06/04/2015 10:10 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

The Layers Of Racism In India

For a country which has been victim to racism in other countries, India is at risk of being branded as racist itself. As the Cricket World Cup began last month, I saw some posts on social media that had what can only be described as racially discriminatory content. One made a jibe about the West Indies-Zimbabwe match, asking viewers to increase the brightness of their TV sets. Another poked fun at the English-language skills of a certain Pakistani cricketer. Around the same time, incidents of violence against Indians occurred in the USA, raising a hue and cry in India over racism in America.

The World Cup posts may have been in "jest", but they highlight the racist behaviour - the "layered discrimination" -- that exists amongst certain Indians. While Indians have faced racism from Whites in most cases, the targets of their own racist taunts are people whom they perceive as somehow inferior to themselves (incidentally, this category very rarely includes Whites).

Discrimination on skin colour

Many Indians (and many South Asians, for that matter) obsess about fair skin. Advertisements for popular fairness creams often show users achieving professional and personal success as a direct or indirect outcome of their lighter skin. Most incidents of alleged skin-colour racism that Indians have faced abroad in recent years were perpetrated by Whites in countries like USA, Australia etc.

"[There is] an ingrained belief of the people that white skin is better than brown, and brown is better than black."

So they irony is astounding that when Indians themselves make skin-colour jibes, they make it against darker-skinned people too. This shows an ingrained belief of the people that white skin (and by extension people) is better than brown, and brown is better than black, a belief which naturally bodes well for the fortunes of cosmetic companies. I think some Indians probably have a greater colonial hangover than the former colonialists themselves.

Discrimination on English-language skills

Every person has his/her own skill, and it works better to keep our judgements of others to the specific skills they are best known for. A cricketer is known for his playing skills on the field, rather than for his ability to speak proper English. Some might have found fun in the gaps in the English-speaking skills of a certain Pakistani cricketer, but not all Indians speak perfect Queen's English either. Many such Indians are actually working in professional fields. However, our judgement of them depends on the specific profile of their work and their ability to do that work. Performance appraisal sheets of most companies do not include English-language skills, because their competence in English is not a yardstick for judging them. Why then do we resort to poking fun at the grammar and accent of someone whose first language is not English and whose skill area has nothing to do with speech at all.

Our complacency about racism in India

Many were understandably aghast at the recent incidents of violence that occurred against Indians in the USA. However, it is also worth remembering that enquiries were rapidly initiated by the US authorities and action was swift. This speed of implementing enquiries and achieving closure still lags in India, be it in incidents of discrimination against people from the Northeast, crimes against women or communal riots. While the recent incidents in USA are a cause of concern, it is also worth acknowledging their efforts to ensure a society which assimilates people of all backgrounds.