Africans Allege Racism in India

Akash Vashishtha and Rohit Wadhwaney
2016.02.09
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160209-racism-620 African Students Association members hold signs during a protest in Hyderabad in support of a Tanzanian national assaulted by a local mob in Bengaluru, Feb. 6, 2016.
AFP

When Kenyan national Jonnathan Makau came to India in 2014 in search of higher education, the last thing he expected was to be subjected to racism.

But nearly two years since his arrival in Delhi, he says he is used to the discriminatory attitude of Indians toward his community.

“Just days after arriving in India, my African friends and I decided to go out for dinner. We tried entering three restaurants, each of them turned us away. They gave excuses such as the restaurant is booked for a private function, or that it is full,” the 23-year-old post graduate student at Delhi University told BenarNews.

“That’s when I learned that discrimination against colored folks, especially those from Africa, is quite the norm here,” he said.

“People pass racist remarks as they pass us by. Most up-market restaurants refuse us entry. More often than not, public transportation, such as taxis and auto-rickshaws don’t bother stopping for us,” the Nairobi native said.

Although “being subjected to such behavior hurts,” Makau said he considered himself lucky that he had not been violently assaulted – unlike a Tanzanian student in south India’s Karnataka state.

Slapped, stripped and paraded naked

On Jan. 31, a 21-year-old woman from Tanzania was allegedly slapped, stripped and paraded naked on the streets of Bengaluru by a mob in an apparent racial attack.

The attack occurred minutes after a Sudanese national driver struck an Indian woman on the same road and fled the scene, according to police.

The hit-and-run enraged onlookers who vented their anger on the Tanzanian woman, police said.

John Kijazi, Tanzania’s high commissioner to India, said the incident was a combination of mob justice and racism.

“She was attacked because she was black, just like the person who was driving the vehicle and caused the accident. There is an element of mob justice to this, but there is also an element of racism,” Kijazi told The Indian Express.

Kijazi, who is dean of the African diplomatic corps in Delhi, said the Tanzanian woman was some distance away from the accident site when the mob targeted her.

“She was not involved at all,” Kijazi said.

As protests by African expatriates erupted in the cities of Bengaluru and Hyderabad in the wake of the incident, police arrested five people in connection with it. The suspects included a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

‘A matter of shame’

Even as the Karnataka government denied that the attack was racially motivated, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju said the incident was “a matter of shame for the entire nation.

“We will not allow racial discrimination to take place in the country. For 200 years, India was enslaved by foreigners. We have been fighting racial discrimination. But in India itself, if there is racial discrimination, the government will take it very seriously,” Rijiju told reporters.

While Africans in India expressed relief that the incident would shed light on racial discrimination, they expressed doubt that it could change attitudes among Indians.

“It seems they, Indians, see us as animals,” Ebolo Omogit, 32, a cotton merchant from Nigeria living in Delhi for the last three years, told BenarNews.

“We are laughed at, called names when we go out on the streets. Restaurants and clubs turn us away. About two months back, a friend and I parked our car in a designated parking spot. When we returned to the car, all four tires had been deflated,” Omogit said.

“These might seem like minor occurrences, but they leave you somewhat scarred,” he said.

Most restaurant and club owners denied having turned away people because of their skin color.

But a manager of a restaurant in south Delhi’s posh Vasant Vihar area, a locality frequented by Africans, said he “often refused entry to blacks” because his Indian guests felt uncomfortable in their presence.

“There is a belief, right or wrong, that black people start brawls. On some occasions we have let them in and realized our Indian customers have walked out,” the manager told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.

Police said they treated all complaints, regardless of which country the complainant is from, with the same seriousness.

“The police are fully sensitized… (and there are) elaborate security measures,” Delhi’s Deputy Commissioner of Police Rajan Bhagat told BenarNews.

The irony

Ghana national Shadrach A. Owusu, who is pursuing a master’s degree in computer applications in Chandigarh city, said he was shocked by the racial discrimination he faced in India.

“It is very hard for us to find rental accommodation. And when we do, they expect us to shell out more money as deposit because they think we might run away with their fans and tube lights, or that we may run away without paying our bills,” Owusu told BenarNews.

Owusu added that he had no intention of staying back in India once he completed his studies later this year, because the attitude of Indians toward black people was “too regressive.”

“It is shocking, to say the least,” he said, adding, “ironic, because this is happening in the land of Gandhi, who led the fight against racial discrimination in South Africa before he returned to India to fight for India’s independence.”

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