Ties between India and African countries date back to the times of ancient civilisations. Along with geographical proximity, there are factors such as the cultural connect, colonial past and development hurdles that are more or less common to both and thus bring each other much closer in pursuit of common interests. India and Africa have historically shared a close relationship that predates independence of the nation-states themselves. India’s independence had a strong positive impact on anti-colonialism and freedom movements in Sub-Saharan African countries throughout the fifties and later in solidifying Afro-Indian unity via the Non-Alignment Movement. India played crucial role in creating international pressure on South Africa to put an end to Apartheid and also vocally supported Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights Movement in a racially segregated United States. The fight against racial discrimination is what unifies the two nations mostly. An incident occurred in South Africa in 1893 when Mahatma Gandhi was thrown off a train, because the young lawyer refused to leave his first class compartment, reserved for white passengers. This incident spurred him to take up his lifelong fight for equal rights that changed the history of both South Africa and India.
While the phenomenon of Africans facing casual racism in India is as old as the 1950s when the government of India first began to provide scholarships to Africans students to study in Indian Universities, it is the ferocity and frequency of violent attacks against them in the last few years that have now brought these issues into a sharp focus.
The Indian government insisted that the spate of attacks on Africans were not racism but an aloof phenomena of mob frenzies and opportunistic crimes but the real mirror of the picture was the combinations of both.
This is not just the problem with Law & Order but also with the prevalent racist attitudes and negative stereotypes in making the African community in India vulnerable to violence in the past couple of years. It must be considered that the fiasco against African students started from the mind boggling racist assumption of teenager’s, parents and neighbors, that Africans eat humans and had consumed their son. However this was a frivolous allegation confirmed by the police who subsequent to the raid on the African students’ houses found nothing. But this felonious act was not stopped and it was replaced with criminal stereotype that Africans had peddled drugs to the young boy and killed him with an overdose.
Racism has no particular definition where it can define the underlays and dealt with it. It is very important to distinguish between societal and individual racism besides an institutionalized policy for instigating racism and apartheid as well supported by the political and legal foundations of a country.
There has never been institutionalized policy of racism in India but on the grounds of color black is still deep rooted in societal prejudice that is impossible to get rid of from the India psyche. Simultaneously another aspect of negative stereotype has also been in existence of a parochialism in education curriculums, especially about African countries’ culture and customs in practice.
The spate of racist violent attacks on African nationals living in India has seen an enormous rise for the last two years. Racial prejudice against Africans has, of course, been endemic in Indian society for many years linked to historically embedded supremacist ideologies of both caste and colonialism.
Africans face a constant barrage of racism. Africans on the basis of everyday experience include being taunted on the street with overt racist slurs, denied accommodation by landlords and being stereotyped as drug-dealers, human flesh eater and sex workers. In addition, there have been a history of brutal racial attacks and murders and sexual violence.
- May 2016, a 24 year old Congolese national, a French teacher, was bludgeoned to death in New Delhi’s Vasant Kunj area, where he had gone to meet a friend.
- May 2016, over a dozen African nationals were attacked in South Delhi by locals who objected to their “free lifestyle”.
- February 2016, mob frenzies attacked a Tanzanian woman in Bengaluru, she was beaten up, stripped her cloth and paraded naked and set her car on fire.
- February 2016, in Hyderabad Nigerian student were assaulted in a roadside brawl by two locals.
- March 2015, five Africans were viciously attacked with stones by locals, who reportedly complained of Africans creating “nuisance” in the area.
- October 2014, a mob attacked 3 African student at Rajiv Chowk metro station for alleged eve teasing.
- January 2014, Aam Aadmi Party MLA Somnath Bharti led raids at residences of African women living in Malviya Nagar, Delhi. They were allegedly in possession of drugs and accused of running a prostitution racket.
The incidents of conflicts involving Africans in India are almost attributed to their community’s alleged drug abuse, drug peddling, and aggressiveness and so called violent nature. Racism in India tends to be viscerally ingrained as a part of the system, rather than as an acknowledged problem. It doesn’t raise enough solicitude towards humankind and goes largely unchallenged. That is perhaps due to the fact that racial violence against black people and Indians from the north-east stand balanced. We, actually, refuse to acknowledge racial societal prejudice that someplace lives or has been nurturing due to some antagonism amongst us, perhaps because it stand right in with a bunch of other stereotypes.
Indians may have been mistreated by the colonial masters, but once the British Raj ended, we ourselves usurped those roles and internalized like institutionalized policy of negative societal prejudice that blatantly has unjust mentality. The discrimination on the ground of color and complexion in the Indian society, of course, predates the arrival of the British, back to the Vedic caste system that favored the fair-skinned. Due to lack of better education for foreigners, it has been an insulting racial profiling that is continuing throughout the decades.
Lack of quality education options in India, especially in terms of its access to foreigners, and an increase in prosperity in African nations which has increasingly put Europe and North American Universities within reach, education in India has been a declining attraction for African students, even though the Indian government opens the door of scholarships and also granted to many African students. Most of those who come to India are attracted to the opportunity of cultural exchange with the Indian community but in real that doesn’t exist for them.
On April 3, the African envoys issued a strongly worded statement condemning the attacks in Greater Noida as “xenophobic and racial”, a terminology that the Indian Ministry of External Affairs referred to as “unfortunate”. But a policy of total denial of racism denotes a refusal to accept that a majority of Indians suffer from a dark complexion disdain syndrome, where dark skin has long been simultaneously associated with both lower caste and lower class. It also ignores the very common, deeply held misconceptions in the society about Africans.
In each of the cases, the police has declined the existence of any racism. However, student association and the Group of African Heads of Missions, as quoted by Al Jazeera that “the time had come to take up the issue at a higher level”. Ratcheting up efforts to contain the damage over attacks on African nationals, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had on 31st May 2016 announced a slew of steps including a country wide sensitization campaign and asserted that the veracity of murdered Congolese national wan not a racism.
According to Ministry of External Affairs as of December 2016, 40,035 Indians live in Nigeria out of which 40,000 are NRI Indians. There are 80,000 Indians living in Kenya, 20,000 of them are NRIs and 60,000 are persons of Indian origin (PIO), whereas in Democratic Republic of Congo there 9,000 NRIs and 25 PIOs. With such staggering number of Indians spread over in crucial African nations, if India does not look at methods to control the racial attacks on African nationals here, ties are definitely going to be affected.
The government needs to stop responding with defensiveness, as the charge is not of institutional racism, but of turning a blind eye toward disturbing societal prejudice which can be reduced if so endeavored. “The Indian government really needs to create awareness against “racism” with the help of the local media in regional languages, the media houses and the radio stations”.