"India Needs To Be Held Accountable For Racially Motivated Attacks"
NEW DELHI: Videos of a Nigerian man tied to a pole and being brutally thrashed by a crowd in Malviya Nagar have recently gone viral, bringing to the fore once again the capital city’s racist underbelly. The Nigerian man was accused of theft and beaten mercilessly, with police saying that the incident followed an attempted robbery on September 24 for which an FIR had been filed. As an FIR was registered, the police -- on reaching the spot -- arrested the injured man and took him into custody.
The harrowing videos show the man repeatedly pleading, “please forgive me,” as the crowd thrashes him. The videos were posted to Facebook by Ezeugo Nnamdi Lawrence II, who wrote: “Lawlessness in modern India, a Blackman is accused of theft and such cruelty meted on him by the justice seeking good people of the nation. This goes a long way to proof how much humanity exist in the world, and calls for a review of the Indo-African relationship as in all mutuality and respect is lost. This incidence occurred on the 24th of september, and we highly condemn such acts towards a fellow African.”
“This is clearly a racially motivated attack,” Lawrence -- who is the National University Coordinator of the Association of African Students in India -- told The Citizen. “Such brutal manhandling would not have happened if the victim was a citizen of America or the UK; it would not have happened if he wasn’t black.”
Lawrence added that many are using theft to justify the violence.Some of the comments on the video demonstrate this, with users using the ruse of theft to justify the beating. “They did right these (sic). Black are selling drugs in India and spooling the youth well done beat him more,” reads one such comment. “The police haven’t as yet established what, if anything, was stolen. Even so, theft cannot be used to justify what was done,” Lawrence counters.
The incident is the latest in a string of attacks on African nationals in India, with New Delhi seeing a majority of such attacks. In March this year, Nigerian students were attacked in Greater Noida after a Class 12 student died of a drug overdose. Some people who were participating in a candlelight vigil for the deceased student attacked four Nigerian students, accusing them of forcing the boy to consume drugs. The stereotype of Nigerians in India as drug peddlers is often perpetuated, prompting harassment and often violence.
While the Ministry of External Affairs condemned the Greater Nodia attack at the time, Lawrence points out that empty rhetoric isn’t enough. “The MEA needs to take this issue seriously,” Lawrence tells The Citizen. “It’s a matter of international relations. A citizen tied to a pole, mercilessly beaten and treated worse than an animal is a matter that should prompt international condemnation. The Indian government needs to be held accountable.” No official condemnation has as yet been issued on the Malviya Nagar attack, despite a few weeks having passed.
The frequency of racially motivated violence in India has prompted a political reaction from African nations, a recent example being the boycott of “Africa Day” celebrations in India. Envoys from several African nations wrote a letter to the Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj condemning the “racism and Afro-phobia" prevalent in India, and boycotting the annual event.
The protest came in the wake of the brutal murder of a Congolese national, who was chased and thrashed in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj neighbourhood in May 2016. MT Olivia -- who taught foreign languages as at a private institute in New Delhi -- succumbed to his injuries after he was rescued and rushed to a hospital.
Other recent incidents include a Tanzanian woman who was stripped and beaten following a road accident in Bengaluru in February last year. The 21 year old Tanzanian student was assaulted and partially stripped by a mob in Bangalore, after a Sudanese student's car ran over and killed a local woman. The crowd chased the young woman and "removed her top," and her three friends -- also Tanzanians -- were harassed as well. Another incident to receive some attention was when three African students were attacked by a mob in New Delhi’s Rajiv Chowk Metro Station. A video posted to YouTube shows the three students being beaten with belts, shoes, rods and glass, with the police making a half-hearted attempt to intervene.
Despite condemnations by the MEA and promises to look into incidents, little has been done on the ground, as attacks -- as demonstrated by the Malviya Nagar beating -- seem to continue with impunity.
“We have to remember that in addition to the political relationship between India and African nations, there is a social relationship… India is a young nation, as are most African nations, and our friendship and relationship therefore is also very young. It is sad that the seeds of hatred are being sown in such a nascent relationship, to the point that it’s in danger of evolving into something none of us will be able to stomach,” Lawrence points out.
“It is imperative, therefore, for good citizens to come out and condemn such attacks. In the last few months, we have been running a sensitisation campaign, involving African students, students from India’s northeast, and dalit students,” Lawrence continues. “We are doing it even though sensitisation campaigns should be the government’s job.”
Attacks targeting people from India’s northeast can be seen in parallel with the attacks on Africans, as in those cases too racial slurs are often used, and the violence fits into the paradigm of a ‘hate crime.’ Dalits and other minorities are often targeted in a similar manner, with their identity being a key reason for the discrimination.
“India’s caste system makes it very easy to perpetuate violence against minorities, be it migrants or locals,” says Lawrence. “The fact of the matter is that India is a deeply discriminatory society, with levels of discrimination amongst its own fabric, with this caste/social system being transferred to migrants.”
The Citizen has spoken with several African students and migrants to India over the years, and most share the belief that their skin colour and nationality are putting their lives increasingly at risk. We are lumped together in this stereotype that all Africans are peddling drugs, or sex,” one student, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Citizen. “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.”
For a country that prides itself on its relationship with African nations -- with Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosting a massive Indo-African summit -- needs to address the issue of racism in its society with a lot more than just empty rhetoric.