‘Convenient racism’, says Irfan Pathan, pointing to discrimination based on faith and colour

One of the biggest names in contemporary Indian cricket bravely called this ‘convenient racism’, perhaps the only celebrity to do so in recent times

RacismImage Courtesy:scroll.in

As most dark skinned Indians, growing up in Independent India will tell you, the colour of our skin determines the first taste of discrimination we ever face. As anyone belonging to a minority faith, especially if you are Muslim or Christian, or belonging to what is called a ‘ backward/ lower caste’, or a marginalised community will tell you, the discrimination on basis of religion and social ‘status’ continues forever. 

Indian racism goes deeper than skin colour, anyone seen as the ‘other’ is considered and treated as sub human, and denied basic rights. It is well known that homes are rented out only when the owner decides your faith is acceptable; even then there are riders like ‘no non vegetarian food allowed’, or worse. 

While race and skin colour have once again become a subject of global discussion, casual racial discrimination on the basis of religion, is still swept under the carpet. Especially in the higher echelons of society, here, back home. India, a multi-faith, multi-lingual, multi-coloured country, which unfortunately is also one of the most racist. 

The discussion came knocking on Indian doors as Former West Indies captain Darren Sammy shared how he was subjected to racial abuse and called a racial slur by his Indian teammates when he played for Sunrisers Hyderabad team in 2013-14 at the Indian Premier League (IPL) matches. He sought an apology from his former teammates who hurled racist remarks at him. 

Indian cricketer, and youth icon Irfan Pathan took the debate further and said: “Racism is not restricted to the colour of the skin. Not allowing to buy a home in a society just because u have a different faith is a part of racism too…” He tagged this as ‘convenient racism’ 

Irfan Pathan, one of the biggest names in contemporary Indian cricket is perhaps the only sports celebrity to have called this discrimination out so far. 

Hell was let lose by the Sanghi Trolls. This statement of Pathan triggered the right wing led troll troops, out they came from the woodwork, one by one. Leading the pack was one Shriraj Nair, who’s twitter bio describes him as a Vishwa Hindu Parishad spokesman. He posted: “Irfan have some gratitude, you got everything from this nation, love,name,fame, money everything and you giving this Gyan shows your true character, just if you want to know what is racism you check with nearly 30 Million left over Hindus in Pakistan.” 

Irfan Pathan

Even in the content of his trolling Nair has shown himself to be an example of what Irfan Pathan has called out as racism. Irfan Pathan never specifically said that only the “Muslim”  was being racially discriminated on basis of faith. But trolls assumed he did because Pathan is a Muslim.  Trolls continued vilifying Irfan Pathan all day, who of course did not respond, and the original tweet went viral. As expected, Irfan Pathan a sports star and an influencer, who also has lakhs of sane fans, and there were plenty who correctly understood what the former cricketer, who has won international accolades for the country, had meant. 

The last time a celebrity had spoken out on communal disharmony he and his family were threatened and trolled from all angles. In 2015, actor Aamir Khan had expressed his opinion on the growing intolerance and rise in religious conflict and violence in India. He had mentioned that his wife Kiran Rao had even wondered if they should move out of the country for the sake of their children. Months later, in February 2016, Snapdeal refused to renew a contract with him as brand ambassador! A year later Aamir Khan received the Vishesh Puraskar from Bhagwat at the 75th Dinanath Mangeshkar Awards function for his performance in Dangal, one of the biggest hits of 2016.

The way Aamir Khan and his ‘Muslimness’ were then trolled, in the days that followed that single comment, had made international news. Those were the first years of the Modi 1 regime. Since then, most Indian film and sports stars have remained at their diplomatic best behaviour. Dining and taking photos with leading politicians, industrialists and also refraining from making comments that may be twisted.

Irfan Pathan has of course spoken about other racial slurs too. As quoted by the Indian Express, Irfan Pathan has also said that though he was not aware of the conversation that Darren Sammy is referring to, but he had seen such discrimination in domestic cricket. “I have seen some issues in domestic cricket where our brothers from South India have to face chants based on their appearance when they travel up north. I think the real issue is education and society needs to learn,” he told IE.

“We still haven’t talked much about racism in India. Sometimes we even call names to our brothers and sisters from the northeast. This problem is deep-rooted and will only go away when we start educating our sons and daughters and that needs to start with proper schooling and parenting,” he added.

Other Indian origin celebrities calling out skin-colour based desi-racism include author and chef Padma Lakshmi who posted: “For years I‘ve been saying that “Fair & Lovely” needs to pack their fake cosmetics and GO!! Anyone else out there sick and tired of being told that fair=lovely? Because, I sure as hell am. I’ve been hearing that crap since my girlhood and it did a number on my self-esteem.”

Indian actor Abhay Deol had earlier ignited a massive debate on top Indian actors endorsing ‘fairness creams’. He posted a long analysis on his instagram feed too: “Fairness creams in India have evolved over the years, from being fairness creams to now using euphemisms like “skin brightening/ whitening”, or “lightening creams”. Most brands no longer want to be associated directly with being termed as ‘fairness creams’. So now we have brands selling “HD glow”, “White beauty”, “white glow”, “fine fairness”, and so on. Over the years these companies have turned their attention towards the Indian Men, who are now trying to be “fair and handsome”, and have dedicated power white ranges for them too.”

Meanwhile, most other Indian actors, sports stars, youth icons have chosen to stay safe and stay quiet on the debate on religious racism and skin colour racism. Their silence speaks loud and clear. 


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