• The Law Gazette

Racial Discrimination in India: A Shade Lighter

“We believe also that the white race in South Africa should be the predominating race."

Gandhi wrote in 1903 in response to White League’s agitation against Indian immigration -

Recent incident in Minneapolis stirred the wrath among the inhabitants when a black man, George Floyd died at the hands of police brutality; his last words ‘I can’t breathe’ demonstrate the lives of many people around the world who simply can’t breathe in an atmosphere where there is dearth of respect for people exhibiting any color other than white. This incident led to hub-hub and chaos all over the world, turning into a movement called black lives matter or BLM. People around the world took their rage to street, condemning the act of the police. This was a renaissance, leading the Hindustan Unilever to drop fair from ‘Fair & Lovely’ cream, which is nothing but racism in a tube. Indeed a laudable step, but this does not guarantee a change at the societal level. In Asian communities, and especially in India, white supremacy and racial capitalism exist till date.


History speaks for itself. But nevertheless, the BLM movement has galvanized the community to demand justice for George Floyd. But, why now? We’ve had instances of racism before, and slur directed at black people to humiliate them for the color of their skin. For instance, in 2014, soon after Aam Aadmi Party won a massive mandate in the Delhi Elections, the Law Minister Somnath Bharti led a group of people on a midnight raid, a group of Congolese and Ugandan women were physically attacked and humiliated in the Khirki and labeled as prostitutes[1]. Not long after that, in 2017, African students were attacked and beaten by a vigilante mob in Greater Noida and charged with selling drugs [2].


Being black in India renews the concern of racially motivated incidents, particularly against African Immigrants in India. In 2016, a Tanzanian woman was apparently pulled out of her car, stripped and sexually assaulted in the city of Bangalore. In another incident in New Delhi, which dates back to October 2014, three African men were beaten at a metro station by a mob for allegedly misbehaving with local women. It could be argued that India’s racism towards black people is worse than white people’s racism. This racially motivated incidents largely happens because, most of the Indians don’t know their history and the major role played by the Africans between 14th and 17th century. Even today, a big African community lives in Junagarh, Gujarat, known as the Siddi community.

I. History of Siddi community

During the reign of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the African men were employed as soldiers or bodyguards. Some even usurped through the rank to become generals, administrator. But the reality today is quite in contrast to it. They live in deplorable conditions, often on the fringes of the society. Unlike their ancestors who tool to mercantile occupation and set-up local businesses, the current generation is fighting for basic amenities in village.

On 8 January, 2003, the government of India classified Siddis under the list of Scheduled Tribes(ST). Amidst all the challenges and ordeal, they have to deal with racial abuse once they step outside their zones. They are treated as Africans: they have been at the receiving end of the racism in India. Even a judge in Maharashtra refused to believe a Siddi when he claimed to be an Indian. They are still struggling to get acknowledged and recognized in a country which has been their home. for more than 400 years.


Recently, in the case of Mazidul Miah@Mia&Ors vs. State of West Bengal[3], the Calcutta High Court upheld the life sentence of man convicted for murder of his wife, who used to be tortured by him for her dark-complexion. In 2010, miffed by the constant taunts over her dark complexion, a woman took her own life [4]. A survey was carried out by global social attitude study, claiming India among the most racist countries. There is a notion of ‘privilege’ which comes with white skin. These incidents points to the dangerous obsession of Indians over white skin. From a young age, kids are bullied for their dark tones . Unflattering comparisons are made with siblings who have fair complexion. In matrimonial columns, skin colour is emphasized while describing prospective brides. Commercials show people with dark skin colour as unattractive, and in the recent times it has become more subtle. But the messages still give is that fair is better. This makes women with dark skin grow up feeling inadequate, even ugly.


At the time when the whole world is battling global health crises and state leaders are talking about forming a united front to fight the COVID-19, things in India have taken an unpleasant turn. A 25 year old woman from Manipur was spat on paan when she stepped out to buy in Delhi University area. In Pune, a young woman[5], also from Manipur was teased by men at a mall, throwing racially motivated slur at her[6]. Some are even forcibly quarantined despite showing no symptoms of COVID-19, denied entry at restaurants, threatened with eviction ,etc[7].This racial profiling of north-eat people is heart rending. Right and Risk Analysis Group ,a New Delhi based rights group cited in its report that there were at least 22 cases of racial discrimination against north-eastern between Feb 7 and March 25[8].

Attempts were made in 2015 where Bezbaruah Committee[9] to look into the concerns of the people of the North East living in other parts of the country” on 05.02.2014 after the tragic death of Nido Tania, in a racial altercation in Delhi. With regard to the surge of corona virus slur , the Ministry of Home Affairs issues an advisory to all states to ensure sensitization of law enforcement agencies to take action against such incidents.


Till date, there are no laws against racism in India. Article 15 of the Indian Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of ‘religion’, ‘race’, ‘caste’, etc, but the ground realities conveys a different story. In most of the cases , provisions of IPC, for instance, section 509 which covers the intent to insult the modesty of a woman, is invoked. But the problem with it is , firstly it’s a ‘bailable offence’, secondly it erases the racist remark and thirdly there are no laws for men who face racial discrimination.

India is a signatory of the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, but no efforts have been made by the government to stamp out racism [10]. Other countries, like Canada are embracing diversity and have come up with robust policies and laws to deal with racism. Laws such as Ontario Human Rights Code and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom have been enacted to provide protection against racism and racial discrimination. The number of mixed-race couples in Canada has doubled since 1991 to almost 5 percent. In Vancouver, almost 10% of couples are mixed race, suggesting fewer anxieties over color and more integration[11]. It’s a country where racial barrier are steadily eroding racism. Such robust plans can be introduced in India too.


It’s long past time for the Indian government to accept the questions of racism in India. Although BLM movement had a great impact but the lack of robust laws suggest that racism will continue to plague our society. A change should be brought about at the societal level and this could be done in many ways, for instance, teaching and sensitizing students at educational institution, carrying out discussion with NGO’s or any such organisation which is working for such cause, considering all forms of racial discrimination and then introducing a robust gender-neutral bill for the elimination of racial discrimination, making it a criminal non-bailable offence for anyone found guilty of such acts. Our society is founded on a dominant culture, a culture which celebrates brown and shun black, but we have to understand, that it’s time to consider relinquishing the control and cease the continuing attempts of colonisation upon people who do not fit the mould conceptualized by the dominant culture.


[1]Business-standard.com. 2015. All You Need To Know About Somnath Bharti's Many Controversies. [online] Available at: <https://www.business-standard.com/article/politics/all-you-need-to-know-about-somnath-bharti-s-many-controversies-115092300360_1.html> [Accessed 1 July 2020].

[2] Acharyya, K., 2017. Racial Attack In Noida: Racism Is Deeply Entrenched In India, Say African Students - India News , Firstpost. [online] Firstpost. Available at: <https://www.firstpost.com/india/racial-attack-in-noida-racism-is-deeply-entrenched-in-india-say-african-students-3362794.html> [Accessed 2 July 2020].

[3] CRA No. 247 of 2006 https://indiankanoon.org/doc/172343456/

[4] SC No.135/09 State Vs. Devender @ Dev https://indiankanoon.org/doc/123206344/

[5] India Today. 2013. India Among World's Most Racist Countries, Says Survey. [online] Available at: <https://www.indiatoday.in/world/asia/story/india-among-world-most-racist-countries-britian-tolerant-survey-163396-2013-05-17> [Accessed 1 July 2020].

[6] Karmakar, S., 2020. Coronavirus Outbreak Has Increased Racial Attacks On People From The Northeast: NGO Report. [online] Deccan Herald. Available at: <https://www.deccanherald.com/national/east-and-northeast/coronavirus-outbreak-has-increased-racial-attacks-on-people-from-the-northeast-ngo-report-817899.html> [Accessed 1 July 2020].

[7] Ibid 6.

[8]Ibid 6.

[9] Rahman, J., 2014. M.P. Bezbaruah Committee And It’S Recommendations Issues And Analysis @ Abhipedia Powered By ABHIMANU IAS. [online] Abhipedia.abhimanu.com. Available at: <https://abhipedia.abhimanu.com/Article/State/NDQ4MgEEQQVVEEQQVV/M-P--Bezbaruah-Committee-and-it-s-Recommendations-Assam-State> [Accessed 1 July 2020].

[10] Indicators.ohchr.org. 1964. - OHCHR Dashboard. [online] Available at: <https://indicators.ohchr.org/> [Accessed 1 July 2020].

[11] CBC News: The National, 2014. Our Canada: Are We Racist?. [video] Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ET8KyiY_Nc&t=223s> [Accessed 1 July 2020].


This blog has been authored by Harshita Sonkar who is a 2nd Year B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow.