The attack on six African nationals, including four women and two men, in Dwarka’s Hari Vihar serves as a chilling reckoner of disturbing societal trends that tear asunder the cosmopolitan matrix that Delhi is desperately trying to weave in its quest to become a world city. One is of a racist mind which still profiles, judges and assigns criminal intent to people on the basis of skin colour and origin. The second is that you do not need technology for rumour-mongering; people buy into canards even in an educated neighbourhood. Third, like a kangaroo court, people are eager to dispense justice in the form of lynching. Had the police not arrived in the nick of time, one shudders to think what the neighbourhood mob, fed on rumours that their African neighbours were cannibals and had, therefore, abducted a 16-year-old boy, would have done in the name of avenging their fears. If a literate community believes in assigning demonic characteristics to a people just because they are not like us culturally or ethnologically, then there is little the police can do in terms of preventing a repeat offence. It is a sad comment on the informed and knowledge society we claim to be. As for the melting pot called Delhi, which people say can be claimed by any settler and migrant, such incidents just remind everybody of their differences and encourage ghettoisation.
Not too long ago, African girls were heckled on the assumption that they were running a sex and drug trade in a residential colony. African students were accosted in Greater Noida too. Even in the swanky IT capital of Bengaluru, an angry mob assaulted a Tanzanian student in 2016. That year, we suffered a major diplomatic embarrassment when African heads of missions protested the killing of a Congolese student in Delhi on flimsy grounds and threatened to boycott a crucial diplomatic meet. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) swiftly swooped down and resurrected some credibility by dissuading them from a walkout. It is downright abominable that Indians continue with this racist mindset despite themselves being a victim of biases abroad. Yes there are errants among us, them and even the White man but why is it that we continue to taint Africans with the same stroke of brush, consigning them to impossible dark deeds and therefore, deciding they are meant to be discriminated against and subjected to verbal abuse, social ostracisation and harassment? In fact, we have had a longer people-to-people discourse that ought not to have fallen prey to Western or colonial prejudices. Our ties with Africa go back to the eighth century. The Siddi tribals of Gujarat have, in fact, descended from the Bantu people of East Africa. And as merchant ships of the colonialists carried indentured labour, our people toiled in the Afrcian continent as did their people among us as merchants, sailors, slaves and mercenaries from around the 13th century. Mahatma Gandhi’s movement grew out of the colonial racism in Africa and India led the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) despite the acrimonious tussle of the Cold War years with African nations arrayed with it. African students enrich our education hubs today and African nationals boost our medical tourism. The recent attacks come with a huge diplomatic and economic cost. At a time when we are desperately trying to enhance our infrastructure footprint on that continent, fiercely competing with China’s sphere of influence, such incidents disavow us from being a sincere partner country. Already the number of students wanting to study here has seen a downfall. We can’t afford a crisis of credibility as a vibrant democracy.
Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer