a country existed).

Probably we should look towards the west for some sensible lessons to combat the racist brute, The new curriculum that is to be introduced in U K schools next year will dump traditional European biggies like WB Yeats, Foster and Pinter for works by Meera Syal. Moreover, British school children will now have the option to study non European Languages like Urdu, Chinese, Hindi and Arabic instead of just languages like French and German. This speaks volumes for U K’s multiculturalism. And if not the West we can look back to our own rich Indian tradition, where “sanvla” or dusky stands for beautiful. The popular Indian mythological God, Lord Krishna, was a dark skinned lad who is still known for his legendary beauty. Toady we talk of reverse colonization and how the colonized countries have now come into their own. With a global acceptance of people from such countries we can hope for a rational attitude towards them. Only greater awareness about their cultures can change attitudes and show us that the skin color really doesn’t matter. And if, as public memory has been said to be short, Indians have forgotten their own colonial history they should be reminded of it every time one of us discriminates just because the other is a shade darker than him.


A Tongue Twisted


  1. Haris

    Good article. I enjoyed reading it. However, I believe that color and race transcends beyond all geographical boundaries. There is nothing like the “East” or the “West” when it comes to scoring a brownie point on either side of the globe.

    To make my point clear – here’s a case in point: Way back when the west was playing white supremacist, Indians lived in harmony and peace and skin color had little affect on their day to day matters; however Indians were plagued by the caste system – equally worse or even more horrible.

    Today, as it seems the west has evolved and redefined itself as the role model for the rest of the globe, the problem has been craftily shifted along the political and social lines. I feel the west tends to be more politically correct but the society at large has yet to embrace the yellow, brown and black people.

  2. Arhama

    I’m glad you enjoyed reading the article and I apprecite you taking time out to write a comment , Haris.

    I will have to agree with you that the West always succeeds in giving the rest a bit of the curry when it comes to societal attitudes!!

    Every culture has its positives and its negatives which it wants to boast or hide under the rugs! Now that we have fondled with this point I am wondering is that why Indian goverment is trying to grease up things by the class reservations!

    Anyway, as I said you simply cannot be sure. However, now that we have touched this case I cannot help thinking that maybe if “browns” had faced racism as severly as the “blacks” they would have been more sensitive and evolved in their outlook.

  3. Haris

    It’s not the West but the Might. If China were to become the super power they would show their attitude as well! Although I am not so much interested in their curry 🙂

    And when you ask why the government is playing the class card, there are 2 main reasons. One, they are playing because they can and two, it acts as a cover for their non-performance. Minorities in many countries go to polling booths every few years not to elect someone who will provide them better governance but to elect someone who will not take away their livelihood, their lives. Majority goes to polling booth lest a minority fella gets elected.

    This reminds me of this Urdu couplet….

    Ghar sajane ka tasawwur to bahot baad ka hai
    Pehle ye tai to ho, ki is ghar ko bhachain kaise

    Which roughly translates to…

    Let’s worry about decorating the house later; after we have figured out a way to save it.

    In short, many people will tell you that it is the power or the lust for power that makes politicians play with anything that they can.

    I am surprised to read your last paragraph though. In a way it seems to belittle the humiliation that “brown” people suffered under the colonial rule. Or in a way condoning the acts of a perpetrator just because they weren’t as severe as that of another one.

    Even if we were to assume your case, how can you rule out the fact that years of humiliation and disgrace would not have festered into a strong desire for revenge. What is Robert Mugabe doing? He’s not healing his wounds; he thinks he’s playing tit for tat!

  4. Saima

    This is a very well written article and draws a clear picture of the current rascist – world scenario.

    Rascism has 2 main elements. One is the colour of the skin and the other is the wealth- ‘Might’ as Haris pointed out and all it’s synonyms including intelligence. I completely agree with you about the level of rascist remark made by the indians amongst themselves!

    Also consider the West, particularly the United States. Here there are altogether differnet terms for poor white americans and poor black americans.”White trash” and the ‘n’ word are use to abuse one’s own brother respectively and state his identity/status!!

    What is more shocking is that of lately rascism has yet another element to it and that is the Religious factor. I was watching this serial call “30 Days”…its a popular reality show where a person is asked to complete a task in 30 days to derive certain conclusions. The McDonald one was quite popular where this man ate only Mcdonald food for 30 days and ended up with liver failure and obesity.

    Similarly they had conducted this show where a practicing christian guy had to live with a muslim family in Michigan and learn about Islam. The guy had to dress, pray, eat and sleep like the muslims do. This man David was quoted saying that for the first time in all his life he was stopped at the airport and scanned in a biased manner. Such acts are justified by the 911 factor however dogamtic it may be!

    Another noteable point that comes out from this discussion is the ignorance of the West about the East. India being the second largest democratic country and having served as a playground for colonialism, racsim, imperialism, communalism… did not find its place in the History textbook of the west!

    God has made us into nations and tribes so that we may know eachother not into black and whites so we may abuse eachother!

    As for revenge- I would say “it’s a dish best served cold”! 🙂

  5. Sajid

    Very well written and thought provoking article followed by some interesting comments.

    The point that I do not completely agree with is
    “The real problem lies in our Anglo-American centric world view”. If one talks about racism in India and keeping the literacy levels of the country in mind, I wonder how many do actually have any kind of view except the view running from their fore-fathers. The racism is India is not based on view its more related to inheritance of ideologies from generations.

    The country is plagued by illiteracy, hypocrisy which helps the beneficiaries to maintain the status code as it had been for years.

    Talking about stares, I always have wondered why is it more than not interpreted as a disliking and not interpreted as fear. The fear of unknown, but at the same time I do agree to the fact that in the “educated” Indian world, some of the racist thoughts are driven by views which are made available in the media.

    W.E.B. DuBois argued that racialism is the belief that differences between the races exist, be they biological, social, psychological, or in the realm of the soul.

    The tendency of human to show superiority or rather to avoid being in a situation of inferiority leads him to use any of the above factors. In India, the social structure which has been carried over shares the beast portion for all causes.

    I would like to once again commend you on the excellent writing and also the way the topic has been presented.

    I will end using Haris’ idea of Urdu couplet ( which I really liked) by putting a few couplets by Sudarshan fakir which queries the mankind about the prevailing thought

    Aaj ke Daur mein aye dost ye manzar kyuN hai
    Zakhm har sar pe ,har ik haath mein patthar kyuN hai

    Apna anjaam to maluum hai sab ko phir bhi
    Apni nazaron mein har insaan sikandar kyuN hai.

    [Friend, why in today’s world, though each person is bruised he still carries a stone in the hand]
    [Every one know about the final destination and yet each one continues to consider himself to be Alexander ( there by just trying to conquer the world rather than love of the people)]

    Waiting in anticipation for the next thought provoking article !!!


  6. Arhama

    While I was working on another one of my articles I just got time to check out the page previously posted and was pleased to find fresh comments from people(including a couple of pertinent poetic persuasions)! There were some very very intriguing points raised and I just have to blurt out something before all the excitement fades away.

    What really led me to think and then write about an article like this was the times when I was in college and the foreign student advisor asked me to help out a group of foreign students, including one Sudanese, three Mongolian and one from Kazakhstan; get along around the campus. Being close to all five of them I was surprised to see how many of the Indians would openly exhibit hints and shades of xenophobia (these were the “educated” lot).

    I do think that Sajid is absolutely right in saying that this attitude is due to inheritance of certain ideologies from forefathers (I’m sure Haris too has some interesting takes on this line). There is a missing link here though, which is that their ideologies were again built on the grounds covered by the European colonial rule in India (and most part of the world at that time). What education can do for us is induce us to appreciate our as well as other’s cultures.

    I’ll agree with Haris that we cannot condone what happened in India but we cannot defy that what happened in Africa was much more severe. The reason for this is simple. It is because the reason of its origin differs from one country to another. Saima thoughtfully pointed out that racism has more than one dimension. Be it color of skin, religion (which is not a recent phenomenon for example, the war fought between the Muslim Turks and the Catholic Austro-Hungarians) or might. As for Robert Mugabe, he is a politician using ethnic disparity for his gain.

    It is a thoughtful hope that if we can harangue about global village and spiel at length about how the world is shrinking we can also learn to accept world cultures without fearing the unknown. In the end I would like to quote an American writer to put things in perspective.

    “To live anywhere in the world today and be against equality because of race or color is like living in Alaska and being against snow.”
    –William Faulkner

  7. Areej

    An assiduous piece of writing which is truly commendable!!!! Besides the content, which is indeed very comprehensive, I wish to comment on your impeccable style of expression, which immediately catches the eye. The heading is quite intriguing as well.

    I thoroughly agree with what you have to say on racism. It really is an enigma which is wrapped up in a mystery which might unfold but never gets unwrapped. It includes quite a lot of aspects of the world wide (what we may term as) phenomena.

    I look at racism as another word for ignorance. It’s another way of saying that nature should have only one type of flower, tree or animal. It’s another way of looking at the world with eyes closed for diversity and change. Racism is another word for immaturity. Another word for inferiority complex. As Freud very rightly stated that its counter part doesn’t exist. It is always this, which is in play . Its word for fear. Fear of the unknown is of course understandable. For most of us belong to different backgrounds with particular type environment. For example, a statistics from the US Census bureau, which said that a certain region with a population of 2,598,987 people is white. Which makes up for 95% of its population. There is only less than 1%of the black population. The rest 4% population comprises of Hispanic people. So meeting them would not be more than that of a passerby. Most of the time not even thinking of being acquainted with them, let alone trying to know them better or at a personal level. And are psychology runs like they are different from us. And this difference is generally viewed as negative. Often not put into words.

    We are comfortable to where we belong and things we are well settled with. Very often repeating our parent’s philosophy. It sets are standards and we adopt them, unknowingly, which too is quite understandable. Racism at a local level, which passes from under the eye comprises of such type of racism.

    Apartheid which exists at a world level is by and large due to the soft power the “whites” possess. It usually appeals to the senses, which explains the emptying of fairness creams stacks indicated by you. White color is considered symbolic of purity .I am reminded of a story I read while I was still a child in which the mother of the black child explains to him that the warmth of God’s love is received equally by one and all.

    Eagerly looking forward for another of your enlightening article.
    Best Wishes.

  8. Arhama

    Glad a potential lawyer found the article enlightening!

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