Over the last 2-3 years there have been a surge in targeted attacks on African nationals living in India, people from the North-Eastern provinces settled elsewhere in our country, people belonging to minority communities and members of backward castes particularly Dalits. Last year alone a Congolese teacher was attacked and killed in Delhi, a group of six Africans—two women, a priest and his family including a baby walking home was attacked with cricket bats in Delhi and a woman student from Tanzania was beaten and stripped in Bangalore simply because another African was involved in a car accident in the city. Much more recently there has been a spate of brutal attacks on Africans in Noida near Delhi. Also the killings of Muslims based on the mere suspicion of possession of beef or simply for transporting cows across state borders is fast becoming a sport and pastime for some Hindu fanatics. Likewise, the harassment and caste discrimination that pushed scholars Rohith Vemula and Muthu Krishnanbelonging to the Dalit community is still green in our memory.
Many African students have spoken out about the racism they face in their daily life in India but the Indian authorities including the extern affairs minister Sushama Swaraj are in denial mode.In Western societies racism gets manifested as white supremacy and hence white racism and the minorities are stereotyped and assigned an inferior role and status in society. For example, US as a country did not welcome immigration from Asian and African countries before the sixties of the last century. In India the racism being manifested against Africans and people of the North-East are an extension of the entrenched caste system of India.
The dominant forces of the independence movement in India under the leadership of Gandhi had religious revivalist overtones and failed to carry forward the secularization and democratization of Indian society. When Dr. Ambedkar proposed annihilation of the caste system Gandhi opposed it and instead propagated tolerance which boils down to providing equality before the law while preserving the caste hierarchy intact in social relations thereby perpetuating caste discrimination in society. There is a stunning similarity here to what the white supremacists and the Jim Crow south in the US preached during the civil rights movement—equal but separate and segregated spaces in society for education and civil relationships including marriages for blacks. When the BJP leader and former Member of Parliament Mr. Tarun Vijay talks about tolerating the black people from South India in his society the same supremacist and savarna (upper caste) mindset is exposed. Supremacists consider themselves superior but if cornered they will agree to tolerate or accommodate people of other races or castes even though they consider them inferior. The approach taken here is that of doing a favor to the disadvantaged folks.
The role of the Indian community in South Africa in the anti-apartheid struggle there was also convoluted. Though there were stalwarts such as Ahmed Kathrada who joined the anti-apartheid struggle along with the blacks as a teenager and spent 26 years in prison including 18 years in Robben Island, the majority of Indians were not active in the anti-apartheid struggle accepting the privileges offered to them in the classification of mixed-race and tried to remain in good graces with the apartheid regime. It is unfortunate that many in the Indian community embraced this pecking order and did not identify with the struggle of the black South Africans and join their struggle against the unjust white supremacist system of apartheid.
This is a time to introspect and ask ourselves the pertinent question—am I willing to accept a person as a full human being without any reservation as my friend, brother or sister not just in the eye of the law but from the heart irrespective of his or her skin color, facial features or country of origin. Am I ready to engage with him or her wholeheartedly not just professionally or for business purposes but socially, intellectually and in my personal day to day life and activities. Till that happens the prejudices, the mindset and the stereotyping will persist and get manifested in different ways including unleashing mindless attacks on innocent members of communities simply because they look different, have other food items on their plate, worship another god, play some other sport or listen to another type of music.
About 50,000 international students come to India for education every year while the number of Indian students going out of the country seeking educational opportunities is ten times more. There have been racially motivated attacks on Indian students in the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand and Indians have rightly condemned these attacks. Can we all rise up similarly to strongly raise our voice against the attacks on the African people living in India and reach out to them embracing them as brothers, sisters, friends and fellow human beings. That is the need of the hour.
Having said that the Government can and should take a stand recognizing these types of incidents as hate crimes and prosecute the perpetrators to the full extent of the law setting a standard of deterrence. This will help create an environment where members of other communities feel encouraged to pursue their profession, vocation and other activities of life without fear.©
Dr. Subramani Mani is an associate professor in the University Of New Mexico School Of Medicine and currently resides in Albuquerque, NM, USA. He is a strong advocate of civil rights and human rights. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.