This week’s brutal attack on African students in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, not very far from the national capital, is evidence of a grim reality ~ bigotry and prejudice run deep among a section of Indians. The government acted swiftly to avoid any diplomatic fallout, with Sushma Swaraj immediately contacting new UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath who promised to take strict action against the attackers and the police duly made some arrests. But there have been innumerable other incidents of racial targeting such as the brutal attack on a young student from Burundi by drunken youths in Jalandhar some years ago. Yannick Nihangaza was in a coma for two years before passing away. Last year a violent mob in Bengaluru attacked a group of Tanzanians, with the incident threatening to take on ominous dimensions vis-a-vis bilateral ties. What about AAP MLA Somnath Bharti’s infamous midnight raid in 2014 against Nigerian and Ugandan women in Delhi’s Khirki Extension, accusing them of running a drugs and sex racket and allegedly verbally abusing them? The national capital has a poor track record when it comes to such incidents and often reveals its racist underbelly as it did when three African youths were mercilessly beaten up by a mob at a Metro station in October 2014. When Giriraj Singh, a Union minister, said the Congress wouldn’t have elected Sonia Gandhi as its president if she had been Nigerian and faced no action for his crass comment, the only conclusion to be drawn is that racism is par for the course.
Black is certainly not beautiful for Indians as any perusal of matrimonial advertisements would reveal ~ the clamour for fair brides is a nationwide phenomenon. Colour prejudice and gender bias begin at birth; the profusion of fairness creams in the Indian market provides ample proof of the colour-coded reality that is India. Only a sustained campaign right from school level can change this societal mindset. It results in an insularity that targets anything or anyone different from the norm. That is clear from the attitude to people from the north-east. Delhi offers the worst examples of boorish behaviour; be it labelling north-easterners as “chinkies” or harassing young women from the region. This deep-seated prejudice is an anachronism in a country that itself fought imperialism and threw off the colonial yoke after a long struggle. Also, in what reeks of gross hypocrisy, whenever any Indian faces a racist attack abroad there is much anger and outrage in this country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s outreach to the African continent will be in vain if the government is unable to ensure the safety and security of the hundreds of Africans studying and working in India. The voices of alienation and fear heard from African students after the latest outrage should ring alarm bells.