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Is India a racist country?

Debdeep Chakraborty suggests that the recent spate of attacks on Nigerians was not xenophobic.

Is India a racist country?
The recent statement by the heads of African missions accredited to India, following the mob attack on four Nigerians at a shopping mall in Greater Noida on March 27, seems to have been driven by emotions rather than facts. The statement termed the attacks on Africans in the country as xenophobic and racial and criticised the Indian government for failing to prevent such incidents. It also said that the attacks were not properly condemned by the government and called for an independent UN level investigation into the incidents. While the signs of anger, frustration, and disappointment in the statement given by the African envoys is justified, the usage of the words 'xenophobic' and 'racial' to define the attacks reveals diplomatic immaturity on the part of the African nations.

The word xenophobia refers to dislike or prejudice against anything foreign. The envoys had opined in their statement that prejudice existed against Africans in India and the attacks were due to racial differences. Taking a close look at what led to the assault on the Nigerians and the sequence of events that unfolded thereafter would show that the African envoys had erred in their assessment.

On March 25, a class XII boy from Greater Noida died due to suspected drug overdose. It was alleged that some Nigerians had forced the boy to inhale the drugs. Following a complaint from the teen's family, the police registered a FIR and detained five Nigerians. However, since there was no evidence, the Nigerians had to be released, after which, locals took out a candlelight march in protest and demanded arrests in the case. The protests soon turned violent, and a mob attacked four Nigerians.

Immediately after the attack, the Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement condemning the incident and the Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj spoke to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who promised a fair and impartial investigation by the police. Based on CCTV footage, five people were promptly arrested for the attack. Cases were also filed under various sections of IPC against a large number of individuals for the incident. Also, heavy security was deployed in the area, and the District Magistrate held meetings with representatives from local RWAs, the Bar Association, as well as the African community. The Acting High Commissioner of Nigeria was briefed by the Ministry of External Affairs about the steps taken by local authorities to ensure the safety of Nigerians living in the area.

Despite prompt action on the matter by the Centre as well as the state government - which brought the situation under control - the African envoys went ahead and issued a statement criticising India for not doing enough. What more could the Indian government have done? Further, the African envoys, even without waiting for the police investigation to get over, jumped to the conclusion that the attack was racist. An important thing to ponder upon is whether the behaviour of the mob would have been any different had the dead boy's family pointed the needle of suspicion towards people from a non-African country.

India is a democracy with pluralistic ethos where there is no place for any discrimination. However, it is also a stark reality that some Indians, though an insignificant minority, view Africans with fear and suspicion. This perception, which is neither based on race or colour of skin, has gained strength over a period primarily because many Nigerians are involved in serious crimes across the country.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, there were 59 Nigerian convicts out of the total 2,353 foreign convicts in Indian prisons, as on December 31, 2015. The number of Nigerian under-trials stood at 340 out of the total 3,795 foreign under-trials in Indian jails. It is estimated that Nigerians now control over 60 per cent of India's drug trade. Nigerian gangs, actively engaged in drug trafficking and online frauds, have mushroomed all over the country and much more are trying to gain a foothold, often resulting in brutal gang wars. In 2013, an estimated 5,000 Nigerians were living illegally in India. A large number of Nigerians are deported from India every year, but many of them manage to return with new identities.

Though unrelated to the unfortunate incident in Greater Noida, the African envoys would do well to apprise the Indian public about what cooperation they had extended to the Indian government so far to rein in the Nigerian criminals operating in India. They should also throw light on what steps have been taken by their respective countries to prevent criminals from exiting their borders and fleeing to other nations.

As for the insignificant minority in India who have distorted perception about Africans, they need to know that a majority of African nationals visit India for genuine reasons, mainly medical tourism, business, and higher studies. Besides treating them with respect and dignity, all efforts should be made to make their stay in the country pleasant so that they return with good memories.

According to the All India Survey on Higher Education (2015-16) by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the number of international students enrolled in higher education in the country totalled 45,424, of which students from Nigeria and Sudan constituted 5 per cent each. In the aftermath of the Greater Noida attack, the Association of African Students in India had threatened that it would ask African students to not come to India for higher education. A thoughtless statement made without realising that such a move would not benefit anyone.

India and Africa share deep-rooted ties dating back when both were struggling for independence from colonial rule. After Independence in 1947, India became a leading voice in the United Nations in promoting decolonisation. India sponsored the first UN resolution against apartheid in South Africa. Relations between India and African nations have been growing at a rapid pace since then manifesting in strong diplomatic, cultural, military, and trade relations. Bilateral trade between India and Africa is likely to reach $100 billion soon. The unsubstantiated charges of racism and xenophobia by the African envoys made in haste severely undermines the decades-long bond that draw people of India and Africa closer.

(The opinion expressed is exclusively of the writer and does not reflect views of Millennium Post newspaper.)
Debdeep Chakraborty

Debdeep Chakraborty

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