The death of a 17-year old boy on the 24th of March in a locality of Greater Noida, and the subsequent accusation of the involvement of five Nigerian students, has led loose a spate of attacks against all Africans living in the area. In such a racially tinged atmosphere, it is time to introspect whether we, as a nation, are as hospitable as we claim to be.
In the wake of 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, an area where incidents of brutal violence on innocent African students in public spaces such as malls and bus stops have occurred in recent days. The failure of the government to take any definite action to secure the safety of the students has further contributed to their helplessness. On being questioned about his views on such incidents, a student from South Sudan 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 the Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath? Why isn’t he doing anything to help us? Had it been just one American or British student who had been attacked, everyone including the Prime Minister would’ve been actively probing into the matter. Why isn’t it so with African people?”
What started it all
On Friday, the 24th of March 2017, 17 year old Manish Khari, had gone missing from his neighbourhood in Greater Noida. His parents accused five Nigerian students, who lived a single house away from them of having “eaten up” their child and went so far as to raid their refrigerator for possible “remains”. The boy, who was subsequently returned home, later died of a cardiac arrest following a drug overdose. The Nigerian neighbours were now accused of having forcibly drugged him, and were brutally beaten by a mob, and only then detained by the police who acquitted them for lack of evidence.
The fact that the two Nigerians had apparently been spotted taking two dogs into their house a few days earlier, had led the neighbours to make the absurd accusation of cannibalism. Residents of the locality have also complained that the Nigerians were a disturbance to the neighbourhood. However, two Tanzanian neighbours of the boy, Lisa and Jessica, who are temporarily staying in the international hostel at Sharda University for fear of their safety, remarked that prior to this incident, they had not caused disturbances of any kind.
An inhospitable climate for African Students
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 1 April 2017, after which they will have to pay 300 USD if they wish to extend their stay.
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 to, their perspective of India has been shaped by the many Indians living in their countries, who’ve managed to integrate themselves fairly well. On being asked whether they have the same perspective now, the reply came 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.”
Possible Impact of such hate crimes on Indo-African relations
A large chunk of the Indian diaspora lives in African countries, many of whom have profitable businesses there. When questioned whether they think that there will be a possible retaliation against Indians living in their own countries, many replied that there were many chances of it happening. 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.”
While the government remains in denial about Africans facing racist attacks in India, these incidents shall inevitably hamper the Indian government’s attempts to woo students and medical tourists from the African continent.
A trend of growing intolerance against African students
Reflecting on the immense prejudice that he faces daily, Adam, a South Sudanese student of Sharda University remarked that the adage of Atiti devo bhawa (The guest is akin to god), which acts as a leitmotif in several Indian tourism commercials, should be changed to Atiti kuto bhava (The guest is akin to a dog). Students like him feel that they’re treated like “zoo animals” in public spaces such as the metro, where they’re blatantly stared at and fall victim to lewd, racially charged comments. One student remarked, “Children come up to us and shout “bhoot!” (ghost) before running away.”
It is depressing that we, who as a histocrically colonised 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.
Image Credits: Association of African Students in India