Are Indians the most racist in the world?

In short, no I don't think so. We are the most diverse, yes, but no we aren't the most racist people in the world. I see this being thrown around quite a bit, and it hurts to see even educated people blatantly criticizing our own countrymen without thinking it through. This post is directed at addressing that question.

I am going to support my point with five arguments. First, I believe what we mistake for racism (most of the time) is actually rivalry and some of the things that come with it. Second, the immensely diverse nature of our society and country is actually an asset which we confuse with xenophobia to call ourselves racists. Third, yes, there will always be some among us and others who will be intrinsically anti-social and absolutely racist - but you cannot disown them, as the "No true Scotsman" fallacy points out. And oh, lest I forget, some of us do behave in a manner that portrays a negative/uncultured image to the outside world about Indians. These people naturally invite the wrath of common people of other nationalities which then we get to hear as "racist attacks on Indians". Finally, how do you measure who is the most racist and who isn't?


So let's begin with rivalry and racism. Dictionary.com defines racism as "a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others", which in our context of discussion essentially boils down to the last definition on that page: "hatred or intolerance of another races or other races". But rivalry is different. Proximity and equal capability to accomplish the same task between two groups will always breed rivalry. Two colleges in the same city, two platoon regiments nearby in the same area, or for that matter two different localities in two buildings across the road, there will be rivalry. And rivalry to some extent is good. It brings pride in oneself, and teaches team spirit. And of course as a collateral you invent jokes about the "other" team, and prefer being in your team's camp even after the match is over. It is natural, it is human, and it isn't racism.

Another common argument I see from my own friends is something on the lines of this: oh we are always abusing one another! "There are so many jokes about Punjabis"; "Delhi people are unequivocally hated in Chennai"; "Marathis cannot tolerate Biharis", and so on. My point is simple: yes we are a diverse population. But it isn't racism. It is an asset. There is a singular concept of India among all of us. We might be fighting amongst ourselves, but see what happens when militants get into Kargil or a terrorist attack on Mumbai happens. Each one of us... every single state, caste, linguistic group lines up to fight the abuse and a united front shows up. If we were indeed nurtured "hatred or intolerance of other races", people in Maharashtra would be happy to learn of floods in Bihar, and people would burst firecrackers in Chennai to celebrate series of bomb blasts in Delhi. We aren't different races: we are just one race, and we proudly call ourselves Indian.

Then there is the problem of blanket generalization. Statements like "Bengalis are culturally talented" and "Indian women don't cheat" are misleading, since you cannot include everyone in your statement. The day you come across an adulterous Indian woman or a Bengali guy who cannot write a poem even if his life depended on it, you will proclaim "No true Bengali will not know how not to write a poem". This, if you go through the wikipedia link above, is a logical fallacy. How does it apply here? Well, yes there are very racist people among us Indians. And we cannot disown them: they are as much an Indian as you and I. But if someone forms their judgement based on just some random supporter of Raj Thakeray shouting obscenities and burning down shops, then it is simply unfair. Yes we do have racist people among us, but they aren't the majority.

Finally, do some of us provoke hatred from others? Yes. If it is common courtesy to leave seats for the elderly or to not keep your feet up on the cushion across the aisle on a public bus, then we should abide by it. Some of us, however, seem to have missed the common civic sense lessons while growing up and hence draw attention to themselves by doing the exact same things in other countries/states/localities which others don't. This behaviour stands out very conspicuously. Following which, Indians/Biharis/Nehru-nagar-people are branded as a bunch of folks lacking civic values. No all of us aren't that way. But when a bunch of students from a nearby engineering college are seen wolf-whistling and eve-teasing almost every evening at a nearby locality, then there is reason to brand that engineering college as a shit-hole.

My last argument is regarding the phrase, "most racist". How do you measure who or what group of people is more racist than the other? Is being Brahmin the only link between them, or did they also go to the same school at the same time? I find it absurd that someone claims Indians are the most racist. So who is second-most? And how did you measure that? Based on your experience, really? How many other nations have you been to and intimately known? Or for that matter, have you met everyone in India? If it is solely your experience you are talking from, then I am sorry to say that you keep a racist circle of friends. By extension... umm.. let's leave it at that. Statistically speaking, biased samples are going to yield exactly what you started off with and wanted to see - a bias. In a population as big as ours, you need a huge representative sample to determine the percentage probability that someone or a nation itself is racist. And then you need to find such sample surveys of all nations, and then pronounce your verdict. So much for your education, then!

To conclude, therefore, we mustn't confuse rivalry and racism. Our diverse population is in reality an asset, and however many abuses we hurl at another state or caste, we stand united in the face of crisis at all times. Blanket generalizations aren't good, therefore your abusive Tamil neighbor isn't the best representative sample of all Tamilians, and neither is your sweet Delhi aunty next door of all Delhi-ites.:P We have scumbags amongst us as well who want to make us behave as racists, but you cannot measure absolute racism through any sample size and reach conclusions like "the Aussies are the most racist". I rest my case.

Update: a common theme I see emerging from some of the comments is that as if I have claimed that Indians aren't racist. Yes, we are. But the title of most racist in the world does not befall us. Please consider this before commenting.

Comments

  1. I have a post in my drafts talking about Indian society and what seems to be racial discrimination. Interesting to see you having posted this today, just as I was about to post mine. :)

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  2. Accusing others of racism has becoming the current fashion.

    It is a sign of intellectual laziness, nothing else.

    Not all kinds of hatred == Racism.

    The term has been grossly devalued by such usage. Just as the term "genocide" has been grossly devalued by constant and repeated usage in inappropriate contexts.

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  3. Galadriel, Oh I'd love to see that post anyway.

    Hari, very well said: "Not all kinds of hatred == Racism"

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  4. Isn't racism means to discrimenate .... n so India is a racist country - brahmins look down on the lower caste people ... there still exsist "untouchable" society - imagine that !!

    people use phrases as "Bhihari-o jesa color hai" or "didn't have shower - i look like a madrasi's child" ..... what would u say to all this ... not rivalry i suppose !

    But yes ... we're changing ... but still long way to go.

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  5. Hi Sudipta
    the recurring theme of herrenvolk in populist interpretations of hindu scripture could have contributed to a certain amount of racism/casteism. Would love to hear your thoughts on that.

    @Sharmila
    Show me a country where there is no discrimination.

    As for India: fewer resources => nastier competition => wierd stereotypes about the 'other'.
    Paucity of resources is a much overlooked factor in human relations.

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  6. It's rivalry to a large extent, yes, you have nailed it. Also, the 'Bengali poet' example is relevant. But racism can't be ruled out entirely. In many cases some groups with good bank balance lock horns with those who have none, and where regionalism and cultural differences come in inadvertently.

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  7. i kind of think indians are extremely racist. its not just regionally (which is pretty intense) but also they are really nasty to immigrants (bihari's, bangladeshi's) while expecting themselves to be treated perfectly when they are immigrants elsewhere :(

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  8. Sharmila, first of all, welcome to the blog! :) I'd love to live in a country without discrimination, but unfortunately there isn't one (like Chanakya said above). Untouchability/caste-ism in our society borders upon racism, yes, but they are fundamentally different ideas. Refer to my second point above... it isn't rivalry but it is diversity, and too often used to create the "other". I'm not saying that these are good: just that this isn't racism. Again, to quote Hari's comment from above, hatred of all kinds isn't racism. And the good news, like you said, is that there is change in the winds.

    Chanakya, yes I know, and I personally dislike the preachings (even in the Bhagavad Gita where it appears as Chaturvanram maya srishta.... Resource crunch and consequently competition is truly a factor in the need to create smaller identities and identify/ridicule the other camp in any way possible.

    I learned the new word, though, (herrenvolk) which wikipedia conveniently redirected me to the right interpretation.

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  9. Debby, welcome to the blog! No I am not ruling racism out entirely. We have some very racist people among us, and some of us do behave in ways unbecoming of any civilized human being. The need to create an "us" and a "they" will always be there, and so will the excuse to do so. Be it caste, affluence, language, religion - there is always a fine line dividing competition and bigotry and it becomes racism as soon as the scales tip over to the latter.

    Ricercar, again, some of us racist, yes, but I disagree that Indians in general are. I know of certain scumbags myself who would treat others like dirt (and by "others" I mean almost anything who they don't consider financially equal). And I know of a few people again who cannot let go of the habit of milking any place dry without ever giving a penny back. We are treated as shit in other places, too, but are we consciously being the change we wish to see?

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  10. It appears that a majority of your readers have no idea of the meaning of the word "racism" which is fundamentally different from casteism, regionalism, class rivalry, national rivalry, religious hatred and so on.

    There is a reason why the word racism exists, and it's not to describe any of the above phenomena.

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  11. your general arc of the argument is valid, although I cannot completely agree with this "diverse population is an asset". I think you're basing this on the fact that rivalry is good to some extent, however IMO it feels like this is another blanket generalization ;). Quota system based on region/caste/sub-caste in education/sports counters that statement.

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  12. Hari, yep, true.

    Sundar, actually, no - read Carl Sagan, read Economics textbooks, and you'll realize that the more diverse a populace, the more competition there is in the market and therefore each entity strives for constant improvement to survive. Quota systems were originally put in place to give some sections of society a fighting chance in the intensely competitive space. The fact that it has been abused right now is a different aspect.

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  13. Sudipta,

    I think we have to talk about reality here and the reality is that if the competition weren't purely on a merit basis, then the constant improvement part is nullified. If there is no constant improvement, then how could you state in a general sense that diverse population in India is an asset?

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  14. Let's hold our India as it was known for its great saints, vedas, temples and great leader in the eye of whole world.

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  15. Sundar, the role of a government is to provide a level playing field to all. Let me stress unequivocally that I am against reservations of any sort. And look around yourself... there is improvement and development happening. Maybe the Nehruvian model of growth (at 3%) is an out-dated philosophy, but even then we have people from all classes and economic strata getting more exposure than before. Improvement may not be constant, but it is there.

    India, thank you - yes we all have a dream. Welcome to the blog! :)

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  16. In short, no I don't think so. We are the most diverse, yes, but no we aren't the most racist people in the world.

    Ahhhh hahaha who are you trying to fool. You have the Caste System blaring "racist culture" to the world. Please spare us the bs.

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  17. It's people like you that are responsible for these social ills. You want your magical India that only exists in your heads.

    I am sure you don't fall into any of the looked-down upon categories. I am sure you are thought of as a good looking. Wait till some scar or blemish taints your appearance. Only then can you see the true India.

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  18. I think that Indians are extremely racist, more than Europeans. If a Indian and a European date or marry, the group most opposed will more likely be the Indian

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  19. And amongst Indians, they socialise and marry within carefully specified groups such as within relatives or villages, they do not allow mixed marriages with outsiders, this is extremely discriminatory. Cyril.

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  20. Ant in the UK, it is the Indians or other South Asians who discriminate the strongest for their friends or family. Whites and other ethnic minorities mix more with other races. Cyril.

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  21. Anonymous, yes we have the caste system and no I am not proud of it. But there is a difference between casteism and racism. The caste system does not extend to other races. We have discrimination based on caste in some areas, true again. But let me stress once again, I don't think every Indian is a non-racist. We do have the scum among us. But definitely, and I repeat - the title of "most racist" or "most discriminating" doesn't fall upon us.

    Anonymous, unfortunately, both your accusations are true. I belong to the upper caste, yes, and I have a fair skin - yes. But I have seen my India through the eyes that I have and through my own experience. Whatever your version of India might be, I still feel proud of being an Indian and want to change whatever little I can.

    Anonymous, you confuse conservative belief with racism. Think of the *few* specimens you personally know among your own friends of Indians marrying from other races - our society still isn't accustomed to a Caucasian bride or a blonde groom. But do you think they will be spit upon?

    Cyril, I agree, it is discriminatory in certain areas of India. And I would rather use the word "encourage" than "allow" when you say "they do not allow mixed marriages". The idea that you have absolutely no control over who you marry is outdated. Please read more about the "arranged marriage" in India now. Deep rooted cultural superstitions play a part in this xenophobia that you mention to a large extent, I think.

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  22. There is not much distinction between racism and disrimination in India - it seems to be much the same.

    Yes, Indians do not go around wearing white hoods and pointy hats and witchunt African Americans. They don't wage wars on Jews and they certainly never will.

    But, what they do accomplish is a far more subtle and dangerous form of racism.

    I've lived in Africa, India and the UK. I've never seen any nationality as less integrated as the Indians.

    In Africa, the "blacks" were looked down upon. "They're not as intelligent as us," they said.

    In the UK, it's the "please beta don't have a white girlfriend or white friends, they're all drug addicts".

    In India, well, let's not go there at all. There's a cast system, religious differences, economic and social differences, and the list is endless.

    The reality is that not ALL Indians are like that. Many DO integrate, DO appreciate other cultures and DO accept their faults and weaknesses.

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  23. India has lots of differences and the unfortunate part is that we are passing on the same to the future generation. I would agree to the part that Indians are racist by nature. The emphasis we place on colour is unparalleled. we still make lots of racist remarks based on region and colour. well saying that people from Chennai hating Delhi people is another horrible generalization. I lived all my life in Chennai but have never come accross anyone who hated anyone. To me that itself is a racist statement.

    Indians cry for even a small racist gesture, when travelling abroad but we aren't saints either. You just have to go to any blog or forum where Indians participate to see the hate and racism towards fellow Indians. I am not saying everyone is like that but there are lots of us like that. Even if we belong to the same country, generalizing people by colour is racism, no matter how you put it. To conclude, yes we are racists, living in denial.

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  24. Anonymous, the "caste discrimination" is a very serious ill of our society, I agree. The discrimination against other races even when we live abroad is a common phenomenon: it is an inherent distrust which is not limited to Indians. And to be honest, some people of our older generations stick to their ideas of the world outside no matter what, and you cannot correct them. And like your concluding statement: describing ALL Indians as racist is unfair and wrong. Thankfully, you and I represent a newer generation who are open to this new dimension of thought and tolerance.

    Giri welcome to the blog, first of all. Two hundred years of colonial rule has imbibed a culture of white-skin-worship in our collective ethos to some extent, I agree. But it is a passing generation. For those of us (and in increasingly greater numbers) who travel abroad, we find that the white skinned folks are no longer our rulers and we are on an equal footing with them - I strongly believe that the emphasis we place on colour will gradually erode away.

    And no, all of us aren't saints either. I do not disown those bastards as not being Indians. They are my brethren, but not those that I am proud of. Some of us are racists, some others aren't. I am willing to see the good as well as the bad in us, and fight for the good.

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  25. I have a similar post I wrote a few years back
    http://www.nitinalabur.com/2007/06/racist-indians.html

    My blogpost disagrees with most of the points you have raised!

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  26. india ia a racists country.. how can one say that a marathi hating a bihari not racist?? that is racist.. because the marathis thought of themselves better than biharis and would not like to have any connection with them. if thats not racist then what is racist? don't alwys try to defend india as the MAA of the world. she is not. infact India is the worst place on earth. a girl cannot walk alone in the parks, cannot travel alone. please don't defend it always cause its not the best.

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  27. Calvin bhai, I read your post, and I believe I have answered some of your arguments here. The other part, w.r.t. vote banks and caste politics, is partly addressed here: If you did not vote in a previous blog post. Disagreement is welcome, and if you can post a summary of what rebuttals you have to my points, I would be happy to engage in a civil discourse.

    Anonymous, similar to my logic above, one cannot come to a conclusion that any place is absolutely the best on earth. "Better" and "best" are relative terms, and no I don't claim India to be either the MAA or the best in any way. It is unfortunate that girls cannot travel alone or walk alone in parks, but that is unrelated to racism (the subject of my post).

    And to re-iterate the update I posted above, "Yes, we are racist. But the title of most racist in the world does not befall us."

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  28. Dear Blogger,

    Indians are the worlds extreme racist..

    1. In the last 70 Years there is not dark color bollywood lead actor or actress....have a look on bollywood list.

    2. Every Groom seeks fair girl....
    3. Every person wants to be fair in complexion
    4. Indian's are known for having double standards in everything they do...that's a worst sort of racism.

    There are many ways to prove this...the best way is to travel india extensively by road and rail.

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  29. Prashant, first of all, thanks for the comment. Let's answer those one by one:

    1. If by dark-colored you mean pitch-dark black, then yes we haven't had one. There are a lot of dark-complexioned actors and actresses throughout its history, though. Nandita Das comes to mind immediately, and I am sure others can find some for you. Do you know of any "black"-skinned Indian actors/actresses who were talented but never got a chance to show up in mainstream bollywood? Also, do you really think the percentage of dark-skinned people in showbiz really reflects the true demographic preference of a country?

    2. Grooms seek fair girls all over the world, depending on the culture! It is ridiculous to say that this is exclusively a property of Indian males.

    3. Part of the craving for fair complexion can be blamed on the media. Remember the old Fair-and-Lovely commercials? And when you say "every" person, that is gross generalization. I am sure not everyone you know even in your own family is terribly insecure about their skin's colour...

    4. This point of yours - Indians having double standards everywhere, is invalid. Look at my third argument above in the original post: the "no-true-Scotsman" fallacy is evident here.

    And as far as traveling by rail or road to different parts of India are concerned, you and I may have had a different set of experiences. I too have traveled far, and I know for a fact that people are far more helpful compared to the picture you wish to paint here.

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  30. He did mention xenophobia..I can assure you, it is not any different to racism. Try asking the non-South African blacks living in South Africa. Xenophobia lead to the recent KKK style events in SA. In particular, the biggest crime any human can ever commit on planet earth is being a Nigerian in South Africa. Rivarly occurs in all societies and may be I am confused but I do not see how any one can confuse it with racism..at least not from that explanation. And after seeing that Video (math professor and succesful business man kills black daughter in law)...eh eh... But like he says generalisation or sterotyping is not good. Although when a trait is dorminant, society and indeed science has a tendency of relating it to the phenomenon, person or object. Just like Africa is Backward. Ugandans are poor..true because the majority are (but there are those who can afford private jets), The British are cold...may be true..but there are some very great personalities, etc As for the caste system...The untouchables??is that how God described them when he made them?. Not any different from KKK, only difference..may be the practicalities.

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  31. I agree with girisopinion.com

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  32. Is that a question to ask? Its a part of culture since the earliest civilization. Ask any NE Indian whether they have not faced any racism at all in mainland India. I faced it daily. As per your definition as given by dictionary.com, the non NE people think that NE people are dumb and good for nothing who can only work as waitress,security gaurds or other lower wages job. One of my senior(from UP)(I'm a S/W Engg) asked me once that she is surprised to see me (as an IT professional) directly in my face becuase people from NE mostly don't work in these sector, they work in beauty parlours or hotels(as waiters/waitress). I felt like replying to her that a lot a migrant workers from UP worked as laborers,masons and coolie in my hometown but i kept quiet because I'm not a racist. How much percentage of Indian population knows about the seven NE states and its history and cultures? 0.001% i guess and that also after more than 60 years of independence. Its a shame!!!!! We learn't about various parts of india and its history and geography in school and colleges. Has NE Indian States ever been covered in any history/geography books you read? Maybe in few book, its covered in a paragraph ot 2. Y I asked this question is because when i started working some years back/and even in my college(in Karnataka), people(even lecturer) asked with the most stupid question whether my homestate(a NE state) is near Japan. I was so shocked and didn't know how to react. I agree that all the NE Indian States were independent princely states before they joined the Indian State mainly due to sole decision of the monarchs who ruled these states at that time, but we were and have never been accepted by the mainland indian people as their equals. Its unfortunate that these states are as backward economically and in development now as they were at the time of succession to India. The successive govt that ruled Delhi has ignore the plight of the NE people and so the rest of the people of India.

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  33. I would be glad if my any civilised,educated Indian citizen could reply to the questions I mentioned in post above.Mr. Sudipta, I would be glad to know your opinion regarding the problems faced by the 7 NE Indians states for more than 60 years?

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  34. Anonymous, the lines indeed blurry when you compare racism and rivalry, or xenophobia for that matter. However, like you point out time and again, gross generalization isn't fair and we need to look at things in perspective.

    Anonymous, to each his own! :)

    Anonymous, it is a shame, indeed, that a lot of Indians as well as the media regularly ignore everything that is happening in the North-Eastern states. That manager you had is a real scumbag, like I mentioned before, but you were rightly the bigger man by not shooting back the insult.

    As a matter of fact, though, we did read a lot about the North-Eastern states, the culture, a bit of the history, etc. - we had entire chapters and they covered a large part of the syllabus in at least one term. Having said that, perhaps it was part of only our syllabus - I cannot vouch for the rest of India.

    The ignorance of world geography or even the layout of our own country is unpardonable, especially from the educated people you mention - the moron who asked if your state is near Japan needs to be sent trekking from one to the other with no clothes on.

    Successive governments have indeed ignored the plight of the people there, the army has destroyed a lot of goodwill, yes. And although I cannot vouch for anyone else, I can personally say that I consider each of the North-Eastern states as much a part of India as anything else.

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  35. which hospital do you go to for treatment of your mental retardation?

    wanna know so that i dont send any more indians there, clearly its not working.

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