A brown-skinned Indian’s first-hand experience of
racial discrimination and discrimination against cycling discrimination in his own country.
A fellow wiser than me once said,
“Learning a foreign language not only reveals how other societies think and feel, what they have experienced and value, and how they express themselves, it also provides a cultural mirror in which we can more clearly see our own society.”
And, so I decided to take up learning French at the Alliance Française, a credible and reputed French learning centre in New Delhi.
I took the morning classes with my friend, J, who is Hungarian. Since the beginning of the course, she has been commuting on her bicycle. She parks her bicycle in the institute premises, where the security guards park their cycles. I’m an avid cyclist myself but I haven’t been riding for a few months after an ankle injury. I decided to bike to class for the first time today. But, that’s where my smooth ride ended and I confronted the sad reality of discrimination in my own country. Here is what happened…
As I got there and tried to park my cycle, in the usual place where my friend parks, I was denied entry. I was told the parking was ‘off bounds’ for visitors and was for security guards only. I was a bit surprised, already knowing that my friend parks there regularly, but, nonetheless, I complied and waited outside. J arrived 10 minutes later and as usual, parked her cycle in the same spot. The security guard noticing my presence, immediately got into action and told her she can’t park there either. After watching their argument for a few minutes, I questioned him about the preferential treatment and how he allowed a white person to park there all this while, but when I tried to do the same I was handed out a completely different treatment. He replied in the negative and went on to say in Hindi that she was the instructor’s daughter. What he didn’t realize was we go to the same class and we have the same instructor. He is an Indian man. I asked him does she even look like his daughter. Also, J speaks fluent Hindi and jumped in to restate what I asked. He was embarrassed. I was disgusted and insisted that I will park my bike there. That’s exactly what I did.
Now, it could have been passed off as a one off incident, as I know that expats sometimes do get special treatment for the obvious reason — they are white! But, to my surprise, after our class got over, the Academic Director, a French national, wanted to talk to J and me about the incident. Apparently the security guard had informed her. We went over to her office, she immediately acknowledged J’s presence and started discussing the situation with her. She did not look at me, it seemed like I was non-existent to her. Trying to avoid awkwardness, I joined the conversation, but was immediately silenced. Now, I can understand her affinity to a fellow European, but given her position, this was not expected from her. She gave me vague reasons about insurance policies not covering bicycles. I asked her about the row of bicycles already parked there. These belonged to some of the employees but hey, you’re an organization that collects fees from students and why would you not provide parking space for bicycles? As for my friend J, she was termed plain “lucky” to have gone unnoticed and invisible in the eyes of the security guards.
As for me, I was “unlucky” that the security guard noticed me. I called her out on such blatant prejudice. At this point, the director got defensive and was swift in telling me that the guard has been fired. If that was not enough, she went ahead and asked me if I’m happy now! And thus, bringing forth her “humane” side, which I obviously didn’t have, for I was the reason he got fired. Feeling her blunt psychological blackmail, J and I left the room. Update: I later found that she has no power to fire the guard. The guard did not lose his job, he still has it. He has been transfered to another location. She represents Alliance Française and one would expect her behavior to be fair and unbiased. This hurts the credibility of an institution that promotes French language and culture in India.
Should one just accept such preferential treatment?
At the very least, should she have apologized on behalf of the organization she represents?
Is she right to have supposedly fired the guard, making him the scapegoat and using it to taunt me? Update: She has no power to fire him. He has not actually lost his job, merely transfered to another location.
Can someone in her position, representing a credible institution of learning and France’s culture,
be so openly racist be so undiplomatic and rude?
Should cyclists be given parking in a building open to public, where fees are collected from students?
“That until there no longer
First class and second class citizens of any nation
Until the colour of a man’s skin
Is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes…
That until the basic human rights
Are equally guaranteed to all,
Without regard to race…”
— Bob Marley
This article was previously titled:
“Indians and foreigners in India are openly prejudiced and will do nothing about it”.
Added a Bob Marley song.