Former Indian tennis player Somdev Devvarman spoke against growing police brutality in India while also highlight the prevalent issue of racism and casteism in the country.
Devvarman had expressed his feeling against violence by police in June through his Twitter handle the lack of accountability for these acts.
In a video interview with The Indian Express, the former Indian tennis player further reiterated the need for Indians to speak up against the brutality.
“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 said.
The death of George Floyd, an American black man who was a victim of police brutality in the country, has sparked widespread protests in the US as well as the entire world with the Black Lives Matter movement gaining momentum.
Devvarman felt while it was important to speak out on the injustice happening in the US, it’s important not to turn a blind eye to similar instances in our own backyards.
“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.
Recalling his childhood, Devvarman revealed he faced a lot of racism for hailing from the north-east. The 35-year-old who was born in a Tripura family in Guwahati shifted to Chennai at the age of eight.
“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.
“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,” he continued.
Devvarman felt Tamil Nadu embraced him after he moved there and didn’t discriminate against him during his career but recalled an incident when the Tamil Nadu government denied him prizes after he won a medal in Asian Games as he wasn’t from the state.
Indian athletes remain usually silent when it comes to speaking against authorities. Devvarman felt athletes in India are still a small minority making them vulnerable to a backlash.
“It is a combination of fear and hope. If people are afraid of speaking against a certain government, then they are afraid. Whichever government was in power, the athletes were not speaking out,” he said.
“And the truth is, no matter what you say, India is far from a sporting nation until we become a real sporting nation where at least 500 or thousand people are making money simply by playing sport and not through jobs from the government. I don’t think there are enough professional athletes in India. That’s the problem,” he added.
Devvarman had a fine career winning gold medals at the Commonwealth and Asian Games in 2010. He also reached the final of the Chennai Open in 2009. However, at the age of 32, injuries forced Devvarman to announce his retirement from the sport.
Watch Somdev Devvarman’s full interview with The Indian Express here: