Portraying India through the Movement; #blacklivesmatter


#blacklivesmatter the most used hashtag in recent times, the moment it took a face from the killing of black in America soon it was spread worldwide. It has sparked a massive protest against systematic racism in the US and Europe. Even in India, there has been outpouring support online and people are extending their solidarity. The situation here in India isn’t different as from the time back people here are discriminating others based on caste, colour, economic conditions, etc. People must raise their voice as racial discrimination in America is not so different from India. Racism seems to be deeply ingrained in our society, being denied housing to being called N-word people are facing it daily.
They are thinking that unfolding globally would lead to soul searching, well then, they need to understand that every single life matter and have value. Indian blacks have historically faced discrimination and it’s high time to challenge the narrative in India and through light on age-old repression of blacks which is visible in day to day life and activities.


Racism has existed throughout the times of Indian history, be it the times when we were ruled by Mughals, Britishers, or before that. Racism may be defined as the prejudice, discrimination or antagonism directed against a person or people based on their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group[1]. Racial discrimination can be of skin color, ethnicity, hair, etc; but it is also true that skin colour became the dominant factor from the 18th century till today. There is a word in Sanskrit “Asuryasparsh”- which defines the one who is untanned (untouched by sun’s heat), pure and rich.

By the end of the 18th century, racism has evolved and spread across the globe. The ones who were seen as the low-status races, especially in colonized areas, were exploited for their labour, and discrimination against them became a common pattern. This racial superiority that accompanied colonialism generated resentment and hostility from those who were colonized and exploited, and these feelings continued even after independence.

The earliest classification of Indian society as found in Rig Veda[2] wasn’t based on birth but on the hierarchy that was determined by one’s occupation; however, it is certain that at some particular time in history it became birth-based and later from Varna[3] categorization; the whole system became oppressive which is rigid till now. In most of the ancient scriptures folktales or epics, the good character or gods were shown as fair-skinned and evils or demons were mostly the black ones.  Discrimination based on skin colour dates back to the ancient time of Britishers, who had fair skin, claimed themselves to be a “superior” and “intelligent” race; consequently, they were born to rule the “inferior” and “black coloured” Indians who were more analogous to crude animals than humans.[4] Public scorn for the Indian race created superiority based on skin colour (white) and deeply embedded race-based dogma in nation’s darker-skinned common man who was ruled by the whiter skin masters: like Mughals, European rulers (the Portuguese and the British) for over 350  years. This all shaped the layman’s association of white coloured skin with the class, power, desirability, and also with beauty- even after so many years of independence.

Confronting the ‘MESSY’ present;

Today skin tone forms the various strata of acceptability in society. Indian obsession with fair skin is the most sickening thing you’ll ever see. If you’ll watch Indian movies “Bollywood”, the advertisements, etc. you’ll think of India as a country of white folks. Fair skin is seen as a symbol of supreme status and immense pride. The media which governs the society often glorifies lighter-skinned models– they in turn are chosen to advertise almost all products. Television stars promote “fairness” products.[5]  The media’s obsession with fair skin greatly influences the general population to look like these fair-skinned models which in turn describes the “beauty”. Various cosmetic products have flooded the market which claims to lighten a person’s skin colour.

The first skin lightening cream in India was Afghan Snow which came in the year 1919 then in 1975 another fairness creams, fair and lovely which seem to be never-ending in the Indian market, was meant for women but almost 40% of users of the cream were men. By the early 2000s, there were various other products available in the market and as of today, the skin lightening market is a billion dollars industry in India. Credit for the popularisation of skin lightening cosmetics goes to the television ads, where famous Bollywood actors and actresses promote such product and portray light skin as an important factor and the audience under the influence of their favourite stars make a fuss of using these products. The same cannot be neglected in Matrimonial ads in national newspapers that provide a great insight into the one constant attribute needed in a potential partner—fair skin. It is clear that light skin is the most important and the constant factor when finding a prospective partner irrespective of gender, caste, religion, region or degree of affluence one belongs to remains an unwelcomed reality.

The blacks are still stereotyped as drug peddlers, cannibals, etc. even the filmmakers cast blacks as the idiot criminal villains. Lately, in the film Abrahaminte Santhathikal, [6] these people were casted as criminals and of course, they were decimated by the Malayali superhero. There isn’t a community of Africans in Kerala, so the filmmaker imported them into a piece of fiction for this racism to be played out! This is not a State atrocity. This is people, society, Artists, filmmakers, actors, etc. South Indians who are mocked by North Indians for their dark skins in turn humiliating Africans for the very same reason. It’s like falling into a bore well with no bottom.

Mariyam Nuh (a Sudanese-Indian worker), talks about her experience and says that racism has seemed so entrenched in Indian society. It is virtually not even acknowledged, she also narrates incidents when she has been harassed by the people and called a “Negro”.
This blatant racism results in serious violence on several occasions such as, a Nigerian living in Delhi who was beaten up by a mob in 2019 after being accused of getting into an altercation with a police officer[7]; a Tanzanian girl who was stripped and beaten in the southern city of Benguluru in 2016; and a racist attack on three Nigerians in Hyderabad that same year[8].

There are many cases reported where a child is discriminated on the basis of his/her skin colour from his/her initial days of the school itself. Such children are bullied and treated shoddily by the other fellow classmates. These people have a feeling of low confidence, depression and they face various difficulties in maintaining relationships. Various studies and researchers have found that extreme racism can lead a person to develop some anti-social characteristics which could result in their indulgence in criminal activities and they notably are more prone to alcoholic and drug addiction.

Legislation and Racism

What of the present then? Are there any laws or rules to deal with the same? India is such a diverse and varied country where knowledge of all cultures and areas isn’t possible and this ignorance gives rise to racial discrimination which can have severe repercussions. The Indian constitution “article 14[9] – equality before the law”. Article 15[10]– Prohibition of discrimination on various grounds. Article 16[11] – equality of opportunity in employment. But these articles aren’t enough when it comes to the subtle form of privileged and bigoted practices relating to skin colour and the deep-rooted racism. Another important article which the constitution talks about is article 21[12]– Right to life and it also includes the right to life with dignity. These articles would have been of great help if certain lacunas were filled upon, the lack of in-depth studies are serving as roadblocks to these national-level issues.

The section 153(A) of the IPC states that, Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony. This section was widened and includes the ill-will or feeling of hatred towards other religion, race, caste, etc. and was held cognizable offence. Then in 2016, Shashi Tharoor proposed the Anti-discrimination and Equality bill, 2016 as a private member bill; which focuses on the word symmetry and strives to address the “discriminatory attitudes” universally. Though there are several laws and articles discrimination is not adequately addressed and in such a diverse and growing country, the government must come with a proper legal procedure and must enact a law for curbing the deeply rooted problem of racism.


Blacks had lived in the strange state of semi-freedom even in this democratic world. The country may have emancipated its slaves but is not ready to treat the blacks as citizens….or even human beings. Although the idea of blacks grew on American soil but took a great phase here in India. But the bottom line is that for white people, no matter how poor or degraded they are, they knew there is a class of people below them.

The crude as well as subtle ways in which people are brutalized, incarcerated, disenfranchised within the framework of “democracy “is saddening. The society in which we live today is below par of feelings of sisterhood, brotherhood, and solidarity. Because of this still today the situation is not different and blacks are being maltreated and aren’t accepted to be the part of society with open hands.

The support from Indians is although heartening but isn’t enough for the people living here who face blatant discrimination every day. Colourism and Shadeism can be observed everywhere like in workplaces, schools, and colleges, public places, neighborhood and even on social media platforms as there is no particular law till today in India to protect the ongoing discrimination and all these articles and bills can be a supportive measure beside it the government should come up with the legislation to curb such practice and for the betterment of the nation. We, as fellow citizens, have to go to long to make non discrimination and curtail racism as a reality, both legally and in our everyday practices.

[1] https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/racism

[2] Considered to be the earliest document of Indian history, approximately around 1500 B.C,

Rig Veda supposedly describes the society and culture of the time. ANJANA MOTIHAR CHANDRA,

INDIA CONDENSED: 5000 YEARS OF HISTORY & CULTURE 23 (Marshall Cavendish International Asia

Pte Ltd 2008).

[3] Varna: The literal meaning in Sanskrit describes it as colour; however, in ancient Vedic texts it

Was used alternatively for a ‘category.’ Concise Oxford English Dictionary, OXFORD ENGLISH

DICTIONARY 1601 (12th ed. 2011). So, understanding Varna in the context of colour is misleading. It

Was used as a classification under which a lot of Jati’s were included.


[5] Running television and print advertisements have included Shahrukh Khan (fair and handsome), John Abraham( garnier men’s facewash),aishwarya rai (loreal perfect white), Saif Ali Khan and  Priyanka Chopra (ponds white beauty), Yami Gautam (fair & lovely), and many

others. Also refer news article Available at https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/fairly-long-and-not-so-lovely-list-celebrities-who-have-endorsed-fairness-products-60311 .

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abrahaminte_Santhathikal

[7] https://scroll.in/latest/917436/delhi-mob-beats-up-nigerian-man-on-street-for-allegedly-attacking-traffic-policeman

[8] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/Mob-attacks-Nigerian-in-Hyderabad-victim-calls-it-racial-violence/articleshow/50874525.cms?from=mdr

[9]  Article 14- Equality Before Law 14. “Equality before law The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth”( Constitution of India, 1949)

[10] Article 15- Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth (Constitution of India, 1949).

[11] Article 16- Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment. (Constitution of India, 1949).

[12] Article 21- Right to life; Protection of life and personal liberty No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. (Constitution of India, 1949).

This article is authored by Neha Chaudhary and Jyotiraj Singh Bhadauria, 1st Year student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow.

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