Sunday, February 07,2016

NEW DELHI: Last year India hosted the African nations with pomp and miniscule attention to detail, with visiting dignitaries being made to dress for the occasion in custom made clothes. But the big elephant amongst all the good talk about cooperation, trade and ties was Indian racism that no one in New Delhi at least was keen on recognising and discussing.

On the sidelines, however, African officials expressed their deep concern about this discrimination against their nationals in India, and the largely ambivalent attitude of Indian political parties towards the violence. A senior Ambassador here pointed towards this, maintaining that even more than business and trade it was essential for the Indians to be made more conversant with the African countries, their culture and their people “to at least try and end this obvious prejudice and discrimination.” This official was more polite than others who told this reporter on the sidelines of the summit that they were shocked to see how racist India was becoming.

The political apathy is of deep concern to the African governments and their people with dark skinned persons now not willing to visit India. African students in Delhi and other parts of the country are on record now expressing fear for their safety. Many told reporters from The Citizen that their friends are no longer seeking admission in Indian universities, even as they said that they are seriously thinking of leaving altogether. A young woman who is studying here in Delhi University was categorical, “my family wants me to come back, but I still have a year to go for my degree, I just do not know what to do.”

The attack on the young business management student in Bengaluru is indicative of all that is wrong here.

Africans here maintain:

1. We are all clubbed together by Indians, we are all black people , “habshi they call us” , and there is no attempt to even understand that Africa like Asia is made up of different countries.

This was evident in Bengaluru attack where the student from Tanzani was beaten up for a crime she did not commit. A Sudanese driver had been involved in a tragic accident earlier, but clearly the mob was making no differentiation between the one and the other, and attacked the young girl in violence that was racist and anti-woman at the same time. The Sudanese driver was beaten but managed to flee. The mob then caught hold of the young girl driving by with her friends, who beat up the students, stripped her and refused to let her leave.

2, The political leaders support the violence

Here too, the Congress led government in Karnataka has sought to justify the violence, by denying that the girl was stripped by the mob. “The girl was overpowered by the mob. They stripped her naked,” Bosco Kaweesi, adviser to the All Africans Students’ Union, told reporters in Bangalore. “And she tried to enter a bus, the passengers pushed her outside. She tried to get an auto-rickshaw, they refused to take her. And she was running up and down when she actually had no clothes on.” This was corroborated by eye witnesses as well. She was running for her life on the road, but was blocked by the attackers who had stripped her of her clothes. However, state Home Minister G. Parmeshwara told the media that she had not been stripped in what is a clear lie. This kind of cover up gives a signal to the police force, that is complicit in inaction, to also not chase the case, and ensure the arrest of the culprits. So far only five persons have been arrested.

Sources said that the African envoys have raised this issue informally at different levels, looking for ‘solutions’ but finding none. The student told a TV channel on the phone, “right now we are scared of every Indian around us.” The African students have repeatedly pointed towards the constant threat to their security, with people harassing them on the streets, shouting comments, and making fun of their colour. “We are lucky if it stops at this,” a student confided.

At the airports the African visitors are detained, and usually subjected to an extra frisk and search. “We are lumped together in this stereotype that all Africans are peddling drugs, or sex,” the students point out. No one in India is willing to make a distinction.

A student who is leaving for his country added, “Indians seem to be more racist than the white western countries.”

And though he did not add, there is a clear obsession here with the fair and the white. The ‘fair and lovely’ creams play on this phobia against the dark skin, with marital advertisements all promising ‘fair and beautiful’ girls as prospective brides.

Even tourist friendly Goa turned completely racist in 2013 with a popular beach putting up signs reading “Say No to Nigerians, Say No to Drugs.” The placards compared the Africans to cancer and wild animals while the authorities looked on.In 2014, the newly elected Aam Aadmi legislator Somnath Bharti led a vigilante mob to abuse and beat up Nigerian women in Delhi. Why? They were running a drug and sex racket, said he. And how had he come to that conclusion? That is what the residents of the colony where they lived maintained was the response.

The incidents against African students fill a volume. In all cases the action has been niggardly and the political response pathetic. A video clip of an assault on African students at a metro station went viral. They were beaten up by a mob and were hospitalised. The African envoys asked the Ministry of External Affairs to ensure an enquiry and action against the guilty. Nothing was heard of this since. In Bangalore a mob chased and beat up African students. The consequent inaction by the authorities, students and officials from Africa point out, has helped strengthen this environment of prejudice against the students here.

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