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Racism in India – A Socio-Political line of questioning

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Racism primarily exists on the notion that a certain group or a sect is superior over others, or that perpetually a whole group is inferior on every single ground. The intricacies of Racism in India is that it exists not only in the mindsets but culturally as well. When we take up, Dravidian or Aryan debate, or North Indian vs South/ North East Indian, the whole typecasting, stereotyping, and the problem that is of associating terms like  Madrasi, Chinese, etc or based on religion, anti-Islam or anti “invaders”, the whole of caste problem.

The basic issue in all these is that racism, discrimination, antagonizing mentality, and prejudice Are very well reasoned politically or culturally based on what their ancestors have done as per the rules of the society, or the history of the ethnicity or religion in India.

This is where I would draw a line and say, No, racism as an independent sole concept does not exist in India. Yes, the Africans are targeted, yes the Muslims are vilified, if that is the case, it is a duty on me to point out that even Hindus are targeted in certain times of the History. So what is Racism even in India, if not for a macrocosm of myriad problems. A Pandora’s box that can’t be closed with just police reforms as being asked in the west, or that of equal rights for all, or the call for “Affirmative Action”. Dare anyone say except by a Bollywood celebrity that India has been emancipated from the clutches of the caste system, ethnic wars, color, and religion.

So what is Racism in India? Is it addressed by the Law? Are the George Floyd equivalent movements determine something as Media and talk worthy? Our own Emancipation doctrine? Our own Constitutional amendments and the need for Affirmative Action? All these would be called into question and tried to address with a solution that is if we are able to pinpoint a problem.

The Problem of Racism and Caste

There are laws in place that actively discourage and criminalise any form of discrimination.

The right to equality is an important right provided in Articles 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 of the constitution. It is the principal foundation of all other rights and liberties and guarantees:

  • Equality before the law: Article 14 of the constitution guarantees that all people shall be equally protected by the laws of the country. It means that the State[6] will treat people in the same circumstances alike. This article also means that individuals, whether citizens of India or otherwise shall be treated differently if the circumstances are different.
  • Social equality and equal access to public areas: Article 15 of the constitution states that no citizen of India shall be discriminated on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Every person shall have equal access to public places like public parks, museums, wells, bathing ghats, etc. It states, however, that the State may make any special provision for women and children. Special provisions may be made for the advancements of any socially or educationally backward class or scheduled castes or scheduled tribes.
  • Equality in matters of public employment: Article 16 of the Constitution lays down that the State cannot discriminate against citizen in the matters of employment. All citizens can apply for government jobs, however, there are some exceptions. The Parliament may enact a law stating that certain jobs can be filled only by applicants who are domiciled in the area. This may be meant for posts that require knowledge of the locality and language of the area. The State may also reserve posts for members of backward classes, scheduled castes or scheduled tribes which are not adequately represented in the services under the State to bring up the weaker sections of the society. Also, laws may be passed that require the holder of an office of any religious institution to also be a person professing that particular religion. According to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2003, this right shall not be conferred to Overseas citizens of India.[10]
  • Abolition of untouchability: Article 17 of the constitution abolishes the practice of untouchability. The practice of untouchability is an offence and anyone doing so is punishable by law. The Untouchability Offences Act of 1955 (renamed to Protection of Civil Rights Act in 1976) provided penalties for preventing a person from entering a place of worship or from taking water from a tank or well.
  • Abolition of Titles: Article 18 of the constitution prohibits the State from conferring any titles. “Citizens of India cannot accept titles from a foreign State. The British government had created an aristocratic class known as Rai Bahadurs and Khan Bahadurs in India – these titles were also abolished. However, Military and academic distinctions can be conferred on the citizens of India. The awards of Bharat Ratna and Padma Vibhushan cannot be used by the recipient as a title and do not, accordingly, come within the constitutional prohibition”.[14] The Supreme Court, on 15 December 1995, upheld the validity of such awards.[15] [1]

At the same time, if we talk about the racism in India in its pop-culture context, then we need to blame or point out the effect of Bollywood and the Hollywood movies that typecast, actively discriminate, portray a “messiah” or a superiority of certain cultures. Especially in terms of showcasing the African – dark-skinned people, the stereotypes of showcasing Asian as Chinese, and portraying a certain culture that is at no stretch applicable to the whole of the Asian diaspora.

Showcasing Russians as usual Mafia and drug lords, Africans as heavy drug users, and drug peddlers, who are somehow in this mission to get the whole world high and that they somehow are the cannibals and ill-cultured Demogorgon’s who eat animals and humans and spread the virus,  showcasing Chinese/Japanese as “Asian” by promoting the most disturbing terms of the Chinese culture in Food and society, Japanese for their Mafia and crony Capitalism yet again and generally Indians as highly spiritual Hindu oriented, Spiritual leaders, who excelled and are in the world mission of promoting peace, nirvana, colorful clothes and such, or by Showcasing Blonde women as the most sexual or “easy beings”. We are a culturally inclined society yet somehow are not in a capacity to understand why certain countries and their people, act, behave and promote certain things, whether right or wrong, it is first our moral duty to give them a benefit of doubt and act further.

The reason for mentioning all this is, despite there being laws and policies in place, the mentality, the stereotype, and the imagination of the people arise from what the individual sees from a mass standpoint. What better marketing and propaganda machine than the movies and the entertainment industry in itself.

There are no particular laws, except for the Programme code of India, The Broadcasters Association self regulated ethics and policies, Advetisers ethcis and the Censor Board of India.

All of these have a self-regulatory role, except for the Censor board of India whose role and responsibilities are being called into question and growingly becoming grey given their overarching reach and intrusion in “Certifying” the movies.

Rationale for this Article:

While writing this article, the one thing that keeps coming back to my mind is the George Floyd death and the effect it is having on the Civil Rights Movement in the “Messiah of the free world” USA.

Do we have such similar incidents that triggered movements in India? Yes.

The recent case of Jayraj& Benicks in Tamil Nadu sheds light on the Police Brutality in India. The infamous third degree interrogation though abolished, but is actively persued, alebit outside the official papers and process thus not resulting in a pogrom.  

Unlike USA, Police Brutality exists interlinked with Caste and otherwise as well. That’s where the whole concept of discrimination and targeting by the state comes into Picture.

The Anti-CAA movement has seen the rise of arbitrary and one sided investigation that favoured or ignored a particular sect or religion. To the extent, there was a case in the Delhi High Court in the matter of an Order passed by the Commissioner suggesting his subordinates to actively distance or ignore people from the Hindu community as they are the majority so as to not upset the majority population hence avoiding a riot like scenario yet again. This was viewed as compromising the investigation and the justice delviery system alrogether.

What has come out of the Black Lives Matter Movement in USA ?

The one biggest movement that culminated out of the BLM movement is the Dalit Lives Matter movement in India. Yet again, we have Racism equated to the caste movement and that is the pressing issue in India. Given the Agraian policies, pseuodo secular sentiments in India, there has been a lot of problems faced by the minority, especially the Dalits in India. SC, ST, OBC have got their equivalent to Affirmative Action in terms of reservation and polices, yet that is being used to fuel the political ideologies of the polity. The people are not clear and unsure about why these things exist in the first place, leading to a bigger problem of caster overtures and the generalised discrimination.

It is not right to not mention the Gender based discrimination. Over all the ills present, the “third gender” in India is facing a tremendous pressure and problems. They are fighting their own battles of their own. TO the extent that it required the Delhi Court to ask for a reply and reasoning as to why Same-Sex marriages are not legalised yet. Will that solve anything? NO!. The pop-culutre and the pseudo allies will stop as soon as the law is set in place.

India is a very culturally inclined country which is influenced by the government and the mass culture machines that is the cinema and the family. If the mindsets don’t change we still will face issues in figuring out a proper solution per se.

Racism in India cannot be singled out. The Race per se, is deep rooted in Ethnicity, Georgraphical boundaries, the cultural and religious identity and the philosophies/ideologies of the people. I will not speak of the caste based problems, as being the privileged Cis-Het Male, hailing from an upper caste family, who faced no discrimination except for the ideologies and the pholosophies I concur to, frankly I have no clear idea or morally can’t speak of others struggles. All I can do is to be a proper ally and fight for the Justice.


Institutionalised racism:

Here it is pertinent to note that North Eastern Citizens are repeatedly subjected to institutional racism too where the police try to suppress the matter and take these incidents lightly.  There is a need to sensitize the law enforcing agencies about the people. The Bezbaruah Committee had also recommended that a North-East Special Police Unit should be created so that a single police officer-in-charge can register such complaints and give directions to various police stations. Till now, only Delhi has a separate Special Police Unit for North-Eastern region (SPUNER). The Committee has also recommended the appointment of specially designated public prosecutors and empanelling of lawyers from North-east for legal counselling of North-east crime victims.

Insufficient legal framework:

It has also been argued that North Eastern Citizens can seek protection under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, Article 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution and Section 153-A of Indian Penal Code, 1860. But firstly, not all North-Eastern citizens are the members of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Community therefore; they fall outside the purview of SC/ST Act, 1989. When we look at the Statistics of North Eastern Region released by the Government, we find that proportion of SC and ST to total population in Sikkim is 4.6% and 33.8% respectively; for Assam, it is 7.5% and 12.4%; for Manipur, it is 3.8% and 35.1%. Secondly, as observed by Bezbaruah Committee, while there are many laws, there is no one precise law that covers the type of incidents they are exposed to.  According to the Committee, in the short run, amendments to IPC should be made such as Section 153-C (Use of criminal force against people of any particular racial origin) and Section 509-A (Word, gesture or act intended to insult a member of a particular racial group or of any race), however, in the longer run demand for an Anti-Racial law should be debated. The Committee recommended that such legislation should include at least these specific provisions: 1. The offence should be cognizable and non-bailable; 2. The investigation of the FIR should be completed compulsorily within 60 days by a special cell; 3. The trial should be completed within 90 days.

A step forward in this direction was the introduction of the Anti-Discrimination and Equality Bill, 2016 by MP Shashi Tharoor. Though this bill didn’t deal exclusively with racial discrimination and included other factors like sexual orientation, marital status as well,  it is worth mentioning due to its attention to detail and acknowledgement of the fact that North-Eastern Indians and people from African origin are particularly vulnerable in India.

Linking caste to merit[3]

What drove the wedge deepest and exacerbated the misery of oppressed communities was the tacit linkage of caste with merit, a myth perpetuated by privileged castes to discredit the affirmative action measures such as reservations in educational institutions. The Mandal Commission was set up in 1979 by the Morarji Desai government to identify the socially or educationally backward classes of India to question the concept of reservations to redress caste discrimination in India. In 1980, the commission’s report upheld affirmative action and recommended 27 per cent reservation in jobs in the Central Government as well as Public Sector Undertakings (PSU). The report’s recommendations were ignored for over a decade and its implementation was considered only in 1990 by the VP Singh government causing widespread protests across the country where nearly 200 upper caste students attempted suicide by self immolation. 68 of them succumbed to their injuries

In Conclusion

The very reason why I haven’t specifically mentioned any Government SOP, Rules or Penal Provisions is to give to the merit that Constitution is the “Grundnorm”. Despite that in existence, we do have such issues of Africans being targeted, Foreigners being raped, Dark Skinned and Dusky Skiinned individuals face comments on their colour, minorities being targeted, Dalits still facing the ills of the past, and the regionalism that exists in India showcases that Racism is not an individual concept. All these are interlinked to the culture, the polity, the policy and the politics. Can we bring in a proper law to address all these? Yes, for sure. Will that help?  I don’t know, I would still wait for such Bills and laws to be passed and then we shall all figure out how to correct ourselves and question our deep rooted ideologies.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_rights_in_India#Right_to_equality

[2] https://lawschoolpolicyreview.com/2020/05/26/racial-discrimination-an-undiagnosed-sickness-in-india/

[3] https://cjp.org.in/caste-discrimination-and-related-laws-in-india/


The Problem of Caste – Essays from Economics and Political Weekly – Edited by Satish Deshpande


Papers on Bollywood and the issue of caste – Researcher.org

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_rights_in_India#Right_to_equality

[2] https://lawschoolpolicyreview.com/2020/05/26/racial-discrimination-an-undiagnosed-sickness-in-india/

[3] https://cjp.org.in/caste-discrimination-and-related-laws-in-india/

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