Africans in India say racism is constant

2016-06-10 11:31
(File, AP)

(File, AP)

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New Delhi - Africans working and studying in India say every encounter with Indians is fraught with fear and anger.

Odole Emmanuel Opeyemi is among hundreds of thousands of Afrians in India, drawn by etter education and work opportunities. He says rampant racism is a daily battle in a country where their dark skin places them at the lower end of a series of strictly observed social hierarchies.

Indians routinely perceive Africans as either prostitutes or drug dealers.

The daily indignities Africans suffer usually go undocumented both by the police and local media.

New students

That changed on May 20, when Congolese student Masunda Kitada Oliver was attacked in a dispute over hiring an autorickshaw in New Delhi. Three men who insisted they had hired the vehicle beat him up and hit him on the head with a rock, killing him, according to police.

The death made the city's African students, diplomats and business owners rally together demanding quick justice. The African heads of mission in New Delhi issued a statement asking the government to address "racism and Afro-phobia" in the country.

"Given the pervading climate of fear and insecurity in Delhi, the African heads of mission are left with little option than to consider recommending to their governments not to send new students to India, unless and until their safety can be guaranteed," the statement said.

The killing and the outrage it sparked drew an unusually prompt reaction from local police and India's foreign ministry. Two men suspected in the attack were arrested within a day, while a third remains at large.

Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted that her ministry asked for "stringent action against the culprits." But the ministry also said all criminal acts involving Africans should not be seen as racial in nature.

The bad press the country got as a result of the killing prompted India's glacial government machinery to move quickly to try to address the issue.

An India-Africa art exhibition was cobbled together at government expense and on short notice. A protest planned by African students in the Indian capital was put off after government officials reached out to African student groups.

The police and government began holding workshops in neighbourhoods across the city to try to sensitise local residents about their African neighbours.

Prejudice is everywhere in India. The matrimonial columns of the newspaper are strictly segregated along caste lines. Landlords in cities including New Delhi and Mumbai deny homes to people based on race and religion.

Gang up

Indians from northeastern India, who look different because of their Asian features, are routinely harassed and have to endure being called names on the streets.

But the worst kind of discrimination is reserved for the Africans. In a country obsessed with fair skin and skin lightening beauty treatments, their dark skin draws a mixture of fear and ridicule.

Landlords shun Africans in all but the poorest neighbourhoods and in those they are charged unusually high rent.

Strangers point at them and laugh or gang up and assault them.


Read more on:    india  |  racism

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