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(28): Skin Colour-Consciousness among Indians

Muhammad Muhsin Ibrahim
@muhsin234 (Twitter)

An investigation by the World Value Survey discovered that India and Jordan top the list of the least racially tolerant countries on the planet. As an African living in the former for over a year, I have witnessed a number of such incidents. Indians, particularly northerners, associate colour with higher or lower social standing. Needless to say, the lighter colour is held in esteem, while the dark in contempt or as “low caste”. It has been happening for so long and itching for sometimes. I often didn’t care or show any reaction, knowing that racism is a hot-button issue. But I was now pushed to the wall; I had better spill the beans to, at least, get some relief.

It is worth noting, though, that we are individuals. Some equally ‘light-skinned’ Indians would treat you dearer than your own dark-skinned brethren. I have met some of such individuals, one of whom once took me and my wife to his house, introduced us to all his family members in different houses and literally begged us to spend the night there. Another, a faculty member, I met on my first day at the University has since been caring very much about what goes on with me. These are only two; there many others. So, the real situation on the ground may not be as exactly reported by the survey. But, it certainly happens. I have got three instances to share.


The first occurred between my wife and the daughter of our landlady, who may be called a “spinster” in the Indian context. My wife often urges her to get a husband, for she wants to grace her wedding before we return to Nigeria. One day, my wife, in a good-humoured manner, told her that she would find an African guy for her. Her response was a sting of a bee: “I hate all Nigerian boys!” she said, using Nigeria synecdochically for Africa. Her reason, she further elaborated, was that they are blacks. 

The second happened to me. A friend ‘wonderingly’ asked me why was my skin black? She was flippantly curious whether or not that had something to do with the weather of our continent, and that’s it! Her question astonished me, for she knows me for over a year. I couldn’t help imagining what she thought all that while; which planet had she been thinking I was from; or what in God’s creations she must have been thinking of me as? Thanks to Allah, for my wife and a few other Africans around are much fairer than many Indians this ‘broadminded’ pal knows. In fact, India has the largest dark-skinned population in the world. They live mostly in the south of the country, and they also suffer sickening discriminations at various stripes.

The third and latest happened yesterday (Saturday) in the class! However, the perpetrators unashamedly hid under the same façade as my friend above. I told them, in a strong tone, that as believers, we should take into cognizance that that’s how The Creator wants to see us. Period! To them, I must say, that was nothing wrong. But as far as I perceive, one becomes racist the moment he/she expresses or shows any downgrading consciousness towards the skin colour of another human-being.

More discomfiting is the fact that racism goes beyond almost everything—religion, region, kinship, etc. As a proud Muslim, I often say that Islam is plainly anti-racism. The renowned African-American Muslim activist, Malcolm X said the same in Speech, Prospects for Freedom (1965) that: “I am a Muslim and ... my religion makes me against all forms of racism.” However, Jordan, an Arab-Muslim country, is the twin sister of India on this. Not only that, other Muslim nations including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran and Indonesia are second to Jordan and India in the ranking.

The U.S, seen as the most ‘civilized’ country in the world and with a biracial president, is not yet racism-free. A few weeks ago, a white police shot dead an unarmed black teen in what many attributed to as a racially-motivated case. So, the situation is awfully pathetic beyond imagining. The ignorance is embedded in the brains of millions.

I thank God that all the ‘racial’ attacks are so far bearable, though rarely mind-wrecking. I use a formula of looking, but not seeing; hearing, but not listening, and understanding but not reacting towards anything discriminatory. I am here for a period of time. Once my mission (study) is accomplished, I will bid farewell to all and to India. However, I believe my relationship with the good people I have met will transcend my presence. But truly, there is nothing more interesting than living within your ‘kind’, family and friends. 

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