Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Africans protest against Indian racism on Indian soil

by Ratnakar Tripathy

The recent killing of an African student in Delhi may well be the last straw but is by means an isolated case. Violent incidents only highlight the kind of racist ill treatment the African students have to undergo on a daily basis on the Indian campuses. Walk through the most enlightened of the campuses and you will find the African students huddled together, and the same applies to the students from the North-east. In brief, even as the Indian society struggles to get over its caste biases, its racist impulses have surfaced to become more and more visible. As in the case of the caste system, we have the option of hypocritical denial among ourselves and unto the wider world, although the United Nations in a recent report on the caste imjustice made a full exposure of it, making it difficult to tell white lies. Now may be the turn of our racists biases that we hide behind the pious slogans of ‘world-brotherhood’ [Vasudhaiv kutumbakam] and tolerance. According to a spate of reports, the African students have already come out in the streets in several cities to give a lie of our carefully maintained pretense. Although the Indian state shows great consideration in giving scholarships to over 25,000 African students every year, the official gesture needs to be matched by a concern for the quality of the daily lives of these students.

Thankfully and perhaps aware of the Indian habit of hiding behind high-sounding ideals, both the students as well as the African diplomats based in Delhi have decided that enough is enough. Matters have reached such serious proportions that forty two African diplomats thretened boycott of the Africa Day ceremonies organized in the Indian capital.   Despite this, while Sushma Swaraj, the External Affairs Minister is intent on pressing for action and has spoken to the Home Minister Rajnath Singh, another member of the government V K Singh, a former general termed the attacks as ‘minor scuffle’, blaming the media for undue exaggeration. The Indian state may not be able to rein in the deep biases of its citizenry but can surely set an example through stringent action. Singh’s gaffe escalated into a war of words when the television editors body Broadcast Editors' Association (BEA) said Singh is in the habit of making "absurd statements" which are not in consonance with the spirit of democracy. BEA General Secretary N K Singh said the former army chief should know that it is not a military regime where media dances to the tune of "power packs". Some members of the present government surely have the knack of going at a tangent even over sensitive issues, turning every big and small issue into attacks over the media itself.

How serious the consequences of neglecting this issue can be is indicated by the strongly worded letter by the ambassador of Eritrea Alem Tsehage Woldemariam who also happens to be the dean of the African Group Head of Mission. He said “Given the pervading climate of fear and insecurity in Delhi and 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.” India is already a highly divisive society and its racist streak is not a great surprise. Which is why it is even more important for a government to give a clear message on the matter and help in undoing the bias through firm legal action, as it often does in the caste context! 

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