The recent news of attacks on African students in the northern Indian city of Greater Noida near Delhi have apparently exposed the deeply rooted harsh reality of “racism” in the country.
Some four Nigerian students were attacked by a mob after a young boy died reportedly of drug overdose, with his parents and relatives suspecting Africans to be the drug suppliers. While India responded swiftly and promised action against the perpetrators, the attacks exposed the discriminatory nature of people based on race and colour, say experts. “The attacks were so gruesome that the African envoys also condemned them, calling them xenophobic and racial. This means no good for India, which now caters to a huge number of African students in the area of education,” said Prof Ajay Singh, a Delhi-based expert.In fact, after its independence, India emerged as the hand of hope for Africans, especially its young population. As per the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, Africa is among the top 10 nations that sends large number of students annually to India.
Students from African countries like Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Sudan, among others come to India at a growing annual rate of more than 10 percent to study medicine, social sciences and management. As per the Association of African Students in India, there are about 25,000 African students in India, a fifth of who live in and around the national capital. Not only do the students come with hope for a better future here, but also a belief that they will be accepted. However, the reality is different. “India was a land of my dreams. It is the destination for higher education for us. Back home, we look forward to coming to India, learn something and take it back to our country. However, my experience has been a very difficult one. I have been teased, abused, cheated and discriminated here. I want to go back now,” said Alfred Aguim, an African student.
Experts recalled the special bond that India and Africa have shared historically. “It was in 1893 when these relations were cemented based on the experiences of a young lawyer from India who was thrown out of a train in South Africa based on his race. The lawyer was so moved at this racial discrimination that it changed the course of his life,” said Prof Singh. “He stood against exclusion on the basis of race and colour and became a ray of hope for people around the world. Mahatma Gandhi, as he later came to be known as, also became a campaigner for non-violence after this incident. For those who were abused and excluded because of their colour, Gandhi represented hope for an equal world,” he added.
Another international affairs expert S.K. Gupta said: “A century later, Africans across the world continue to view India as the land of Gandhi. India also played a crucial role in not only ideologically supporting Africa’s independence but also accepting its people as its own.” “Till today, India-Africa relationship stands strong politically, economically and ideologically, cemented by Gandhi’s philosophy and Nelson Mandela’s struggle against racism that inspired the world,” he added.
In fact, India had strongly supported Mandela’s fight against apartheid. Mandela, who was inspired all his life by Gandhi, had famously said that India deserved a place of glory among Africa’s closest allies whose contribution to the abolishment of apartheid and the making of South Africa particularly was undeniable and immeasurable. Colour, however, continues to attract scorn and things are no different with African women. “When I move around Delhi, I am aware of the stares, of eve-teasers and words being said. But I choose to keep quiet. This is how life has been here for me. But after these attacks, I fear going out of the house,” said Monica Moeka, a Nigerian student studying at Noida International University (NIU).
The NIU is itself a symbol of hope that education in India holds for international students, especially Asians. Nearly 1,000 students from different African countries are estimated to study here. After the attacks however, some students were wary of attending the university. “I have had a mixed experience in Delhi. Some of my friends accept me as I am, but there are others who link us with drugs and our women with prostitution. It is frustrating sometimes,” a Kenyan student Cisse-Mady said.
Drugs and prostitution are the most common allegations used against the African community in India. “Due to their colour and distinct facial features, African continue to be excluded and harassed. They are refused accommodation and end up being ghettoized which only adds to their troubles. These are signals of inherent racism and prejudices prevalent in the minds of the people which can only be addressed by sustained political and social efforts,” said Prof Gupta. However, India has a lot to lose if these attacks continue. This impact will not only be seen in the education sector. A significant affect could be felt in India-Africa trade relations as well which have been growing at an opportune rate of 25 percent in the last few decades.
In January, India had also hosted the India-Africa business summit to encourage investment in Africa and to help the continent’s development. Attacks like these and the continued stereotyping of Africans could push them out of the country and seek better opportunities across other Asian countries.Therefore, a stronger response is required from both the government and the civil society to address these concerns, said experts.