With DU getting a record-breaking 2,000 applications from foreign students this academic session, one would expect the number of African students would also be more this time. Atleast that was what I was expecting. As a student studying at Hindu college when I asked my Head of the Department, Dr Ish Mishra how many African students he thought studied in Delhi he answered “quite a few”, very confidently. This, however, could have been true few years back but not now.
India is by far the best destination for African students as it offers quality education at an affordable price, aside from better exposure, good hostel facilities for foreign students, and political stability in general which is better than most African countries. Almost every African student that I spoke to, be it at the undergraduate level or one pursuing a PhD, comes here with big dreams and hopes to follow them through by heading to the west after India. Ofcourse there are a few oddballs in this pursuit of educational empowerment who would rather head back home. I was told by many that the best place to look for African students was the International Students Hostel (which has five per cent seats reserved for each country) and the Rajiv Gandhi Women’s Hostel in north campus. But soon I found out that there were just five students in all here. Jamia Milia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University are known to have been housing most number of African students, and 12 there are, most of them pursuing their MPhil or PhD courses.
While speaking to one of the students at the International Students Hostel, Moses Watulo (who is from Uganda and is pursuing LLB at the Law Faculty after graduating from Hindu College), I was told that not very long ago there were around 40-45 African students in the International Hostel and few more in the university. Not only was an African association in place for these students, but countries like Kenya and Ethopia, from where came most of the students, had their own associations. Citing how difficult his own admission had been wherein he had to first get an admission at a private university in India and only then did he manage to get into Delhi University (DU), he attributed the dwindling number of students to the rigorous admission and visa procedures in place now. The growing incidents of racism and concern for women’s safety back home are other reasons why any African would think twice about coming here.
Although many students would not openly admit to being at the recieving end of racism, almost all narrated multiple incidents where they often felt left out by their peers especially when the Indians suddenly started talking in their own language when in a group with someone who does not speak that language – something the Africans believe no one would ever do in their own homeland.
Another student Ogbe Joseph, pursuing his Bachelor’s degree in Geography from Ram Lal Anand college, and the only Nigerian studying at DU shared how his brother, who had come to India to study law had suffered at the hands of racism.
“The only reason I got in was because I too was only 17 at the time and hence considered harmless. The discrimination suffered by people from Congo and Nigeria is maddening. The first thing the authorities suspect you for, if you are a black man, is drug-peddling,” he said. He told me about an incident when he had been asked by another young Indian man at a bar at Saket to leave saying “people like him didn’t belong at such places”, however, a very positive guy who practices yoga and meditation, Joeseff, said that racism was all about giving attention to the racist and since he had learnt not to give any attention he was quite happy and loved India and its beauty. His best experience in India had been his trip to Kerala.
Despite many setbacks that they have to suffer here, all the African students that one encounters have always something good to say about India. Especially since the county is close to how their homeland is. They all have Indian friends and do not really restrict themselves to the people of their own country or continent.To many, India feels just like home and the people here like their own people even though they might not fully accept them.