racism in india

The constitution of India promises that the citizens will not be discriminated against based on their gender, place of birth, race, caste, religion etc. The government of India has entered into many international treaties agreeing to protect citizens and foreigners alike from such discriminations. However, entry to public places such as restaurants and hotels is not a protected right except for those belong to harijan castes or other scheduled classes of people.

The hospitality industry in India has absolutely horrific discriminatory practices that makes life difficult for the common person. Indian restaurants, bars and hotels routinely disbar citizens as well as foreigners, and discriminate on ground of sex, place of birth, race and religion – and sometimes even age and disability. Let’s take a look at some real cases where the hospitality industry is brazenly discriminating with regard to access to public places like restaurants and hotels.

Discrimination against people from African countries and other foreigners

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Racism is not the problem of only white people – Indians can be very racist. If you want proof, just ask the Africans living in Khirki village in Delhi or the Nigerians in Goa. What is astonishing is that a large number of Indian eateries, bars, pubs, restaurants, hotels, and even landlords discriminate against Africans living in India. Many establishments like restaurants and bars which are generally open to the public, do not allow Africans or people with Negroid features to enter their premises. This is a clear instance of racial discrimination, which is not banned by any specific laws in India.

In other words, Indian hospitality establishments like bars, restaurants and hotels can refuse to serve and discriminate on basis of race and nationality with absolute impunity under the current legal regime.

This is not only violation of universally recognized human rights of these foreigners, but also a derogation from many international obligations undertaken by the Indian government under International Laws.

Discrimination against people wearing traditional clothes

As highlighted by a recent incident of a cricket club refusing entry to sitting judge of the Madras High Court, it is very common for clubs, restaurants and bars to refuse entry on basis of attire of a guest. If the attire is indecent or inadequate, one may justify refusal of admission. However, in most cases, these rules are meant to perpetuate colonial practices that put European attire in a hierarchy over Indian traditional clothes. This is more prominent in case of footwear. Many establishments do not allow guests to enter if they are not wearing closed shoes – as was in this case, where an elderly woman was not allowed to enter a hotel in Mumbai on the ground that she was wearing a chappal and not closed shoes. Women in India rarely wear closed shoes with Saree, the most common attire. Not allowing an aged person to enter the premises on the ground of wearing a chappal rather than a shoe is not only outrageous, but also discrimination based on one’s culture and cultural ancestry. This is a travesty of civil rights earned by the citizens of India through hundreds of years of freedom struggle.

Discrimination against people from certain states

The constitution of India guarantees equal status to all citizens irrespective of their place of birth. However, treatment of people from certain states, such as Bihar or North Eastern states, in certain establishments is prima facie discriminatory. Starting from keeping them waiting for longer periods to refusing entry, use of regional slur and even eviction after admission is quite common.

What is infuriating is that apart from the laws meant to protect scheduled castes and scheduled tribes from casteism related offences, there are no laws to protect victims of such discriminations. Victims who do not belong to scheduled caste or scheduled tribe can register cases for abusing or assault if they face these things, but they have no redressal against refusal to entry and discrimination based on place of birth.

Discrimination against people with disability

People with disability often need special arrangement, which is cumbersome for some hospitality establishments. Starting from the difficulty of assistance for going through a metal detector in a wheelchair to creating ramps for wheelchair access, or special provisions for visually challenged guests – a stunning majority of Indian establishments ignore these civic duties. Although the government has made it mandatory for all classified hotels and most restaurants to be wheelchair accessible, most establishments either do not do so, and even those who have technically complied do not cooperate with guests with disability – simply because arrangements cost more while they cannot charge a differential fee. There is little disabled guests can do where they face such discrimination as most of these establishments are technically compliant to disability laws and rules made thereunder, and documenting and challenging such practices will be very difficult for them.

As a result, many establishments continue to discriminate against gest with disability with complete immunity.

Discrimination against women guests

Have you ever been refused entry to a bar because you are a woman? While in upmarket bars and pubs this is very unlikely (in fact, women are incentivized to visit in greater numbers with free drinks etc), in smaller towns and low cost bars and taverns this is a routine practice. There are many hotels which may refuse a single woman trying to find accommodation. Any establishment has the legal right in India to refuse any woman (or a man for that matter) from entering without any explanation.

Discrimination against senior citizens

I came across a very shocking discriminatory practice as my father was sharing his recent travel experiences with me. He has crossed 60 a few years back. It turns out that many hotels refuse to accept guests who look very old and are travelling alone, as they are afraid that there maybe medical emergencies!  While this may not apply to big 5 star hotels, this is certainly the case with a lot of budget hotels.

Bonus: Discrimination against rape survivors

Ginger restaurant in Kolkata recently refused entry to a woman who was gangraped in the city about a year earlier. The woman had chosen to not hide behind anonymity and disclosed her identity willingly although laws in India provide her the option to stay anonymous. The manager of the hotel pointed her out in front of other guests as the Park Street Rape Victim and refused to let her enter when she had come to dine along with her fiancé.

While publicly calling out someone as a rape victim is still illegal under the provision of victim anonymity, refusing her entry is not a violation of any laws or rules in India.

Essentially, any establishment in India can refuse to serve a rape survivor, and thereby perpetuate her victimization and suffering, without any legal repercussion. While there are not many reported instances of this kind of discrimination, it is also unlikely that such ­­­­a victim will raise her voice against such discrimination and attract more publicity – which is only likely to make her situation worse.

It is unlikely that these instances of discriminations will stop anytime. These are long standing practices, mostly introduced by the Imperial British once upon a time, which we have taken up on ourselves to continue although in the land of the British they have stopped these practices decades earlier. What do you think can be done to change the prevailing situation? Share your views and suggestions in the comments.

Are there certain types of discrimination by the hospitality industry that I missed out on? Tell me more in your comment. Share real stories so that the hospitality industry wakes up the realities of what they are doing.



  1. Dear Ramanuj,

    It was refreshing to read your aricle, more so, because I myself have faced such discrimination based on my attire – shorts and chappals. However, I just wanted to know if a civilian can take an action against such colonial discrimination or do we HAVE to abide by them, in line with the “Rights of Admission Reserved” disclaimer.


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