Racism has no place in India – Christine Pemberton

Christine Pemberton“We must all, across the board, aim to root out that racial joke, that knee-jerk racial stereotyping—kitna paisa springs to mind, as does the distasteful kali peeli. Sadly, much of India’s racism and colourism, if I may coin my own word, is also misogynist. A white woman wears a skirt, shows her arms, shows her legs = she is loose = she is available.” – Christine Pemberton

Somnath BhartiI learned this week from no other than the Indian Government that racism is, and I quote, “anathema” to India. Please make sure to tell that to the African women in Delhi, stereotyped as prostitutes (kitna paisa men whisper to them as they walk past).

Tell that to every white foreigner who has been stared at/gawped at/touched. Damn it, tell that to your own beautiful girls from the North-Eastern States who, in the very same newspaper that quoted the anathema remark, reported that 81 per cent of these girls have been harassed in Delhi. Go on, tell that to every Indian who placed a marriage advertisement requesting a partner with a “wheatish” complexion. Tell that to the legions of fabulous, caring, devoted Malayali nurses, whose skin colour has been denigrated.

Tell that to the woman at a wedding I recently attended who saw my daughter and without bothering to introduce herself, nor ask my name nor my daughter’s name had only the following to say, “That fair girl. How old is she? Is she married?” So, for crying out loud, don’t waste your breath, Indian Government, nor our time with humbug like “India … racism … anathema.”

Genet ZewdieI would have much more respect for a politician who had the guts to stand up and say, “Yes, sadly, racism does exist, colour prejudice does exist. Yes, they absolutely both exist here in India. But we are educating our people to avoid such crass judgements based on nothing more than skin tone.” Realistically, racism exists everywhere. We all know that. So, until we as a global human race manage to root out such a fundamental prejudice, we need to focus on what is important.

And that is not sappy sound bytes but education, education, education. We must all, across the board, aim to root out that racial joke, that knee-jerk racial stereotyping—kitna paisa springs to mind, as does the distasteful kali peeli. Sadly, much of India’s racism and colourism, if I may coin my own word, is also misogynist. A white woman wears a skirt, shows her arms, shows her legs = she is loose = she is available.

A black woman … well, she is a hooker, plain and simple. God alone knows where that logic comes from. Having lived in Africa, I have a definite soft spot for the continent, which is full of tough clever North-eastern Indianswomen, many of them way better educated than the average kitna paisa type of creep, so I imagine the hooker innuendos are nothing more than low down racism, with not even a basis in prejudice.

And moving to India’s own beautiful North-Eastern women, who are by African students in Indiaand large very well-educated, pretty, work-oriented, and often more outgoing and emancipated than your average girl—why are they singled out? Wearing a skirt makes them available? The fact they have left their families and come to Delhi to get a better education or a better job makes then available? At least 27 per cent of the discrimination meted out to these poor girls, according to the report I mentioned above, consists of being “mistaken as a foreigner and then verbally abused”.

Great. Just great. Two for the price of one. Make a mistake and then abuse. We can all of us make a personal effort not to be racist/colourist, and indeed we all should. We have to. And the only way to carry this forward is, yet again, through education, education, education. This should start in school, and should be constantly reinforced at every level in the work place, in the police force, in every aspect of our lives, so that the purveyors of ugly kitna paisa and kali peeli remarks go out of business. – NitiCentral, 25 January 2014

Nigerian students

3 Responses

  1. Racism in India

    Arunachal Pradesh student Nido Taniam and the Lajpat Nagar shop where he was beaten up.

    Northeast students protest against racism in New Delhi

    Nido Taniam: Delhi’s racism caused Arunachal student’s death, cries Northeast – Azera Parveen Rahman – India Today – Guwahati – January 31, 2014

    From downright shock to a seething anger, people from the country’s northeast, and especially its youth, reacted strongly at the death Thursday of a 19-year-old Arunachal Pradesh student who was allegedly severely assaulted by shopkeepers in a busy south Delhi market.

    Calling it as yet another incident of blatant racism against northeastern students, people of the region spoke out against widescale discrimination meted out to hapless youngsters going to the national capital every year looking for better opportunities for education and career.

    “There were such large scale protests against discrimination of South African students in Delhi after the Somnath Bharti (of Aam Aadmi Party) incident in south Delhi. Without undermining their case, why are there no voices outside the northeast community condemning incidents of racism against people of India’s northeast?”

    “Day after day, and year after year, when helpless students of the northeast are meted out worse behaviour by residents of the city, no one speaks out. Nido Taniem’s death was a case of downright discrimination and racism, but who, other than us from the northeast, are going to speak out against it?” asks an agitated Saurav Barman, a second year graduation student in Guwahati.

    Agrees another student in Tinsukia, another town of Assam.

    “Taniem was harassed for his hairstyle, for the way he looked and that resulted in a tiff. This incident stinks of racism. And even if the argument resulted in the breaking of a shop window, does it justify the merciless beating of a young boy with rods by six-eight men? What kind of barbaric society is this?” asks Arupjyoti Gohain.

    Taniem, who was severely assaulted on Wednesday, died of his injuries while being treated in a hospital on Thursday. Police said they are questioning shopkeepers of the Lajpat Nagar-1 area where the attack on him took place.

    Speaking out against the incident, Suhas Chakma of the Asian Centre for Human Rights said, “There have been increasing racial attacks on the people from the northeast India in Delhi. In addition to the provisions of the Indian Penal Code, Delhi Police must invoke the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against the murderers, as well as the Delhi Police personnel who failed to protect Nido Taniam, a Scheduled Tribe boy, from being beaten to death.”

    In recent years, Delhi has also earned a dubious tag of being a city that often sees sexual harassment of women, and almost every northeastern girl in the city complains of being teased because of their looks and being referred by the derogatory term, ‘chinky’.

    Babita Singha of Manipur, whose 18-year-old daughter is deciding on colleges outside her home state for her graduation, said that Delhi is strictly out of the list of choices.

    “How can any parent send their child to a place that is notorious for being racist to people of the northeast? My neighbour’s daughter is studying in Delhi and she often complains of being harassed on the road, being called ‘chinky’, even harassed by her landlord. It’s a shame that the capital of the country is so hostile to its own people,” Singha said.

    It’s a similar reaction by a number of other students from the region preparing to explore colleges in the metros for their graduation.

    “I will either go to Bangalore or Pune, but not Delhi. All these incidents have put such a negative impact on my mind,” said James Jyrwa, a student in Meghalaya’s Shillong.

    Already sore with the capital’s attitude, Thursday’s unfortunate death of a young student has further darkened the mood of the people, especially its youngsters, towards Delhi.

    “People say why do people of the northeast feel alienated…with such discrimination, who wouldn’t? We youngsters go looking for better opportunity to the capital of the country, not to do any harm. Let’s see who speaks up against Taniem’s death this time, or if we will yet again be left to scream for ourselves,” read a post by Animikha from Assam on a social networking site.


  2. Delhi is a different, and difficult, place. It is my experience there that in spite of being the nation’s capital, all non-locals are discriminated against, there, not just Africans or other foreigners There is hidden animosity between the Punjabis and the old locals – you can feel it when you talk to some of the shop keepers in the Old Delhi area. Any one south of the Vindhyas is a Madrassi there. All south Indian languages are alike for them. They don’t know the distinction between a Malayali and a Malaysian – in fact when a Malayalam speaking Indian was recruited as a typist in the office where I worked, the other employees demonstrated asking why some one from Malaya should be recuited when we had enoungh unemployed Indians! Poor people, they can’t even know the true Gandhi from pseudo ones, as a weekly news magazine found out some years ago.The prejudice against South Indians is well known. Years ago, the journalist Madhavan Kutty wrote a piece in the then Illustrated Weekly of India titled “In Delhi without a Visa”, describing the plight of Indians from Kerala there.

    As for mistreatment of Africans, it is really sad. Nothing can justify it. But I have seen some African students studying in Annamalai University (Chidambaram). They do behave differently and attract adverse notice of the locals. On the contrary, many foreigners visit the temple town during the Car festival twice a year and freely mix with the local crowds without any problem. And many of them don the local attire too. ‘Do in Rome as Romans do’ – was that uttered in vain?


  3. Having lived in a district abutting Chennai, and being registered in the same district police office (FRO) as many African students, I can confirm that the Africans were treated abominably by the government officials who handled their applications.

    The rudeness and contempt displayed by the officials for the Africans was sometimes so bad I would leave the office as I was ashamed of what was going on.

    African students are in India because the Indian Government offers scholarships and invites them to study here. The students are not wealthy and live outside the Chennai city limits where accommodation is cheaper. They think they are welcome as India has campaigned in Africa to bring them here. But they are in for a very rude shock when they arrive. Indians fear them and treat them like freaks. All kinds of urban legends circulate about them which are mostly untrue. In fact they are just like any other college students on the loose in a strange city.

    Indians are well known in Africa and have huge business interests there that has placed them in competition with the Chinese. I doubt that African students are treated better in China than in India. Still, Indians must get over this unreasonable prejudice as it is unacceptable in today’s world and gives India a very bad name abroad.


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