African Students protesting against the recent attacks on them

Atithi Devo Bhava?

In the wake of the several acts of violence that have been perpetrated against people from the African continent, I decided to interview a few Africans studying in Sharda University. It is an international university located in Greater Noida, which is an area that has housed most of the said incidents in recent days. When I asked a student from South Sudan about his views on the incident, he retorted, “What will you do by getting information? If the government is reluctant to do anything, what can you do?” Another student questioned, “Where is your Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath? Why isn’t he doing anything to help us?” One pointed out, “Had it been just one American or British student who had been attacked, everyone including Modi would’ve been actively probing into the matter. Why isn’t it so with African people?”

Ever since five Nigerian boys were accused of forcibly drugging a 17 year old boy in Greater Noida, there has been a stream of anti-African crimes in the area. In fact, prior to the discovery of said teenager, Manish Khari, family and neighbours of the boy had accused the Nigerians of “eating up” their son and had even gone so far as to inspect their refrigerators. The concern of the Kharis may have stemmed from the fact that some Nigerians have been complicit in drug-related crimes in the past. However, how does one excuse a baseless accusation of this magnitude? Residents of the locality where the Kharis and the Nigerians lived, a single house away from each other, have gone on record to complain that the Nigerians were a disturbance to the neighbourhood. They had apparently seen the Nigerians taking two dogs into their house a few days earlier which led to believe that they’d consumed them. This later became one the reasons which led them to believe that the Nigerians may be indulging in cannibalism. The more viable reasoning that they may have had taken those dogs to adopt or feed them does not seem to have occurred to the said residents. Two Tanzanian neighbours of the boy, Lisa and Jessica, who live in house B-12 and are currently staying at the international hostel at Sharda University, remarked that prior to this incident, there had been disturbances caused by the Nigerians in the locality.

The impact of such an accusation has been tremendous on the African Community in Greater Noida. Students are scared to venture out of their houses for fear of mob violence. Many are trapped within their houses, surviving at a dearth of food and money, while few volunteers have been supplying them with amenities. Those who have been provided accommodation by Sharda University have only been allowed to stay until Saturday, the 1st of April, after which they will have to pay 300 USD is they wish to prolong their stay. The African Association of Students of India (AASI) released a statement on the 1st of April saying that students were now free to go for classes from their houses, on the assurance that the Indian police would ensure their safety. However, it is safe to say that even then their freedom is heavily restricted. We are living in the largest democratic republic in the world, wherein foreigners of not even a single country but of an entire continent, are living in fear of being attacked anytime.

We seem to be forgetting that Africa is composed of FIFTY-FIVE different nations. Even if we disregard the fact that they have been lawfully pronounced innocent, it is grossly assumptious to blame all Africans for a wrongdoing that some Nigerians were “accused” of committing. This is akin to every Asian being held responsible and being beaten up for a crime that a Turkish national has been speculated to have committed in New York City. Then again, Turkey falls on two continents which would mean that every Asian, as well as European, would be regarded as answerable for that particular crime that wasn’t even committed in the first place. The point of this analogy is to aptly sum up the ignorance and homogenising tendency that some of our countrymen harbour.

Around five thousand African nationals study in Greater Noida alone. Indian universities such as Sharda University and Amity University regularly participate in college fairs in African countries to attract students into India. In the case of many students that I’ve spoken with, their perspective of India is shaped by the nature of Indians living in their countries who’ve managed to integrate themselves fairly well. When I asked them whether they have the same perspective now, they replied in a chorus, “NO, now we do not want to complete our higher education here. We will also advise other people from our countries not to come here to study. They should opt from countries such as China, where our friends are enjoying themselves freely, whereas we need police escort to even venture out of our colleges at this point of time.”
There is such a thing as an Indian Diaspora. Just as we have Africans living in India, there are a great number of Indians living in African countries as well. Most Indians in African countries go looking for business and end up setting up shops there. Many even marry natives. In Tanzania, there is an entire city called Indira Gandhi where the majority are Indians. When asked whether they think that there would be a negative reaction against Indians living in their own countries, many replied that there were many chances of it happening. In fact, such racist activity can tarnish our ties with African countries, and in a statement wherein the African Association of Students in India called for government support, they maintained:

“Failure to secure the lives and to ensure ‘maximum security’ in areas where African students live will entail us taking stringent actions.

  1. We will actively urge the African Union to cut all bi-lateral trade with India.
  2. We will ask African students in our respective countries to stop making India their study destination with immediate effect.
  3. We will call for a nationwide protest inviting all Students and people of the African diaspora here in India and as well international media houses for coverage.”

We are proud of our adage of Atiti Devo Bhava, but one African suggested to me that it should be changed to Atiti Kuto Bhava, in light of the immense prejudice that he has faced in India, not only now, but ever since he arrived. Children coming up to a black person in India and shouting “bhoot” before running away, and people staring at Africans in public spaces such as metros and passing lewd comments at them, treating them like “zoo animals” are common sightings here. Even in universities, such prejudice is embedded. According to some African students, many teachers teach in Hindi, a language that they do not understand, and when asked to switch to English, they’re told that the subject under discussion does not concern them.  One question that I asked every African student whom I came across was whether their classmates have come up to them to enquire about their safety and provide comfort, and the overwhelming response has been, “no.”

It is sad that we, who as a nation, have been on the receiving end of racism for hundreds of years, are active proponents of such a crime. The constant “othering” of minorities to assert dominance has rendered India into a racist nation. Just like the entire nation is enraged when Indians are discriminated against in other countries, say Australia, we should be equally furious when a similar crime is happening here.

Image Credits: Association of African Students in India

Swareena Gurung

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