Millennium Post

Condemnable violence

Condemnable violence
In India, the subject of racism has once again come under the spotlight after Nigerian students in Greater Noida, a hub of private universities located a mere 40 km from the national capital, found themselves vulnerable to a wave of mob violence. For the uninitiated, tensions began to heat up after a high school student in Greater Noida's NSG Black Cats Enclave went missing on the evening of March 24. Rumours had started to spread that the boy was last seen with a group of Nigerians.

What followed was truly unfortunate. A mob forcefully entered the home of these Nigerian students, and when they could not find the teenager, a vicious rumour got around that these students were cannibals who had eaten him up. The teen reportedly returned home on the following morning but died of a suspected drug overdose. The police initially booked five Nigerian students for murder but were released later for lack of evidence. Since the incident, however, several international students of African origin have been violently targeted by mobs.

On Monday, four Nigerian students suffered injuries after being attacked by a group of locals. The incident took place when a group of more than 100 locals held a protest demanding that all Africans living in residential colonies in Greater Noida be asked to vacate their rented houses immediately. Despite the local administration's claims that it was not a race-related crime, one can't help but raise the spectre of racism, considering the allegations made against African students that they are disproportionately involved in drug trafficking, or accusations of cannibalism (reminiscent of a colonial mindset). It's racist to associate a particular crime with people of a particular skin tone.

On social media, video clips of African students getting brutally assaulted in a Greater Noida mall following Saturday's incident have only vitiated the atmosphere. Fortunately, the both the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh administration have been quick to act. Before these violent incidents turned into a full-fledged diplomatic row, the External Affairs Ministry assured of an impartial probe and said India was committed to the safety of foreigners in the country.

New Delhi remembers what happened last May when such attacks on African nationals caused a diplomatic crisis of sorts. Envoys of African nations had threatened to boycott the Africa Day celebrations of the Indian government before the Centre stepped in. Police officials in the Greater Noida area have arrested seven people for attacking the Nigerians and booked around 600 people rioting. However, the police must also investigate why five Nigerians were booked on the weekend for murder, an action that instigated the mobs in the first place.

African nationals have often complained of suffering racist slurs and ill-treatment. The recent spurt of violence against them is not a new phenomenon. Last May, a Congolese national was beaten to death by three men after an altercation over the hiring of an auto-rickshaw in the Vasant Kunj area of the national capital. Three months earlier, a mob in Bengaluru assaulted, stripped and paraded a 21-year-old Tanzanian student, in addition to setting fire to her car. By all accounts, her only fault was that she happened to pass through the same neighbourhood, where an hour before, a Sudanese student had run over and killed a resident.

What was particularly frightening about this incident was how the collective mob attacked a helpless woman based on her skin tone. In India, one even witnesses instances of racially-motivated collective mob action. Back in 2014, there was a frightening mob attack on three black men at a metro station in Delhi for allegedly misbehaving with women. The men were forced to climb up on top of a police booth as the baying mob thrashed at them with sticks and tried to pull them down.

The crowd pushed its way into the empty police booth to try to grab the terrified Africans cowering on the roof. And then there is the infamous Khirki Extension incident in the national capital, where a former minister in the Delhi government led a vigilante mob against the locality's African citizens for their alleged involvement in a drug and prostitution racket. It is once again imperative to understand that complaints of so-called drug and sex rackets against African citizens should be seen in the context of organised racism. Although the problem of racism is not limited to this country, the Indian state must be more sensitive to such incidents of violence.

The consequences of just paying mere lip service to the problem are massive. Millions of Indians work and live in Africa, and they could become vulnerable to senseless revenge attacks. With a long-standing cultural tradition of "Atithi Devo Bhava" (a guest is like God), it is the duty of governments to ensure the safety of all tourists and long-term foreign residents.

Quick response to attacks and sustained vigilance can at the very least put to rest the fears of the African community in India. Nonetheless, India must also come to grips with its strong racist streak and launch public awareness campaigns to stem the tide of colour prejudice. Popular culture, especially Bollywood and or television serials, have played a significant role in fostering such attitudes.

They often push dark-skinned characters to the margins to be caricatured. What's worse, there is a Rs 3,000-crore fairness cream industry hell bent on pushing a narrative that fairer skin is the only avenue to success, be it in your job or marriage. Top Bollywood stars endorse these products. Even the "Athithi Devo Bhava" campaign by Incredible India, which attempts to address issues of defrauding and ill-treating tourists, indulges in such marginalisation. Notice how all the tourists in the advertisements were all white tourists.
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