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Is India A Racist Nation?

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Indians often like to sit and call out the United States for being a racist country, but don’t forget that Indians are just as racist. Our typical Indian narrow-mindedness tells us that fair skinned, rich people are better than everyone else. Maybe 200 years of oppressive colonial rule had made us believe so.

Being born in a privileged middle-class family, I was made to believe that people doing menial jobs are least respected and are looked down upon. I had earlier written an article on the same. We don’t dine with our domestic help, we force them to enter our houses from behind, and we keep different vessels for them.

Growing up, I remember seeing a particular Fair & Lovely ad on TV (along with several movies and feature films) enforcing the idea that a dark-skinned girl can’t find a groom, while a fair-skinned one will, and easily. To be honest, it was deeply engraved in our belief system that ‘fair is beautiful’.

When people see an Indian woman with a man of a different race, they assume both are just hanging out with each other for sex. When the same woman is seriously involved with a white man, they will offer unsolicited advice, saying “Be careful. You never know how these firangs (foreigners) are.”

These ideas bring out the worst in Indian men, and maybe it hurts their ego too. Nobody knows why. Some men will often make comments saying “Hum mein kya kami thi joh iss gore ke saath chali gayi (What do we lack that you chose this white guy)?”

For Indians, mixed-race alliances are completely alien. People often stereotype men from the West as being interested in women mainly for sexual gratification. The same goes for any Indian man hanging out with a blonde woman. Either he is a guide, or is with her for sexual gratification. Of course it can’t be anything other than these!

We can still argue that there is no racism in India, but news of attacks on Nigerian students in Delhi and Bangalore prove otherwise. The attack on African nationals is probably due to a racial stereotype from 19th-century European colonisers that they practice cannibalism. It has been engraved in our minds as well, thanks to our country’s association with Europe. Similarly, the persistent idea of a man of colour misbehaving with a white woman is due to stereotyping from Hollywood movies and porn.

Among the conservative section of the society, there is a deeply entrenched idea that women who sleep with multiple partners are ‘loose’.

The truth is that every foreigner who is not white is treated badly. People assume that they are only here for the drug trade and prostitution. Indians themselves want to live in other countries, but will look down at and stereotype everyone from the African continent, seeing them as “tribals” who came here for illegal trade. The bias is that a foreigner who is white is always right.

I have seen whenever a Nigerian person is out in a public place, people and shopkeepers stare, point, laugh and make fun of them in their own regional languages (which, of course, a Nigerian person cannot understand). Let’s not forget that the skin colour of the original natives of ancient India was black, and that the fair-skinned population was added when different invaders came to our shores and settled.

Racism doesn’t end with Europeans and Africans. We discriminate against people from our own country. The people from North Eastern states face severe racism and discrimination. They often called “chinky”, “momo”, “chowmein”, and are regarded as South Koreans, Chinese or Japanese. The moment you are seen as a person from North-East India, with a tattoo or any hairstyle different from the norm, you are labeled as a drug addict. Women from the same region are automatically labeled ‘cheap’. If they wear shorts or half-sleeves, then the stereotype only gets amplified.

In Delhi, Tamilians or Andhrities automatically become “Madrasis”, an outdated, monolithic term that also carries the power to humiliate.

When we are often at the forefront of raising our voices against the racist attacks on Indians in the US, Europe, or Australia, are we ready to look at what happens in our own backyard?

Indians even carry their racist bias abroad. They will sit with groups of other Indians who speak their language, looking at African-Americans, and say “Woh dekh, kya kala hai na woh (Look at him, he is so black)!”

I was scrolling through several comments containing abuses and racist slurs against Nina Davuluri for winning Miss America in 2014. I saw Indians saying “How can she win the contest? She is so black!

For me, a young, modern guy who moved out to a metro city, I too was full of racist bias. But my interaction with people of different races, online and offline, helped me change my perspective a lot. I could see my mental block during my initial degree-college days. I will use this phrase, not to justify this article, but because Indians need to be told that “Black is beautiful“.

We often rail against people in the West for their bias against India— to them, a country of snake charmers, sadhus, and software engineers—but we fail to correct ourselves. The West has started being inclusive, embracing Indian values and celebrating our festivals. But we are not ready to get rid of our bias. The next time you are about to stereotype a North Eastern person, or a dark-skinned foreigner, think before doing you do. You might be racist.


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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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