Prejudice and violence against Africans tarnish India’s image (Column: Political Circus)

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Prejudice and violence against Africans tarnish India’s image (Column: Political Circus)

The continued presence of insensate prejudice and brutal violence in public life has again been highlighted by the recent attacks on African students in Greater Noida in Uttar Pradesh, a township near New Delhi.

With its well-kept and well-lit roads, bustling malls and shopping arcades and rows of high-rise residential complexes, Greater Noida — like Gurugram in Haryana — is typical of a booming India whose affluent citizenry have been compared by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen with the denizens of California.

But in the midst of the razzmatazz lurk ill-bred and ill-educated louts ready to vent their spleen on anyone who either rouses their antipathy, like Africans or people from India’s northeast with their Mongoloid features, or looks to the ruffians like an easy prey like a woman walking alone.

There have been far too many incidents of mob violence in recent months to be brushed aside as the occasional rampages of hooligans which can be controlled by stricter policing. Evidently, a deep personal and societal flaw is at work.

The sprawling metropolises where these acts of depredations take place are too large for the victims to feel safe. Hence, the advice to African students by an association of students from the continent to stay indoors for some time.

But such a precautionary measure is hardly feasible in the long run considering that there are an estimated 1,500 African students in India. They need, therefore, to go to their academic institutions apart from visiting friends.

However, they do not feel safe not only while going about their daily business but also where they stay since the landlords are generally wary and disdainful about their presence.

The incident in October 2015, when a Delhi government minister urged the police in Delhi’s Khirki area to raid a flat without warrant to check whether the Africans living there were taking drugs was an example of how biases and preconceived notions drive a section of Indians.

In Greater Noida, for instance, the suspicion that a 16-year-old boy died of an overdose of drugs given to him by his Nigerian friends led to the latter being beaten up by a gang of thugs.

Not only that, the rowdies even invaded the flat where the Nigerians stayed to check whether they had kept human flesh in their refrigerator.Subsequently, a Nigerian told a TV interviewer about the belief among some Indians that the Africans are cannibals.

If Greater Noida saw the latest incident of violence against Africans, Bengaluru, the vaunted Silicon valley of India, was an earlier scene of unchecked mob rule when a 21-year-old Tanzanian woman was assaulted and stripped when she inadvertently came to an accident site where a Sudanese man in a car had run over a local woman.

Although the authorities routinely deny any racist sentiments behind the attacks, there is little doubt that the known dislike for dark skin among Indians — which explains the preference for fair brides in matrimonial columns and the marketing of fairness creams — combined with weird notions about the citizens of the 5-nation cntinent, viz. the use of drugs and promiscuity, are among the reasons for the attacks.

The fact that the whites are very rarely targeted in a similar fashion although the women may be subjected to indecent attention is evidence of the racist factor involving the Africans.

It might have been expected that at least cities like Delhi and Bengaluru with their greater exposure to foreign travellers and their varied lifestyles would not display the kind of primitive insularity which can manifest itself with sudden violence at short notice.

But the recurring singling out of Africans and the people from the northeast by anti-social elements has underlined the need for combating this menace at both the administrative and social levels if the country’s reputation is to be saved and incidents such as the exodus of the north-easterners from Bengaluru in 2012 are to be avoided.

Even if racist attacks on Indians are being reported from America and Australia because of the rise of the far-right xenophobic sentiments, they are still mercifully on a relatively smaller scale and at an individual level.

However, the motivation is largely similar — animus towards the people of a different colour and culture.

It also appears possible that in India, the people in general have become a great deal more aggressive than before. The attacks on the doctors in Maharashtra, which led to a strike by them, were an ominous sign of the volatility prevalent in public life.

The burning of as many as 40 buses in Bengaluru with Tamil Nadu number plates during the Cauvery river water dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka last year is another example of how cities in India are seemingly sitting on a powder keg which can explode at any time.

In most of these cases, the official response has been belated. Although the police cannot be present everywhere, they should be more visible in the areas where the Africans live and study to foster a sense of security.

The media also has to play a greater role in dispelling myths and false notions about Africa.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached atamulyaganguli@gmail.com)

This is published unedited from the IANS feed.