In this article, an attempt has been made to explain the concept of racial profiling. Further, an attempt is made to understand the international and national perspective on racial profiling. The anti-discrimination laws of India are scrutinised with reference to this as well.


Discrimination has various forms. Racial discrimination is one such form. According to the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Racial Discrimination means any “distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”[1] Racial profiling is one such form of racial discrimination.

Racial profiling has been defined by the Oxford dictionary as, “the use of race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of having committed an offence.” The American Civil Liberties Union states that, “Racial Profiling refers to the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on individual’s race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.”[2] It needs to be kept in mind that racial profiling does not refer to the acts of a law enforcement agent pursuing a suspect on the basis of a specific description which includes race or ethnicity of the suspect in combination with other identifying factors.

Let’s see a few examples to understand the concept better.

  1. An example of racial profiling is when Arabs, Muslims and South Asians were targeted after the 9/11 attacks in U.S.A. and were detained on minor immigration violations when no nexus or connection was found between them and the World Trade Centre or the Pentagon.
  2. Another example is of unlawful searches where a person, on the basis of his race, is pulled over for traffic violations he did not commit.

International Perspective

The International Perspective on the despicable Racial Discrimination is clear. It is considered as a violation of human rights. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination is one such Convention that came into force on the 4th January 1969. This convention makes four clear “principal points.

  • Any doctrine of racial differentiation or superiority is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous and has no justification in theory or practice.
  • Racial discrimination – and more so, government policies based on racial superiority or hatred – violate fundamental human rights, endanger friendly relations among peoples, co-operation among nations, and international peace and security.
  • Racial discrimination harms not only those who are tis objects but also those who practise it.
  • A world society free of racial segregation and discrimination, factors which create hatred and division, is a fundamental aim of the United Nations.”[3]

However, the convention also states that affirmative action policies introduced by the State will not be considered as discrimination.
By this, it is clear that racial discrimination is considered to be a condemnable and despicable act.

Indian Perspective:

India has one of the lengthiest constitutions in the world. The Constitution of India, in its Chapter III on Fundamental Rights has provided for various rights. One such right is the right to equality of and before law. Article 14 of the Constitution reads:

“The State shall not deny any person equality before the law or equal protection of the laws within the territory of India”[4]

Further, Article 15(1) reads: “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them,”[5]

India also hasthe Scheduled Castes and Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 as a legislation to deal with discrimination specifically against SCs and STs. It was formed to prevent offences against the members of the SCs and STs group. A Bill called the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Bill, 2016 was introduced as a private member bill by Shashi Tharoor in an attempt to deal with the issues of discrimination. However, the bill lapsed with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha. Another Bill known as the Equality Bill, 2019 has also been drafted to combat the issue of discrimination whether direct or indirect on various fronts like caste, race, ethnicity, disability, marital status, health, belief, occupation and many more.

In India, discrimination on the basis of race and caste is prohibited and looked down upon. However, India lacks a comprehensive and multi-ground antidiscrimination legislation.

Ground Realities:

However, the ground realities of racial profiling are quite different. Discrimination on the basis of race and caste or ethnicity and religion is quite real. “According to the World Values Survey, the second most racist country is India, where people from other countries are treated differently by some Indian people, based both on skin colour and country of origin.”[6] Racial profiling happens at such an unconscious level, that at times, people don’t even realise that they are doing it. Racial profiling happens world over.

In most cases, racial profiling is not a pleasant or a favourable exercise. When a bomb blast takes place, and investigations are done, usually it is the Muslims who are suspected of doing something wrong or illegal even if they haven’t done anything. When Africans are considered to be shady and struggle to get decent living quarters in India. When the English are worshipped for no particular reason. When a north-east Indian is called Chinese or a foreigner and they are subjected to discrimination. All these are forms of racial profiling where a judgement is passed on a person’s character based on their race, skin colour or religion.

In some cases, however, racial profiling is needed to help people. For example, there are certain diseases and medical conditions which hit people from a particular race more than others, and doctors need to be aware of this and sometimes need to racially profile their patient.


Racial profiling is a real problem and issue. Most times, it happens at a subconscious level and plays to the biases that we have learnt as children. There are various examples that can be given of racial profiling that takes place on a daily basis. The one and probably the only way to handle this is to make sure that we first make ourselves aware about the existing bias and then consciously fight it. Also, children learn biases from their surroundings and people they interact with. It is easier to mould children to not have these biases because once they grow up, these biases are so ingrained that people don’t even realise that they have that bias. In India, there is too much diversity, for everyone to know all the cultures and ways of life that exist and so racial discrimination and profiling continue to persist. People need to be made more aware of the differences, so that the differences do not scare them.


[1]Art. 1, The International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1969.

[2] on March 19, 2020 at 11:54 am.

[3] accessed on 19/05/2020 at 12:35

[4]The Constitution of India, Art. 14.

[5]Art. 15, id

[6]Ruchika Daga, Racial Discrimination in India – Where can you file a complaint?, accessed at on 19/05/2020 at 12:30.