Former Indian tennis player Somdev Devvarman in a recent interview recalled when he faced racism and raised concern on growing police brutality in India.
Devvarman has in the past has used his social media handles to draw attention to rising cases of police brutality in India.
“Police brutality in India is off the charts. It’s horrible. It’s simply a misuse of power. We read how they have gone out and burnt villages, thrashed people, detained people, and how some have died in stations. Just now, there is a case happening in Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu. The other day, there was another case of an auto-rickshaw driver tortured by the police in Tamil Nadu. And the worst bit is that none of this is shocking to us. Why is this okay?” he told The Indian Express in a video interview.
Devvarman cited the Black Lives Movement to drew parallel to the condition in India with regard to police brutality. Devvarman said that one should also raise their voice on instances of police brutality in the country while adding that what is happening in US is wrong.
“Of course, Black Lives Matter; no doubt, what’s going on in America is absolutely wrong. But we have been quiet about cases of police brutality in India and about other issues like casteism and racism in our country,” he said.
Devvarman, who was born in a Tripura family in Guwahati , also shed light on his own experiences of racism growing up.
“I am from the North-East and moved to Chennai when I was eight. By default, I was a standout,” Devvarman said.
“Early on, I was called a watchman. My nickname was ‘Bahadur’, people said that all my life. I felt a little bad. As an Indian, you can’t tell me that we are not colour conscious. I grew up in South India and there the dark guys were not necessarily discriminated against but made fun of,” he added.
Devvarman also narrated how a few boys in Kolkata called him 'Chinese' and later joked and laughed it off.
"Last December, I was in Kolkata and after an exhibition match, I was just running around in the field cooling down. About five or six Bengali kids came up to me and said ‘Chinese’. I don’t think they were being racist. My wife was with me, she was livid. Not in the sense that she wanted to beat these kids, but she wanted to teach and educate them. I started throwing balls with the kids. They weren’t discriminatory towards me. They thought it was a joke and kind of laughed it off. But the truth is that they were like “hey, you are different from us”.
Devvarman also highlighted the caste-based discrimination he has seen first hand.
“Look at the caste system. I had friends, with whom I grew up with, who wouldn’t eat at the same table as me because they were Brahmins. People wouldn’t eat on the same table because somebody was a Muslim,” Devvarman added.
Devvarman also tried to reason why more Indian sportsperson don't raise their voice to draw attention to injustice in society.
"I am asked why enough athletes in India don’t speak up. Perhaps, the fear of what would happen if they do speak up is the reason they don’t. I have felt it myself. For me to go out and say something now against the US Open, what could it do? It could definitely jeopardise my chances of working with them in the future. Right now, I am into commentary. If I say something against the organisation, that could hurt. In the end, it doesn’t really matter to me because I am a former athlete," Devvarman said.