The recent attacks on Nigerians in Greatar Noida show that private biases are now openly vented triggering a larger debate as how much intolerance is seeped in Indian society
~By Usha Rani Das
A spate of mob attacks on African students left several hospitalised after nine Nigerians were attacked in a span of 10 days in Greater Noida. Following the attacks, the Indian High Commissioner in Lagos, Nagabhushana Reddy, was summoned by the Nigerian ministry of foreign affairs and was asked to explain the situation. The permanent secretary at the ministry of foreign affairs, Olushola Enikanolaiye, asked Reddy to ensure the immediate arrest and prosecution of those behind the attacks. The attacks were also raised in parliament, with members in the Rajya Sabha calling for strong condemnation. “We are condemning racial attacks on Indians in other countries, like US and Australia. Racial attacks in our own country cannot be justified. Very strong action must be taken. No Indian will justify it. The government should be very vigilant,” said Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien. Recently elected chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath promised a thorough and impartial probe.
The violence erupted following the death of a 17-year-old boy, Manish Khatri, due to an alleged drug overdose. Three students were attacked by a large group that had taken out a protest march on March 27 over the death of Khatri. Following a police report filed by his family against five local Nigerian men alleging abduction, drug peddling and murder, the police detained the Africans though they did not find any proof after several searches of their house. They even confiscated their passports. They were released later when a post-mortem did not confirm the family’s allegations. In a second attack the same evening, a Nigerian student was assaulted by a mob inside the Ansal Plaza mall in Greater Noida. In video footage caught on a mobile phone, the student was beaten with a steel dustbin, metal objects and wooden chairs, and repeatedly punched and kicked by the attackers. Five people have been arrested for this attack so far. The incidents have forced Africans to lock themselves indoor. They have been asked by the Association of African Students in India to stay indoors and move out in groups while basic amenities are being delivered at their doorsteps with the help of local volunteers and the police.
The violence erupted following the death of a 17-year-old boy, Manish Khatri, due to an alleged drug overdose. Three students were attacked by a large group that had taken out a protest march on March 27 over the death of Khatri.
Uba Imran, one of the victims, said he is afraid to go out. He told India Legal: “I was just walking near Pari Chowk when a mob came and started beating me. No one came to my help. Even the police were silent spectators. It was only when the mob dispersed that one of the police personnel came and took me to Kailash Hospital. My treatment cost me Rs 16,000. I am unable to pay this much money and am asking everyone for help.” He suffered injuries to the head and hands.
A March 29 report of the African Union for Peace and Security stated: “The African Union Commission is extremely appalled by the heinous attacks against African students in Noida and other cities in India…The Commission calls on the Indian authorities to provide all necessary support to the injured…Underlining the longstanding bonds of solidarity and cooperation that exist between Africa and India, the Commission also calls on the Indian authorities to take all necessary steps in order to ensure the safety and security of all African citizens currently living in India.”
The Association of African Students in India (A.A.S.I.) had called on the Government of India to take concrete steps to protect the lives and property of all African students in India. In a press conference held on March 28, it demanded:
- Acceptance of all FIRs submitted to the police by the African diaspora in India that were rejected before.
- Full implementation of the May 31, 2016, agreement, which includes:
a.) Ease of dealing with Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) issues with regard to extension of visas.
b.) Sensitisation of the Indian masses.
c.) Organising community dialogue between Indian nationals and people of the African diaspora in India.
d.) Providing maximum security and helpline numbers to African students.
It also said: “We are tired of the appeasement and promises made by the Indian government. Failure to secure lives and to ensure maximum security in areas where African students live will entail us taking stringent action. We will actively urge the African Union to cut all bilateral trade with India. We will ask African students in our respective countries to stop making India their study destination with immediate effect. We will call for a nationwide protest inviting all students and people of the African diaspora here in India as well as international media houses for coverage.”
Bosco Kaweesi, legal adviser, All Africa Students’ Association, Bengaluru, told India Legal: “Every African student who has come to India legally enjoys every right that any other legal citizen of India enjoys as per the Constitution of India. They have the right to sue, the right to protest, the right to file police reports and the right to go to Indian courts. They come under the hands of the government and it is the government’s duty to ensure their safety and rights. But unfortunately, the situation is not so. There is no use approaching the ministry as the procedure is lengthy and cumbersome and no one has that patience. These are not any recent incidents. They have been victims from a long time. They are harassed and cheated everywhere they go.” He added that if the Indian government cannot ensure the safety of their international students, there is no reason for any African country to do any business with this country.
Even Uba said that there was no use approaching the ministry – they have filed a series of complaints with it but never got any help.
This is not the first time such incidents have occurred. Nigerians have suffered similar attacks in the past.
On May 20, 2016, a 23-year-old Congolese man, Masonda Olivier, was stoned to death after a quarrel over the hiring of an auto-rickshaw in Vasant Kunj area in New Delhi turned violent. Though External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj dismissed the view that it was a racial attack, circumstances say otherwise. On May 25 the same year, a Nigerian was attacked in Hyderabad over parking issues. On May 26 a group of 10 men attacked seven Africans in Chhattarpur area of New Delhi.
Nandini Sundar, professor of sociology, Delhi University, said: “This is really horrible. The same Indians who make a big fuss whenever any Indian is attacked abroad are silent when foreigners, especially Africans, are attacked in India. Racism seems to have grown along with communalism and casteism – we see the same kind of vigilante attacks fuelled by rumour, the same mobs, etc. Having said that, Indians have been racist for a long time, with all this emphasis on fairness. If people were genuinely concerned about drugs they would have tackled the root sources, supply, etc., many of which are controlled by powerful persons, not just the small fry. But drugs are an excuse, the real problem is racism.” She added that recent increase in such incidents is due to the current political atmosphere that encourages it. “If the law was really followed, you would not have someone like Yogi Adityanath ruling UP – with his hate speeches and intolerant activities. When a chief minister is chosen for his intolerance, what message does that send about the need for tolerance?”
On May 20, 2016, a 23-year-old Congolese man, Masonda Olivier, was stoned to death after a quarrel over the hiring of an auto-rickshaw in Vasant Kunj area in New Delhi turned violent. Though External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj dismissed the view that it was a racial attack, circumstances say otherwise.
Spandan Roy, student at the Delhi School of Economics, also said the recent political developments encouraged the growing wave of racism in the country. He said: “Linking the tragic and untimely death of Khatri, a teenager, bluntly to all Nigerians and attacking them is to me a resemblance of the worldwide phenomenon of xenophobia. It might be true that some Africans are involved in drug peddling or other rackets but a blanket judgement about all Africans is disturbing. People who were earlier marked as fringe elements are mainstreaming themselves, being encouraged by recent political developments in some parts of India. Privately-held prejudices now come out in public unchecked and are coupled with the knowledge that there will be no conviction.” Even Sundar reiterated the same thoughts. She commented that the government has not been very efficient considering how often this problem is recurring. “The root problem is that you have a police force controlled by political parties rather than one following the constitution.”
According to the ministry of human resource and development, 2047 students from Sudan and 1,990 students from Nigeria have come to India during 2015-16. If the problem is not tackled in time these numbers will decrease to zero in no time.