A Congolese teacher was recently beaten to death in New Delhi. There have been several cases of violence against Africans over the years, but what's embarrassing is the Indian government's response, writes Shivam Vij.
In an unprecedented move, envoys of the African nations came together last week to protest against the Indian government. They even threatened to boycott the Africa Day celebrations on May 26. The reason behind their anger was not the killing of a Congolese citizen in the capital New Delhi, but the Indian government's indifference toward the case.
"The Group of African Heads of Mission have met and deliberated extensively on this latest incident in the series of attacks to which members of African community in India have been subjected in the last few years. They note, with deep concern, that several attacks and harassment of Africans in India have gone unresolved without diligent protection and conviction of perpetrators," the envoys said in a statement to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.
The African ambassadors eventually attended the Africa Day celebrations, but that same night, seven Africans were assaulted in four separate events in southern New Delhi. The victims said the attacks seemed pre-planned, but the police disagreed.
"They called us Habshis [a derogatory word used for Africans in the Indian sub-continent] and yelled, 'Black Africans, go back!' as they landed their blows and kicks on us," one of the victims told The Hindu newspaper.
While the Indian government has finally taken some action against the culprits, it is still trying to downplay the incidents. A spokesperson for the foreign ministry said not all attacks on Africans living in India should be characterized as racist. Another minister said the latest attacks were a minor scuffle blown out of proportion by the media.
But the racist slurs make it clear the African people were targeted due to their skin color and nationality. The Congolese teacher, who was lynched by three people on May 21, was targeted over a rickshaw hiring dispute. It is not that such disputes cannot turn ugly for others, but for Africans living in India, any little confrontation can invite racism and xenophobia.
Earlier this year, in the southern city of Bengaluru, a Sudanese man's car ran over and killed a local woman. India has the highest number of road accidents in the world, but such was the resulting anger against Africans that a day later, the locals dragged a Tanzanian woman out of her car, stripped her clothes and paraded her naked, assaulting her when she tried to escape.
In October last year, three African students were assaulted inside Delhi's local train station. The reason, allegedly, was that one of them had harassed an Indian woman. Sexual harassment of women in Delhi is quite common, but when African students were accused of committing the crime, they were made to pay a price.
These incidents are particularly embarrassing for the Indian government as it is trying to invest in African countries and woo their students to study in India. New Delhi wants to counter China's influence on the African continent. But PM Modi's administration won't be able to achieve these targets if it fails to address the issue of rising xenophobia against Africans on Indian soil.
Shivam Vij is an independent Indian writer and journalist based in New Delhi. He writes for a number of international journals including DW.com.
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