By Sarkaritel June 8, 2016 09:47


Racial Attacks


By Amrita Banerjee

(School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi)

With attacks on African nationals continuing to hog limelight, the crucial question of whether the world’s largest democracy is colour and race conscious has surfaced in mainstream political discourse. True, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj swung into damage control mode by terming the assaults criminal and not racial and the Association of African Students in India which had earlier called for a March for Justice postponed the rally in view of the high-level meetings and assurances given for Africans ‘safety and security’, it is important to delve into the racial angle question.

Undeniably, anti-racism is deeply ingrained in India’s foreign policy as one of its basic tenets having once being subject to racism by Britishers in our own country, wherein we have opposed racism tooth and nail.

Having gone through the long independence struggle, India has always stood in solidarity with the Africans not only in their long and challenging struggle against apartheid but also in their continued extension of support on this issue in different international forums like UN, Non-Aligned Movement and Commonwealth of Nations which ultimately helped Nelson Mandela and his Party eradicate this discrimination by 1994.

With India’s zero tolerance against racism in the past, the allegations of racism slammed against New Delhi is indeed saddening. Even though Government’s have taken an idealistic stand in some of the international forums so far, it is important to acknowledge that social, economic and religious inequality are crude realities which dominates Indian psyche till date.

Notably, race as a factor also features in the country vis-à-vis its ‘on-off’ basis wherein people from the North-East are subjected to derogatory remarks like ‘Chinki’ or Chinese because of their Mongoloid features. In August, 2012, India also witnessed a mass exodus from Bengaluru of panic-stricken North-Easterners after a few cases of assault were reported in the city. Besides this, the tragic death of Nido Tania also remains fresh in our memories.

There is an increasing feeling of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ even among native Indians. This feeling seems to echo in the case of more than 10,000 African students who have made India their temporary home and allege discrimination.

This time the debate on racism was triggered by the death of 29-year-old French language teacher Masonda Ketada Olivier, a Congolese national who lost his life after a brawl with few drunken men following an argument over hiring an auto-rickshaw. This incident is but one among other incidents of attacks on Africans.

In February, a 21-year-old Tanzanian woman was allegedly stripped and beassten up by a mob in Bengaluru after a Sudanese man ran over a local. A few months before that, three African men were thrashed by a mob in New Delhi after they objected to locals taking their pictures. In Jan. 2015 a Delhi Government Minister raided a neighbourhood inhabited by African nationals, alleging that they were peddling drugs and ran a prostitution ring.

Olivier’s death, though, seems to have been the final straw. Eschewing diplomatic channels, the heads of African embassies in New Delhi wrote a strongly worded letter to the Government to take “concrete steps” to ensure Africans safety.

Indeed, this public rebuke by the African nations couldn’t have come at a worse time especially when Prime Minister Modi is set to travel to Africa in the next two months, as part of his plan to broaden engagements with the Continent thereby keeping alive the momentum post the 3rd India-Africa Forum Summit in October last.

While trade between India and African countries has risen in recent years, there’s much left to be done. In the Summit last October, New Delhi announced a doubling of India’s assistance to African nations, with $10 billion in concessional loans over the next five years. India also offered $600 million in grant assistance to African countries for focused spending on key areas such as healthcare, education, and technology. In return, New Delhi sees African citizens as prospective medical and education tourists, who bolster her economy.

Despite India having a great vision for Africa, the repeated assaults on our soil chip away the goodwill created over the years. Such attacks might not have an impact on trade between the two countries but they definitely create a negative perception of India in Africa, which would affect friendships in the long run. This was manifested by the week-long Africa day celebrations that met with an unenthusiastic response in the Union Capital recently.

Undoubtedly, these dastardly attacks should be criticized strongly and adequate action be taken against the culprits. More so, because not only do these incidents go against the right to equality as enshrined in our Constitution but also tarnish India’s image in the world.

Consequently, there is a need to revitalize the shared goodwill. Thus Foreign Minister Swaraj’s statement that New Delhi would focus on sensitization programmes to promote peaceful cohabitation is timely as it would bring about a meaningful change in India.

While it is natural for Africans to feel insecure in the present conditions, it would also be appropriate to highlight that many Indians also live in fear of the African population.  Shops belonging to Indian’s were attacked in Congo in retaliation to Oliver’s murder. Besides, numerous cases against many Nigerians have been registered for drug peddling. Recently an Ola cab driver was thrashed by African nationals for refusing to carry extra passengers.

This scenario speaks of a gap in their perception regarding each other. This can be overcome by creating appropriate channels of communication to allow peace to emerge. Merely shaming local residents and calling them racist will do nothing to change the situation on the ground. Any person who takes law in their hands, be it Indian citizens or foreign nationals, should not be spared.

Effort must also be taken to distinguish between stray assaults and hate crimes which are related to discrimination. The strategies used by the Central and State Governments and the embassies should be varied and involve formal and informal processes which focus on providing security and encourage mutual respect.

The Indian State must provide clear guidelines for African migrants to register complaints. This mixture of legal and social processes could help create a more supportive environment for migrants and Indians who live in close proximity to each other.

In tune with the ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ campaign launched by the Incredible India, the allegations of racism can be the most hypocritical for our polity because we have always taken a clear stand on instances of racial violence against Indians in other countries.


Be it Africa or any other country, our engagement should go beyond tokenism. Expounding slogans of shared histories from Bandung are not sufficient. Clearly, more needs to be done. Safety of foreign nationals in India should be our shared responsibility be it citizens, politicians or media. Only then the theme of Africa Day Celebration ‘India-Africa: Bound Together ‘and sharing interlinked dreams can be truly realized in totality. —-INFA

(Copyright, India News and  Feature Alliance)

By Sarkaritel June 8, 2016 09:47