Combating prejudice against Africans
India has a great deal to lose by mistreating and beating up Africans who come to study or live in the country. The latest attacks on March 27, 2017, on Nigerian students residing in Greater Noida bordering New Delhi and part of the National Capital Region were breaking news on all TV news channels and front-page headlines in leading newspapers.
While playing up ad-nauseam, the sensational news story is supposed to increase the viewership of TV channels and boost dwindling newspaper readership, it inflicts massive harm to India-Africa bilateral relations, Indian investment in Africa, and Indian diaspora in Africa. The medium and long term repercussions and extensive damage to India's goodwill internationally is on the angry, racist, and violent Indian goons who assault and injure Africans.
The tragedy is that this is not an isolated incident resulting in injuries to Africans inflicted by boorish locals. Such events have been happening in the major metros for years, especially in and around Delhi. Sure, the media reports these incidents, but no lasting remedial action is devised or implemented. After some hue and cry, the police hold some meetings, increase patrolling, and it then fades away until the next flare-up.
African envoys make loud protests to the Indian government, and the response is worded in diplomatic jargon. But no sustained campaign is launched through the media, on the streets, or in higher educational institutions to inform, educate and sensitise local Indians about racial discrimination and India-Africa cooperation on many fronts and levels. The media rarely reports on African affairs, leave alone African success stories. The newspapers report only when an Indian company secures a major contract, starts an investment project or expands its operations in Africa.
The woes of Africans living in India are compounded by frequent news items when they are apprehended at airports with drugs. Thus, a sustained image of almost all Africans as drug carriers has frozen in the minds of Indians. Or they think that African women make money by means of sex work. Africans -- from 54 countries -- are viewed and dealt with on the basis of these media stereotypes.
It's high time we eviscerate this stereotyped image and consider the fact that thousands of African students are obtaining higher education in India and hundreds of African patients come for specialised medical treatment. If these students are treated with concern and understanding when they are away from their home in a complicated society, they will go back as the most effective ambassadors of India. Similarly, if the patients and their relatives are treated with care and sympathy in India, they will go back as the top promoters for India.
But, no! In their racist and brutal reaction to any situation with Africans, all this never comes to mind. No thought for the massive Indian investments in Africa, hundreds of joint ventures, and especially the three million Indian diaspora in Africa. More than 1.2 million Indians live in South Africa; another 200,000 live in East Africa and smaller numbers in thousands in many countries. These Indians can be attacked and injured in revenge, their shops and factories can be damaged or destroyed, and their goodwill washed away.
At the national level, the Indian government is making special efforts to woo Africa and obtain the cooperation of the 54 African countries for mutual benefit and as a block for votes in the international fora like the United Nations. India has been holding India-Africa Summit with all African countries since 2008 to promote bilateral relations in many spheres.
The most recent such meeting in Delhi in 2015 was attended by almost all heads of African states, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi made particular efforts to welcome and meet each one of them. Cooperation in many fields was proposed and agreed. Investment and export credits were top features. Between summit meetings, like the conclave in New Delhi earlier this month carries the economic agenda further. Indian has mounted a diplomatic outreach to Africa with visits by its President, Vice President, the Prime Minister and ministers to African states.
However, repeated boorish behaviour and violent assaults wipe out all these goodwill gestures while severely damaging India's reputation and the fate of Indian diaspora contributing to the development of Africa. So what can be done to correct this pathetic situation?
First, the police must crack down on all accused of racial insults and violence to Africans. A thorough investigation, a fool-proof prosecution, and strict punishment by the authorities should be our primary response. And that's not enough; the media must report the penalty as a deterrent to all others.
Second, in addition to pacifying diplomatic statements by the External Affairs Ministry, other Ministries and organisations must be roped in to launch a vigorous and aggressive public campaign to promote racial harmony.
Third, the Public Diplomacy division of the MEA should launch a campaign to inform and educate Indian students in high schools, universities, and institutes of higher learning about Africa and its importance to India. Africa is still undiscovered by most Indians. All they know about Africa is the cricket teams from South Africa and Zimbabwe!
Four, in addition to offering higher education and medical treatment for Africans, India should urgently establish branches of its universities and specialist hospitals, at least in east, west, central and South Africa. These projects have languished for long in the preliminary stages and now the time has come to implement them urgently to reduce the flow of African students and patients to India.
The prejudice and violence against Africans in India will not go away anytime soon. An active, drastic, and sustained action is overdue.
(Kul Bhushan is a media commentator who was a newspaper editor in Kenya for four decades. Views are personal.)