Racism in India manifests itself in many ways. It could be something as innocuous as an auto rickshaw driver charging extra money to a passenger based on his skin tone. However, in India’s very own Silicon Valley, Bengaluru, racism manifested itself in probably the most horrific manner possible. On Sunday, a mob 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. Suffice to say, the Tanzanian woman became a target only because she belonged to the same race as the Sudanese driver. Meanwhile, the local police initially reacted in a manner that is all too familiar. Instead of registering the victim’s complaint, the police asked her to come back only when she had the name of the Sudanese driver. The legal adviser to the All African Students Union in Bengaluru was quite naturally livid at the entire sequence of events. “She’s Tanzanian, the man who caused the accident comes from Sudan, they didn’t even know each other,” he said. What was particularly frightening about this incident was how the collective mob attacked a helpless woman based purely on her skin tone. In India, instances of collective mob ‘justice’ based on race has become an increasingly disturbing feature, especially with the advent of many African students into India for education or employment. Back in 2014, the national capital witnessed a frightening mob attack on three black men at a metro state in Delhi for allegedly “misbehaving with women”. The men were forced to climb up on top of a station police booth as the mob thrashed them with sticks. The crowd forced its way into the empty police booth to try to grab the terrified Africans cowering on the roof. They were eventually rescued when a policeman arrived. And then there is the infamous Khirki Extension incident in the national capital, where a minister of the Delhi government led a vigilante mob against the locality’s African citizens for their alleged involvement in a drug and prostitution racket. The Ugandan women, who were hauled up and sent to AIIMS hospital for drug tests and cavity searches, were found to be innocent of any charge. They alleged that they were groped and beaten by the crowd that followed the minister to this raid.
Racism, xenophobia and a gross disregard for legal precedence are what tie such instances together. It is imperative to understand that complaints of so-called drug and sex rackets against African citizens should be seen in the context of organised racism. When instances of racial attacks against Indians take place in the United States, the political class loses its collective bearing and goes off on a moral tirade. When it, unfortunately, comes to African students, the reaction is usually laced with racial stereotypes. However, people of African origin aren’t the only victims of racially-charged attacks. Towards the fag of January 2014, a student from Arunachal Pradesh, Nido Tania, was mercilessly beaten on the streets of Lajpat Nagar by a group of thugs during an altercation. The following day, he succumbed to his injuries and died. The genesis of that altercation was racist comments passed by locals in front of a shop. Unsavoury remarks were passed on his hairstyle and facial features. In such instances, racism boils down to a lack of knowledge about geography and deep-seated ignorance of other cultures. Also, there is a deep sense of hierarchy in mainland Indian society, as a result of caste hierarchies within their own community. When they witness someone with vastly different features from a seemingly alien culture, the sense of hierarchy, and consequently ignorance, is accentuated. In a study conducted by Jamia Millia Islamia’s Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research with National Commission for Women (NCW), Delhi, it was found that Delhi is the worst city for women from the Northeast, especially when it comes to racial discrimination and harassment. In such instances, aside from skin tone, gender and its place in the patriarchal hierarchy of mainland India, also plays a significant role.
Fortunately, in the recent attack on a Tanzanian woman, the Centre has reacted in a sensible manner. Reacting to the “shameful” incident, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said that she has asked Karnataka Chief Minister S Siddaramaiah to take “stringent” action against the guilty. “We are deeply pained over the shameful incident with a Tanzanian girl in Bengaluru,” Swaraj said in a recent tweet. “I have asked the Chief Minister (Karnataka) to ensure safety and security of all foreign students and stringent punishment for the guilty.” The Karnataka government, meanwhile, has not covered itself in glory. Instead of personally apologising to Bangalore’s foreign student community and reassuring them of his government’s firm and prompt response, the Chief Minister is sending his ministers to put up a defensive show on news channels. The local police have finally registered a case and arrested four people for the incident. Unfortunately, fears remain that such incidents will continue to recur. Only a few months ago in Bengaluru, locals had beaten up four students from the Ivory Coast following complaints about frequent late night parties. The police had arrested nine people in the case. Despite legal action, such mob elements usually have no fear of the law.