Skin Deep – Narratives of Racism in Delhi University: Aashima Saberwal Bonojit Hussain Devika Narayan

Aashima Saberwal, Bonojit Hussain and Devika Narayan are activists associated with New Socialist Initiative (NSI). This article was published in the November 2010 issue of CRiTIQUE, an irregular magazine brought out by the New Socialist Initiative (NSI) – Delhi University Chapter. 

Kevin is from Kenya. He studies at the faculty of Law. We ask him whether he likes India (he doesn’t) and about the kinds of challenges he faces. He shrugs and shakes his head “I have don’t face any discrimination” He often repeats this sentence at various points of the discussion. After he tells us about shopkeepers who refuse to sell him milk or before narrating how not a single shop at Patel Chest area was willing to type his assignment. “When you go to buy things from a shop they refuse to sell. If you ask for milk they say ‘no milk’ but you can see the Indians buying milk.” Later he tells us a similar story “My mobile phone was stolen. For one week I was thinking how to get a new one. The shops here don’t sell to Africans.” Kevin doesn’t think much of these experiences and dismisses them as insignificant, the ordinary trials of living in a foreign country. A woman on the road provokes a dog, provoking it to bite him, which it does. At Hans Charitable Trust Hospital they ask him for 10,000 rupees for the anti-rabbis injection. This is a service which is provided free of cost, however the small print reads ‘unless you are black’. Our interviews starkly shows that this particular subtext is present everywhere. We don’t realize that for the most mundane of daily activities (like buying milk) there are conditions that apply. The condition that you are not black.

These interviews give us a glimpse of how these students experience classrooms, hostels, streets, the metro and other public spaces. “What does kala bandar mean?” Boniface asks. They point. They laugh. They don’t like sitting next to you in the metro. What must it feel like to enter a strange foreign country where people across the board categorise you as sub-human? Strangers call you black monkey. “When I go back from college to hostel people on the streets keep laughing and staring. It is humiliating” Boniface says.

Read the rest of this article here.

8 thoughts on “Skin Deep – Narratives of Racism in Delhi University: Aashima Saberwal Bonojit Hussain Devika Narayan”

  1. Glad to read this thoughtful and timely discussion of the ‘invisibility’ of Indian racism. What is deeply worrying is the way in which academicians and activists and human rights lawyers – with years of training in exactly how to identify racism and human rights violations – are blandly telling us, now that they’re political leaders, that it’s not really ‘racist’ for a Minister to say ‘outsiders’ should be thrown out of India if they do ‘naked dance’, if they are ‘vulgar’. This is just politically incorrect language, they tell us, but the basic ‘content’ of what the Minister said reflects a concern for the crime of ‘drugs and sex rackets’.
    For this Govt has made it very very clear: it’s worried about ‘drugs and sex rackets’ in Khirki, and not about organised racist politics in the same Khirki, that Aastha Chauhan has written about in such detail. The thing is, can a party that runs the Govt, be allowed to remain unconcerned about organised racist politics in our city, that mines the all too common vein of racism that runs deep in Indian society? The boldly, refreshingly unconventional (a CM who sleeps like us on a street on a dharna), the ‘post-ideological’ – are firmly conventional in their happy branding of criticism of racism, as defence of ‘drug/sex rackets’ or ‘defence of Delhi police’. The post-ideological party, we were told, is truly democratic, a movement in the making that refuses to freeze into ‘party positions’. Really? Then why are its leaders reassuring us in private that there’s much internal churning over Somnath Bharti’s actions, but that in public they are all duty bound to defend the party line? Isn’t this quite similar to what we witnessed in the CPIM when Singur and Nandigram happened?


  2. well ..i think that the racism in India is also due to our obsession with fair cream. we can see the turnover of fairness cream industry ..which is thousands of crores ..we come across many advertisments where some having dark skin is ridiculed upon and many of the advertisements attribute black skin as root cause of failure in life what is the view of the author regarding the racism propagated by the” fair skin industry”…the author should have voiced his opinion against these corporations also as these are using tv as medium to spread racism into our hosehold ………a serious debate must be held against these


  3. My experience with the Indian diaspora confirms this deep rooted Indian racism against the blacks. Indians/South Asians in the West resent, and rightly so, white racism but most South Asians display similar racism towards the blacks. Not many people in India know or many among them who know are reluctant to bring it into the open that even Gandhi practiced this racism while in S Africa. His struggle was focused on Indians not being treated as blacks which amounted to legitimising white racism against the blacks. The struggle against this Indian racism against the blacks would have to be a difficult and long drawn out one. This racism manifests also in different forms in North Indian prejudice against South Indians and dalits.


  4. as a white woman living in india i often saw this prejudice against the african students. I have never seen anything put in writing about it. I have a very dark skinned gorgeous indian daughter so have been very personally aware of the whole skin colour business …sadly.


    1. being a black skinned Indian myself I know very well the racist mind-set of many an Indian, which is a deadly combination of caste+race+colour.


  5. Color Bias has always been a part and parcel of Indians…as a student in the 70s at DU I know African students were laughed and ridiculed…lets not forget, there would be no humanity if there were no Africans! We all, irrespective of our skin color came from AFRICA.


    1. Gasp!!!!… life originated at Manas Sarovar, the whole world knows it, even science has finally accepted it. How dare you suggest a different origin for life?
      Africans gave us Lucy and Ardi, the oldest hominids. Apart from that, what do they know? Our gods are older, our Manu is older by a few million years too. And, to criticise you mildly, without going overboard, how much do YOU really know about AFRICA? Not much, I guess. It is sad. But I am sure you will read more about Africa too, now that I commented about that. The San, Matabele (ouch, people will kill me for using that name), the Zulu, the Xhosa, The Sindebele, the kingdom of Prestor John, stories of Chaka, the voortrekkers, the cape mountain… I hope you will enjoy discovering all that..

      Actually, I am just grateful that you write at all. So, not critical in any way, not even that mild thing about knowing Africa. Know it….


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