World / Africa & Diaspora
Tuesday, 31 May 2016 10:07 EATdkiraka@kenyafreepress.com
For decades, many African students in India have complained about racial discrimination, but there has never been a firm commitment by the Indian authorities to address their plight.
If recent events are anything to go by, discrimination against African students has reached catastrophic levels requiring resolute action by the Indian authorities.
On May 20, a Congolese graduate student, Masonda Ketanda Oliver, 24, was killed by three men following a disagreement over the hiring of a rickshaw in a South Delhi neighbourhood.
Masonda’s death sparked a furore among the African community in India. Last Tuesday, the entire African diplomatic corps registered their displeasure with the Indian government.
The ambassadors issued a statement asking the Indian government to address ‘racism and Afro-phobia’, saying Oliver’s death had put the African community in India, including students, in a state of mourning “in memory of the slain African students in the last few years.”
“The Indian government is strongly urged to take concrete steps to guarantee the safety of Africans in India including appropriate programmes of public awareness that will address the problem of racism and Afro-phobia in India,” said the statement signed by Alem Tsehage, the Eritrean ambassador and dean of the African diplomatic corps in New Delhi.
The ambassadors also warned against new batches of African students enrolling in Indian universities. “Given the pervading climate of fear and insecurity in Delhi, the African heads of mission are left with little option than to consider recommending to their governments not to send new students to India, unless and until their safety can be guaranteed.”
The envoys’ statement came just two days before the Africa Day, the commemoration of the establishment of the African Union in 2001. The Indian government gives priority to relations with Africa. It was not going to leave the chance pass.
The foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, said: “I would like to assure African students in India that this is an unfortunate and painful incident involving local goons. When I came to know about the unfortunate killing of a Congo national in Delhi, we directed stringent action against the culprits. We will request state governments to depute commissioners of police in all such meetings.”
Mr Swaraj’s deputy, Minister of State for External Affairs, V K Singh, met the envoys and, according to reports in Indian media, impressed on them “the need to continue the tradition (Africa Day celebrations) but also said that India would be guided by them in the matter”.
The ministers also agreed to meet the African envoys once every three months to listen to their concerns
But as all this was unfolding, yet another African student, Bamilola Kazim, 26, from Nigeria was attacked in Hyderabad after an altercation with a local resident over auto parking space. After Kazim had parked his car in front of Mohammed Gafoor’s house, the man came out and attacked him.
The case gained prominence, putting scrutiny on the daily lives of African students in India. In February, a 21 year old Tanzanian student at Acharya College was stripped and her car burnt by an angry mob, according to the Hindustan Times, in a reaction by locals after a Sudanese man had knocked down a local woman at the spot an hour earlier.
According to her complaint filed to the police, the student claimed that police at the scene told her that, “You all look alike and should get the black man who ran over a woman in the area.”
The culprits can be arrested but unless there is wide social awareness, African students will still face similar challenges on consistent basis.
In October 2014, three African students were attacked by a mob at the Delhi Metro.
In terms of student numbers, India’s higher education system is only third to the ones in the United States and China. It has over 400 universities and over 33,000 colleges.
It is also the cheapest place to study for Africans among the developed world. As of 2016, there are over 5,000 African students in India. The education opportunities it provides are vast owing to India’s accessibility and affordability.
At this moment in time, one would expect that tolerance levels for the African community would be high but the spate of recent attacks brings to the fore pertinent issues about racism.
India has for long been a destination for African students. The government gave hundreds of scholarships a year to Africans, in particular those from former British colonies like Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania which also had substantial diaspora Indian populations.
They lived in university housing. But now, consistent with other changes, most stay in rented accommodation outside the campus. This is where racism takes hold.
India is also a very stratified society, and the caste system breeds violence every so often. It is possible that people of all castes find the African unwelcome.
At a time when India is courting Africa for trade and resources, it is expected that its government should take the attacks on Africans seriously. But this has not been the case. Africa needs to rethink her relationship with India in view of this laxity and double speak by the Indians.
More reports, but not a single instance of punishment for people who attack Africans.
Kiraka is a student of journalism at the Technical University of Kenya (TUK). His interests are business, politics, sports and media criticism.