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September 2014. Three black students are mobbed by attackers in the subway in New Delhi, India. Wrongly accused of harassing an Indian girl. The crowd laid into them, the poor students were hit with sticks and chairs, some Indians there were chanting nationalist songs. March 2017. An Indian guy disappeared in Greater Noida, 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from Delhi. He’ll be found a few days later, dead, overdosed on drugs. The culprits must be black guys, they are the ones selling drugs! A memorial service for the deceased took place, and unfortunately for them, four Nigerian students were not very far from the gathering. Again, the crowd laid into them with sticks, hit them with chairs and metal bins. Their guilt was never proven, but the damage was done.
Unfortunately, stories like those ones are not an exception… That young Nigerian guy killed in Goa, suspected of being a drug dealer (never proven!), that French teacher from Congo killed in Delhi, another one from Congo killed by three Indians over a rickshaw, a black guy attacked for a parking spot, another one evicted from his apartment because “the neighbors think he’s selling drugs“… And the government turns a blind eye to those events, for them none of this is racist, just unfortunate events.
Is it in this country that I’m going to spend the next few weeks??? Seems like India is a fucking jungle when you’re a black person, a real obstacle course! Once again, I did my research about India before getting in the country, but theory’s never worth the practice, what you actually live on the spot. And not matter how many articles I read, it’s impossible to know what it’s really like, unless I go there. Traveling while black often means doing a leap into the unknown, since there’s not much info online about black travel. Anyway, thinking about all those news items, the question I was wondering is straightforward : are Indians racists towards black people?
Do Indians like black people
No suspense here. I’m asking a question… And I won’t really be able to respond in this article. Because we’re talking about a country with 1.3 billion inhabitants and so big, that you need several months to start to know it a bit. But I’m gonna bring part of the answer, taking into account what I’ve been through when I was there and my experience in this country.
My first destination in India was Delhi. Like all the big cities in the world, there are billboards everywhere : in the street, in the subway… One of the first things I noticed there : the Indians on those billboards had fair skins. Very fair skins. I’d even say way too fair skins compared to the reality of the population. I was watching the billboards in the street, the ones in the subway, and the people walking outside. The complexions are clearly (no pun intended!) not the same!
Indians love fair complexion
In Jaipur, I got on well with the managers of the hostel I was staying at, and sometimes I was watching TV with them, even though I didn’t get a single word of what they were saying in the movies. But still, I noticed all the heroes had very fair skin, the women as well, and even if I didn’t understand what they were talking about, I could see that the ones with dark complexions were caricatured, they were the bad guys, etc… In the street, we can also see many ads for the Fair & lovely cream, that cream known for whitening the skin (by the way, the main picture of the article was taken in Sri Lanka, but you can see the same billboards everywhere in India!).
Before wondering if Indians are racists (or not!), another question comes to mind. Why do they love fair complexion so much? In case you didn’t know, not that long ago, Indian society was divided into castes, a system dividing society into several hierarchical groups. Officially, they abandoned the caste system in India but in fact it’s still very present in Indian society today. Anyway, every Indian belonged to a caste, and an Indian from a caste couldn’t mingle with an Indian from another caste. There was a caste for priests, one for the warriors, another one for the storekeepers… And at the bottom of the Indian social pyramid, the dalits, also called the untouchables.
The untouchables were the ones who had the shittiest tasks, thankless jobs… And because of their status and their shitty jobs, the untouchables were more exposed to the sun than the other ones and as a consequence, they had darker skins. A lot of people think that the rejection of dark complexions comes from this, and also the colonial period (it was a British colony!). Fair skin is associated with beauty. The Westerner woman is seen as beautiful, attractive and independent. Having a fairer complexion means being more beautiful. Having a darker complexion means being poor and ugly.
Add to this all the stereotypes conveyed in the media, especially the Indian movies, and you start to get why Indians don’t like black skins! Actually not only the black skins, but dark skins in general. There’s also discrimination among Indians on the basis of the color of their skin, but also the region they come from, the language they speak, their religion, their caste…
Black people in India
Yep, Indians from Northeast India, darker than anywhere else in the country, also face discrimination. But in general, south Indians are darker than north Indians. Anyway, with all this, black people in India are also victims of discrimination. Kinda crazy when you know what an Indian looks like! We don’t really talk about it, but every year thousands of Africans go to India to study. They mostly come from Nigeria, but also from Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya, Congo, South Africa, Uganda…
And from what they say, African students face discrimination daily, and being black in India is not easy. To find an apartment, but also Indian guys jealous to see them hanging out with Indian girls, etc… A few people asked me “Do Indian girls like black guys?” Can’t tell for sure but apparently, several Indian girls date black men. And the racial slurs are permanent, but theer are also people spitting on them, throwing banana skins at them! I haven’t been through all those crazy things, I didn’t stay in India for several months like them, I was just traveling for a few weeks in the country. Therefore my experience is inevitably different, and limited compared to what they’re going through on a daily basis. Maybe it would have been different if I had decided to settle in India. But there’s a Hindi term I kept in mind “Kalu!“
“Kalu!” supposedly means “Nigger!“, and African students say they hear it everyday. You know why I didn’t forget this term? I read things about this word. But most importantly a few guys called me that way in India. Three times exactly. The first time was in Agra. I was outside, scouting the area around the Taj Mahal the day before my visit, and I heard behind my back “Kalu!“. I turned around. A fat guy looking at me, giggling. I stared at him, slowly getting closer to him “You called me?“. Fear distorted his face “It’s not me, it’s him!“, pointing at a guy leaving in his tuktuk.
I knew he was lying but anyway… The two other times, it happened in Jaipur. A teen passing by on his bicycle, and a moron riding his scooter. Easy, they knew it was impossible for me to catch them. Oh and an idiot also called me thay way in Dhaka, Bangladesh! Anyway, in Goa, I got on well with some locals, so I asked one of them “What does kalu mean? Honestly, is it a pejorative term or not?“ “No no, it’s not mean! ‘Kalu’ is the way me and my friends call one another, too! A little bit like the black guys in the US calling out to their friends ‘Hey my nigga!’, here in India we say ‘kalu’. There’s nothing wrong really, it’s friendly!“. I’ll never know if he said that just to reassure me or if it’s true, but the fat guy wouldn’t have said “It’s not me, it’s him!” if he had nothing to feel guilty about…
Why do Indians hate black people
So… Are the Indians racists or not? I still had in mind one survey released in 2013, stating India is one of the most racist countries in the world. And I thought about all those Indians who asked me if I had marijuana, ganja, coke. It happened a lot in Goa, but also in Jaipur and in the state of Kerala. Yeah, a black guy has to be a drug dealer, it just makes sense!
Some people talk about “colonial hangover”. I just don’t believe it… But prejudices remain. Black guy mostly means drug dealer, but it also means sorcerer, cannibal, kidnapper, snatcher and black girls are all prostitutes! We can wonder how it’s possible for people from India to reason this way, a country where Gandhi was born, raised, and used to live! But whatever we think about Gandhi, he was also, at least for a period of time, a racist.
With all those things in mind, I guess you understand now why I went to India with apprehension. I was fearing racism. I got in the country thinking about all this and the first few days I was paranoid, I was staring at everyone, I was seeing danger everywhere. In the plane going to Delhi from Tajikistan, several Indians seated around me decided to change seats. I sniffed myself. No smell, I took a shower! I told myself “Yeah it has to be because I’m black, they don’t want to stay next to me!“. No no, not at all! All the passengers were seated in the front of the plane and the back was empty, therefore they wanted to have more space in the back…
When I finally got in Delhi, I was on the alert. And I quickly met a group of Indian guys, friends of the guys managing the hostel I was staying at. After the first little fears, it turned out they were all very friendly, open-minded and with a great sense of humor. I liked my stay in the city a little bit more thanks to those guys, despite the chaos of the city. Restaurants, bowling, bars… We really had fun together, and I’m still in touch with some of them! A few times, I was asked “Where are you really from?” but apart from that, nothing to report!
The moment I really changed my mind about Indians is when I got in Vagator Beach, Goa. There, Indians are very relaxed, open to have a conversation, not judgmental… Ok Goa is a bit different, it was a Portuguese colony not that long ago but still! We had a barbecue one evening with some locals, and that was one of the best nights I ever spent in the country! The color of my skin was just invisible and insignificant to them, they treated me like they would have treated anybody else : with respect and sympathy. The state of Kerala was the same, I never felt a jot of racism from Indians during my stay there.
As I said earlier, I don’t really respond to the question I’m asking. The news items I talked about prove that there are still racial problems in the country, but my personal experience with the Indians was positive (I’m not talking about the scams and all that, but the subject of this article!). Apart from the “Kalu!” I heard, no problems. Needless to say, since I’m a solo traveler, I don’t stay out very late at night by myself, I don’t drink excessively, I pay attention to the places I go, I check the surroundings… I avoid the situations at risk. Things would have probably been different if I was living in the country, or if I was traveling thoughtlessly (heavy drinking every night, etc…). Quite simply, I think that just like anywhere else, some people are racists, and others are not.
India travel tips
- Traveling soon? Check my travel resources page to help you out! This list of travel accessories can also be useful!
- Here’s a guide to Indian visa application for tourists. Most Western countries can apply for a visa online here, if you plan to stay less than two months in the country. For the e-visa, you’ll have to pay 50 US dollars. Otherwise you’ll have to go to an Indian embassy if you wanna stay more than two months.
- India is far from being the safest country in the world. Do not go there without a travel insurance!!! Here’s why you should buy travel insurance!
- Want a tailor-made trip to India? Get a free quote here!
- Click here to check the latest flight prices to go to India. And click here to book a hotel room.
- Very important in India! For your online security, don’t forget to use a VPN! I use ExpressVPN, fast and efficient! Here’s why you should use a VPN when traveling!
- India is a cheap country to travel on a budget!
Great article. I noticed a lot of those skin lightening creams all over Asia which was bizarre to see. I also had a friend in Nepal whose nickname was Kalu, but it wasn’t offensive to him. It was a nickname his father gave him when he was a baby. I had no idea it had a negative connotation in India
It’s crazy! As a black guy, I immediately noticed the difference between the Indians in the ads and the “real” ones, the ones you see in the street. Not the same complexion at all! I guess those billboards advertising creams to whiten your skin are effective.
Despite what the Indian guy in Goa told me, kalu has a negative connotation in India.
The Urban Indian says
nice article. brought forth some interesting observations i myself have not yet come across, though are definitely prevalent.
Christopher green says
Nice article, Indians are beautiful individuals I think the more black people visit to this lovely nation they will see we mean them no harm.
Great article! It’s interesting how the people in the ads don’t look like the average Indian in terms of skin tone.. sad actually because this is what kids are growing up seeing and aspiring to. The thought that to be considered beautiful you should be light skinned
Yeah pretty sad… That’s one of the first thing I noticed when I started wandering around the streets of New Delhi!
Mikki Donaldson says
Hey Roobens! Yeah, I was going to say that it doesn’t matter where you go, someone is going to hate another person because of the color of his or her skin. There’s always going to be name calling and cowards who hide behind “the guy who just left.” We’ve had light skin vs dark skin since day one I think. Big noses against pointed ones, straight hair vs kinky hair. I saw videos of natives beating a black man the other week with the caption, “You still think Indians are your friends?” Yes, the ones I know are very supportive of me and tell me they love me as I do them. I was very hurt someone would send me a hate video like that and assume all Indians hate black people. That’s just like assuming all white people hate blacks and all blacks sag their pants and are drug dealers. The idea is ridiculous. Anyway, I envy your journeys, Roobens. Thanks for this article. Hopefully, it will open other people’s eyes as well.
Thanks for your comment! After reading the article, some people told me I was a bit too tolerant with the locals. But the thing is, nothing wrong happened to me, and I had a good time with the Indians I hung out with. You’re right, and as I said it’s like anywhere else : there are good people, and bad ones.
This was a fascinating read. I find the obsession with light complexions really frightening anyway, but added in all these things that you experienced and I find it awful to consider. It’s not ok when people have a different experience because of their skin colour. (Or any reason other than their own behaviour)
I’m glad you challenged people and opened up dialogue about it.
Thank you!!! Yeah those ads for skin lightening creams were all over the place!
I try to stay open to different point of views, and to see things from all angles. But this obsession for fair complexions, I really didn’t get it… Be proud of who you are, and what you look like!
Keep doing it…
Hotels in Chennai – Hotel Mallika Residency
How crazy is this? Never been in India but was planning to go next year. I noticed you mentioned ExpressVPN, but I have a subscription with NordVPN, do you think it will work? It worked on other travels I had so I really hope it will. I’ll need to make sure to bring back some of these lightening creams (no I won’t). Thanks for an interesting read.
You’re welcome! Yeah any good VPN will work in India. So you can use NordVPN!
Rooben, you have said the truth. I am an Indian livivng in Nigeria. I too can ask the question: are Nigerians racist? From my experience : the ones in the South are generally rude to Indians, look at them as money-bags that should be fleeced at any given oppurtunity, frown/hate when an indian guy wants to date or is dating one of their own, the police intentionally often stop Indians on the road to harass them to give them money (not that they don’t do this to fellow Nigerans, but when you r an Indian, you are quite sure they are going to stop you for money.) One thing baffles me: when Nigerians see a real white person(American, European) they immediately fawn over them, but when they see an indian , their blood boils. If this is not racism, then what is? Anyway, most of what i said applies mostly In Southern Nigeria. In North the people are quote the opposite in their behaviour towards indians. I just hate it when a lot of black people like to paint the others racist, playing the victim card, when they are themselves also so guilty of it. So, maybe all the black people in India complaining of racism should first of all ask the questioin : how are Indians treated by the black people? whether in uganda (under Idi Amin), Nairobi Kenya in 1982, Trindidad and Tobago/Guyana. In the end , maybe the answer is there are racists in every society.
Are Nigerians racist? I don’t know I’ve never been there. You’re talking from your own perspective and I guess you’re not lying, but I can’t tell you if Nigerians are racists or not since i haven’t been. It’s an article about racism in India. If you read carefully, I never play the victim card, agree with it or not, those are just plain facts.
How are Indians treated by the black people? I never disrespected anyone based on their gender, origin, nationality, or sexual orientation. That means I treat you the same way I treat another black guy, a white dude, an Asian person, etc… You may have encountered black people treating you bad, that doesn’t mean ALL black people treat Indians like shit! Again, if you read the article, I never said ALL indians racist towards black people. I’m not playing the victim card.
But we agree on one thing, there are racists in every society.
It is racism, though, because Indians are an easy scapegoat for you. Not at all all black people, but you definitely did get an outlet for complaining you wouldn’t even get with white people, because you have to tip toe around them.
You know that Indian people are neither a protected group, and that they will accept criticism easily, and that they are portrayed badly in the media by white people. That’s the main reason some African Americans point to Indian people more than other groups. Indians and often east Asians are both groups which are usually fairly docile and aren’t particularly political in the country they move to. But African Americans will never talk about prolific racism by Latina or Arabs, because of fear of backlash, and due to their own opinion that Indians are inferior and a funny scapegoat.
Your attempt to appeal to emotion by equating a slur that Indians use with eachother as something linked with years of slavery and torture in America, is political.
And it would be nice if 99% of the article weren’t talking about us with the lingo of a sheltered PC person in a Western country rather than a country where most people don’t live very well, mob lynchings are actually a thing with much of the place being rural etc. Do you try this stuff at other countries with similar economic standards like ones in Africa?
You expect top notch anti racism in a country that most describe as a shithole and a developing country. And the person above was correct, that it is largely a trend for Indian people to be an easier fabricated oppressor than white people, and therefore you can whine to them as much as you like, without the same defense white people put up and stress.
When/how/where did I say Indians are an easy scapegoat for me!? And what makes you say I wouldn’t complain the same way with white people? When did I say Indians will accept criticism easily? You’re making your own assumptions in your whole comment! Check my articles about Eastern Europe, you’ll see that I’m as transparent there as in this article. Oh and by the way I’m not African American.
Inez Thomas says
Well,your hero Gandhi was racist man didn’t help with any independence of South Africans he called them barbaric and savages and wanted to segregate the race by colour,he was racist and gave and portrayed a view of Indians as bad people .I live in Trinidad and Tobago and I have to say the Indian teachers are very racist to the students and with a multicultural republic that’s really sad.
Here is the evidence to my statement:
Where did I say Gandhi was my hero? I shared the same BBC article on my post……
Hi, it was a wonderful article and extremely interesting. I’m Indian and I would just like to say that whatever you said in your article is true. Indian society has always been obsessing over the colour of one’s skin (the lighter, the better), it might have something to do with decades if colonialism which has given the impression that the fairness equals power/class/wealth. Due to this, fairness creams are huge, several women are constantly trying to get lighter as supposedly that would make them prettier. However now people are being more aware, and are embracing who they are. There are several movements such as brown and beautiful trying to stomp the stigma. Skin colour doesn’t mean anything and I think the society is realizing it. As for racism, I don’t think it is possible to label India or Indians as racist because like several other countries India unfortunately has racist asshats but in general India is not racist, this is what I believe after spending 10 years in the country ( I live in New York now).
P.S: Non-Indians would sometimes get stares and this might not necessarily be racist. The Indian society ( except the union territories) is rather homogeneous and due to this blacks/whites/asians usually draw attention.
Thanks for your comment! Yes sure, not all Indians are racists, most of the ones I met were really nice with me. The fairness creams are all over the place, and I think that’s a shame. Indians should be proud of their beauty and their identity! For the stares, you’re right! They were also staring white people a lot 🙂
I think much of what you’re talking about is confirmation bias and that too with a weirdly high standard for the country you went to
1. The Goan people who go to drug dealers usually from Nigeria to buy drugs being a very understandable one
But as someone who is ethnically Indian and has lived here for 8 years, people stare a LOT. People have nudged eachother and laughed for no discernible reason a lot. Or glared straight at my face. But it’s not racial. Rural people who have never seen black or white people before point and say “black” or “white”. I think confirmation bias in a country with a completely different culture is a possible contributor. No offense. The expectation that youre going to Sydney was wrong.
Again you’re making your own assumptions… I was never expecting to land in Sydney……
SAMIR SARDANA says
Y Indians hate BLACK SKIN ? The South Indians are of Sudroid DNA from the Negroids. African kings banged hindoo women and ruled over India for centuries and built forts and trained so called legendary hindoo guerillas !
It is the shame of the Hindoo w.r.t their Origins from the Africans . The fair skinned or light skinned Indians are of Scythian/Mongol/Persian/Mughal/Mongol/Greek DNA by rapes ,incest and marriage
These white skinned people wrote the Vedas and INSTITUTIONALISED THE HATE OF BLACK SKIN,SOUTH INDIANS AND CALLED THEM, SCUM, EVIL AND DEMONIC AND FIT TO BE KILLED ,RAPED AND LOOTED
If the South Indians knew what the Hindoo scriptures think of the South Indians ! dindooohindoo
South Indians are the “Sinful creatures” of Earth
The Mahabharata, Book 12: Santi Parva: Mokshadharma Parva: Section CCVII
I shall now, O son of Kunti, speak to thee about “the sinful creatures” of the earth. Listen to me. 2 Those men, O king, are “born in the southern region” and are called Andrakas, Guhas, Pulindas,Savaras, Chuchukas, “Madrakas”
South Indians are the “dirt of every nation”
The Mahabharata, Book 8: Karna Parva: Section 45
The Madrakas are regarded on Earth as the “dirt of every nation”. So the Madra woman is called the “dirt of the whole female sex”
South Indians are “not creatures of God”
The Mahabharata, Book 8: Karna Parva: Section 44
They are “not creatures created by the Creator”. Being of such low origin, how can they be conversant with the duties ordained in the scriptures? The Karashakas, the Mahishakas, the “Kalingas”, the”Keralas”, the Karkotakas, the Virakas, and other peoples of no religion, one should always avoid.’
South Indians are the “lowest of mankind” till they are “dead and beyond”
The Mahabharata, Book 8: Karna Parva: Section 40
He that hateth us is a Madraka. There is no friendship in the Madraka who is mean in speech and is the “lowest of mankind”. The Madraka is always a person of wicked soul, “is always untruthful and crooked”. It hath been heard by us that till the moment of death the Madrakas are wicked.
South Indians are the “dirt of humanity”
The Mahabharata, Book 8: Karna Parva: Section 40
The Madraka is always the “dirt of humanity”.
South Indians are “degraded into Sudras”
The Mahabharata, Book 13: Anusasana Parva: Anusasanika Parva: Section XXXIII
The Dravidas, the Kalingas, the Pulandas, the Usinaras, the Kolisarpas, the Mahishakas and other Kshatriyas, have, in consequence of the absence of Brahmanas from among their midst, become degraded into Sudras.
South Indians are “born of rapes by Sudras”
The Mahabharata, Book 8: Karna Parva: Section 44
They are all fallen and many amongst them have been begotten by “Shudras upon”, other peoples’ girls.
Tamil Brahmins are vermin
The Mahabharata, Book 8: Karna Parva: Section 44
The lowest of brahmanas also are residing there from very remote times. They are without the Veda and without knowledge, without sacrifice and without the power to assist at other’s sacrifices.
“Yama and all the Demons”, are in South India
The Mahabharata, Book 13: Anusasana Parva: Section XCVII
He should make sacrificial offerings in due order; to Yama in
the Southern region
The Mahabharata, Book 13: Anusasana Parva: Section CL
Unmachu, Pramchu, Swastyatreya of great energy,Dridhavya, Urdhvavahu, Trinasoma, Angiras, and Agastya of great energy, the son of Mitravaruna,–these seven are the Ritwiks of Yama, the king of the dead, and “dwell in the southern quarter”.
The Mahabharata, Book 13: Anusasana Parva: Section CLV
Burning with the energy of Agastya, the Danavas, abandoning both heaven and earth, fled “towards the southern direction”.!
Such a damn shame! I multi ethnic including 20% African. I look mixed race. However, I have brown eyes that make me look West Indian. I work at a local restaurant. For some odd reason a lot of the female West Indian customers are extremely rude and hateful to me whenever I wait on them. At first I thought it was just jealousy. After reading this article and watching that video i now realize the problem is so much deeper than it appears. I love the entire human race and could never imagine hating anyone based on ethnic background alone. It’s 2019. People need to get a clue! We’re all members of the HUMAN race. Shut down the damn hate already!!!
Agree, it’s sad it still happens today
Nerdy Exorcist says
South India is so much better than North India. Punjabis, Delhites, Gujaratis, Kashmiris are narrow minded turds who think them being fair skinned somehow makes them superior. Ofc not all of them. But the mentality of being more good-looking due to skin is prevalent in their minds. I feel black people would feel more at home down South than anywhere in the north. It’s just the way it is.
The atmosphere in North India was definitely more tensed than in South India. But I guess there’s bigotry in the north as well as in the south…
Unfortunately this kind of racism is prevalent in Indian communities the world over, not just in India.
I am a 30-year-old fourth-generation South African of Indian descent. My family was brought to this country in the 1800s as indentured labourers for the British.
Going from that background into Apartheid and forced separation of the different races has made it difficult for many Indians to intermingle with other races. (This is not an excuse!).
I am currently engaged to a black Nigerian man and I have been with him for almost 3 years. Since the beginning, my family has been up in arms about this relationship. I had to listen to vile accusations, lies being told about me and horrible, horrible language regarding my fiance. There were even talks of “disowning” me. In the end, I cut all contact with my family. I didn’t speak to my own mother for more than a year.
All because I, an Indian woman, chose to love a black man.
That’s pretty sad… You said you cut ties with your family and didn’t speak with your mom for more than a year. I guess it means you’re communicating again. Hopefully, they now understand you’re happy with that guy!
Yes there are racist and enjoy to spread it at management level
I had to quit my job because of that and kept a recording tape of all racist comment against one group
They will cheat, liar to your face and pretend never said it so record everything and if they acknowledge you have a proof
Well, they will go after you like raging dogs
Also, they liars to their teeth and will back up each other to put you down
Seems like you didn’t have a good time in India…
I am so glad you had a good experience in India! India is COLOURIST rather than racist – I am a dark skinned Indian woman and I refuse to lighten my skin, in spite of several people suggesting it whenever I go. I also think colonisation and slavery play a part in some Indians’ racist attitudes – they were forced to command slaves in the Caribbean and the British did a great job in creating hierarchies based on who looked more/ less like them – they also did this in Africa between different tribes. India still learns under a completely deceptive British education system, until this is undone, unfortunately there will still be racism in areas of India – I ALWAYS challenge it whenever I see it, and would recommend for all Indian people (especially those who know their real history!) to do the same!
Thanks for your comment! And glad to see you’re challenging the beauty standards of India!
This was a great blog entry! You really tried to look at the topic from all possible different angles. And I am very happy, you had a great experience in India!
I’m white myself and living in India since all together 7 years. From my personal experience I do feel that white foreigners generally have an easier time in India. I remember my first year in India being a never ending wave of excitement from the locals, asking if I liked it here, if they could click a picture with me or even just with me and their small child, eagerly asking if I enjoy my stay, constantly inviting me to visit or attend their festivals and weddings, random expensive clubs trying to wave me inside, no matter how shabbily I was dressed at the moment, people constantly complimenting how beautiful I look (read: how nice and fair my skin is). Yes, you may be seen as a cash cow or (if you are a woman) people might presume you are promiscuous if you are white, but the overwhelming majority of my experience in India was people almost bending over backwards to make sure I have. a good time and being incredibly patient with me when I was ignorant about things.
I’m not very sure any black people will be met with a similar enthusiasm, but then I think it’s a mix of the general preference for white skin, old post-colonial mindsets of feeling white people being somehow higher in status and maybe us just visually being more exotic and eye catching. Really not sure.
One.can’t deny there are some racist behaviors towards black people in India, but it really depends a lot on where you are and in what context, I think. In our group the first year in India there was one young black man and when we went out for food together to our nearby shopping area it was very clear people were not looking at him in a nice way. One guy even came straight in front of him and glared at him without saying a word, while we were standing there too. We asked what his problem was and when he figured he was our friend, that guy left. But it was kind of like a working class area. Once I asked one of my neighbors what she thought of black people and she literally shivered and said ‘Oooh they are very scary looking.’ But she was very uneducated and from the village and all she had ever heard since childhood was that demons are of black color.
I think it depends a lot on where you are and for what purpose. If you frequent touristy places and are clearly a tourist, I think you would be very unlucky to run into any discrimination. For Indians a guest is like a God, and even if they might be a bit more enthusiastic towards their white guests, they will not want you to leave with a bad experience. Also most young educated people are great to hang around with and very open minded, i guess partly because many already went themselves abroad and know what it’s like to be the person sticking out or they hope to travel abroad some time and have those same worries too.
Sadly for people who live here as students or in a work context, who have to commute and frequent areas where less educated people or workers from more rural areas hang out the daily experience may end up very different sometimes. That’s just a reality one has to admit. But isn’t it like that all over the world? Be a tourist, you get welcomed, be an immigrant who sticks out visually, it’s a different story.
Btw. as for the word Kalu or Kallu. I talked with my (Indian) husband about this. It is not necessarily a derogatory term. People use it as a nickname even within families or friend groups. He himself was called Kalu by his family as a child and he’s not even that dark. Kalu btw. is also one of the names of Lord Krishna as by the scriptures he is black (even if in pictures they depict him blue). Another thing you learn quickly when living in India, is that Indians are very upfront and rough in showing their love to each other by overly frankly pointing out visual characteristics. Within Indian friend groups you may end up with nicknames like Motu (fat guy), Patlu (thing guy), Chotu (small guy) and among others also Kalu (dark guy). In that context it’s not meant in a mean way even if as a foreigner it’s hard to get used to. Poking fun at each other is part of love here, rough love I call it. But in that context it is really meant in a loving or neutral way.
Now if it happens by random people on the street… admittedly it’s not really good manners but even there it’s mostly not really meant in an offensive way, but more often than not a very clumsy attempt to catch your attention and get into some kind of interaction with you. We had kids running after us calling ‘gore gore gore’ (white white white), minutes later we were joking with them. It’s a fine line though. It’s only quite recent that people start understanding more that it’s not nice calling East Asian looking people ‘chinki’ because it makes East Asian looking Indians of the North East feel alienated. As for your experience being called that on the street. It wasn’t very polite, that’s for sure. But I don’t think it was meant in a hateful manner. I laughed reading about the guy’s reaction. I’m pretty sure he was just scared you are really pissed and might slap him and that’s why he lied.
Anyway, after 7 years it still rubs me the wrong way bit when people here distill each other down to just one visual characteristic, even if in joke, but they do it among each other just like they do it with foreigners, so at least there they don’t treat you any differently 😉
For your experience in Goa, repeatedly being asked if you were a drug dealer, for that location it’s actually kind of fair. People go there to party and yes, to consume drugs, and if you want to score drugs you usually hit up one of the many Nigerian drug dealers there. Doesn’t necessarily mean they think all black people are drug dealers but at least in Goa if you were to be looking for drugs, that’s your best bet. Btw. I had a similar experience in Goa, just with a twist. A Nigerian dude (who also wanted to sell us something 😉 ) tried to flirt with me a bit and asked if I was working… He thought I was a Russian prostitute (even though I’m not from Russia, but I have slavic features, so, fair enough). It happens. ;p
To sum it up:
Do Indian people as a whole have some targeted hateful inherent racism against black people? I don’t really think so. Not more than anywhere else at least. There are racists all over the world and bad things do happen everywhere, but gladly there are lots of good people all over the world too. It depends a lot on education level and prior exposure I guess.
Are there some types of foreigners that are more swooned over in India than others due to their tendency to colourism? That’s hard to deny. And I hope it will change over time.
Dear, Indians, don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful how your country has welcomed all those years! If it’s my choice I will grow old in this country! But I am in no way superior to you, not in looks and not in any other way, and there is no need to always be apologetic about things or trying so hard to please me. It’s a great country with a great history, great culture(s) and great people, you do not need my approval to be proud of it! And try to keep in mind also your none-white guests who are just as excited to experience your wonderful country and often come with a love for your movies, music, food and culture. Let them also leave with a smile 🙂
And if you call them Kalu, make sure they understand it’s not meant in a bad way. How else would they know? And if they say they don’t like it, just don’t do it. Better to find a different nickname than to hurt somebody, right?
OMG thank you so much for sharing your experience! I think it’s really hard to really understand the Indian system, it’s so complex! But I learned a lot reading your comment, thanks again! I think you’re being a bit too optimistic regarding how Indians behave towards black people. Hopefully, as the young generation is getting older, things will get better in the future in India. We’ll see! 🙂