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Racism comes out of the closet

While assaulting Africans, the mobs called them out as 'cannibals' and as 'criminals' Photograph: (WION)

WION Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India Mar 29, 2017, 11.00 AM (IST) Madhumita Saha

Indians often pat themselves on the back for the role its government played in protesting against apartheid in South Africa. It seems easy to be egalitarian and progressive when the issues are remote from home. Closer home, however, it is a different story.

 

India’s deep-rooted racial feelings, their disdain for anybody who is not fair-skinned, not possessing sharp features, or having slanted eyes, is ubiquitous. These suppressed racial feelings come out most menacingly whenever a tragic event occurs, rupturing our fragile fabric of self-constraint. 

 

This outburst of racist feelings is what we witnessed recently against African communities in Greater Noida. A boy died of drug overdose, and the mob went after an entire community of foreigners. 

 

For a group of Indians residing in the suburbs of New Delhi, the dark-skinned, flesh-eating, non-Hindi speaking African constitutes everything that is farthest away from their familiar world of values
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Is this xenophobia? No, it is racism. India, as a nation, does not harbour a blanket feeling of animosity to everything foreign. In that case, it would have been xenophobia. But we love white. It is black that we are uncomfortable with. For a group of Indians residing in the suburbs of New Delhi, the dark-skinned, flesh-eating, non-Hindi speaking African constitutes everything that is farthest away from their familiar world of values. 

 

We have failed to see the face of our neighbours, as Lalon, the late eighteenth century bengali song writer, would say. Echoing the same concept, a deeply agonised and perturbed Abdou Ibrahim of Association of African Students in India (AASI) said to WION, “We, Africans, have tried communicating and informing our Indian friends about ourselves, our continent, culture, countries...but it is not sufficient. Also, Indian too are somehow shy to approach Africans and be friends with them and break this false stereotype”. 

 

Ignorance breeds contempt. While assaulting Africans, the mobs called them out as “cannibals” and as “criminals”.

 

Will I stretch my argument a little too far if I say, this aspersion of cannibalism is derivative of the staunch anti-vegetarian feeling of the locals that has been furthered stoked by Yogi Adityanath’s decision to close down illegal meat shops. As one after another non-vegetarian outlets get closed down in Uttar Pradesh and other neighbouring states, the irked mob, some of whom could be jealous defendant of vegetarianism, seized the chance to mete out mob justice to the “wrong-doers” who are doubly perceived to be guilty of drug peddling and flesh-eating. 

 

Even when Africans have 'small argumente with an Indian persone”, the latter tries to bring on the mob.'
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While the attacks on Africans are making the headlines over the last two days, members of the community claim that they have been the daily victims of micro-aggression from their Indian neighbours. Speaking to WION, Ibrahim brought out the helplessness of their everyday existence in the country. According to him even when Africans have “small argumente with an Indian persone”, the latter tries to bring on the mob. Worst still, as the Indians speak Hindi, they often turn the mob against the African who are not fluent in the language. Often it so happens, according to Ibrahim, that the onlookers attack them, turning an African into “dead victime”. 

 

Reportedly, the African community has tried consistently to communicate to authorities that in times of disputes, the parties involved should send their complaints to police. After all, the police force is there to take care of situations like these. But a dejected Ibrahim points, every time acts of “mob justice” and “hate-racism” have gotten the better of ideas, such as “humanity, acceptance and dialogues”. 

 

So far, the Indian government, irrespective of the political ideology in power, has been relentless in appropriating the anti-apartheid narrative. This is happening even though the African nations are getting increasingly vocal about the limitations of Gandhi’s protest movements against racism in his time. Basking in the glory of Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement in South Africa against the White government, the nation-state considers itself to be the vanguard of movements for securing the rights of coloured people. However, in terms of practise, the Indian government, evidently, is doing meagre little to provide safety and security to African nationals residing in the land of Gandhi. 

 

Basking in the glory of Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement in South Africa against the White government, the nation-state considers itself to be the vanguard of movements for securing the rights of coloured people
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The frustration comes out clearly in speaking to the senior adviser of AASI. As the representative figure of the continent’s student organisation in India, Ibrahim points out that, being a “superpower”, why can’t the Indian government “sensitize” the communities, politicians and media houses about Africa. Additionally, there should be provision in the universities for African students to learn Hindi, so as to enable “smooth” communication between the locals and immigrants. 

 

These are all necessary steps. Incidentally, if one goes to the US as a student, the university authority does make it a point to help one with english proficiency free of cost. Without implying that such a step will solve all the alienation one suffers from being in a foreign land, it is definitely a place to start. 

 

Like many in the African community, Ibrahim feels that “crime is rising (in India) and the country is becoming more hostile”. There could be wider international implication of these violent acts. Ibrahim suspects that the diplomatic and economic relations between India and African countries will “deteriorate”. Nigeria is one of the largest producers and exporters of oil to India. Also, many Indians do reside in Nigeria too. So, Ibrahim does apprehend that if the Indian government does not take immediate action to stop such racist reactions from getting out of hand, there will be repercussions.

 

And, paying lip service to Gandhi won’t save India from its own wrongdoing.

(WION)

Madhumita Saha

The writer is an academic-turned journalist. She taught history at Drexel University and New York University before joining WION.

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