February 03, 2017

"I did not want to go to school. I didn't have the courage to face my classmates, who made derogatory remarks about my skin colour"

Pooja and the Color Brave campaign holds sessions in schools to help children aged nine to 16 understand the issues around skin colour and discrimination

Pooja Mankhedkar

Pooja Mankhedkar

Global Youth Ambassador from India

Global Youth Ambassador and youth activist Pooja Mankhedkar tells how she started the Color Brave campaign after other school students and teachers in India discriminated against her because of her skin colour.

I am a 19-year-old student activist from India working towards educating children and conducting awareness campaigns to promote an inclusive and peaceful society - because I believe education is the key to social change.

Color Brave is a campaign against colourism - discrimination against people because of their skin colour. I started it with a view to promote a mindset of beauty without standards, equality, tolerance and peace.    

My experiences with colourism go back to when I was a child. Things were fine until I was about six. 

I was quite a cheerful, happy and talkative kid but after that I started experiencing something that bruised my self-esteem, dropped my confidence level and started causing me to withdraw into a shell, away from people, away from the world. 

Students at one of the Color Brave sessions

Pooja Mankhedkar

Yes. It was colourism. That feeling of being put down or teased because of my skin colour was something totally unknown to me. 

I started losing interest in studies and in participating in different activities in school. In fact, I just did not want to go to school. I didn't have the courage to face my classmates, who constantly had derogatory remarks to pass on my skin colour.         

More importantly the teachers in my school were also discriminating against me. One of them called me a "negro" - an unacceptable way to refer to Africans. Also, it was like questioning my nationality. 

I remember being a very quiet child in school with lot of absenteeism - yet no teacher ever enquired to find out whether I had any difficulties in learning or otherwise. 

My absenteeism from school was increasing year by year and so was my inferiority complex. Psychologically, I was in a pathetic state. Somewhere I felt I was just not enough. I felt I lacked something but didn't know how to match up.  

However, my parents played an important role in my life at that time by supporting, encouraging and giving me the right guidance - and that's how I was able to pull myself up, study harder and feel more passionately for education. As a result I became the "topper" in high school. 

Children need to be educated from a young age to respect, accept and have tolerance for people of different skin colours, cultures and ethnicities

But not all parents are so encouraging and supportive and that is the reason many children having psychological difficulties eventually drop out from school.  

When I look back, I think teachers have a very significant influence on children. And when they have such a discriminating mindset it really affects the growth of a child under their guidance. 

Moreover, childhood is a phase in life where the foundations of how confident or successful a person will be are laid. Therefore, teachers need to be sensitised to be aware of their prejudices and not let them harm the growth of any child.  

Pooja doesn’t want other children to feel the discrimination she experienced

Pooja Mankhedkar

In addition, I think children should be given moral and ethical education in school itself. This is due to the fact that children need to be educated from a young age to respect, accept and have tolerance for people of different skin colours, cultures and ethnicities. 

Although children are given moral education in schools it is mostly in the context of religion. But now I think we need to go beyond that and have a more humanitarian approach to such education to include values of equality, peace and tolerance.      

Over the years, I have understood the importance of educating people about skin colour discrimination and the impacts of it. 

Thus, under Color Brave I am involved in advocating for moral and ethical education for children as well as conducting awareness campaigns for children in schools through interactive sessions of story telling and experience sharing. 

I also have a Color Brave Facebook page to create awareness on social media platforms. 

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