Us and them in Chattarpur

We are staying here from birth. We will not leave the area. Instead, we will drive them out.  If they have to live here, they have to adopt our lifestyle,” says a local resident at Chattarpur’s Rajpur Khurd village.

About six Africans were beaten up in Madan Garhi and Rajpur Khurd villages in on May 28 in separate attacks, but apparently by the same group of local people. While the African community in the village is trying to move past the incident, the locals want an ‘immediate solution’ to the ‘ruckus’ allegedly created by ‘them’ at night.

A group of villagers sit in a corner discussing the ‘incident’. “The problems have been going on since the Africans started coming to the village two years back. We were living peacefully before that,” says another local resident.

For Frank, on the other side of the divide, it is business as usual at his salon in the village on Thursday morning. The Nigerian youth came to India one and a half years back.

He has tried to move on since a ‘fateful incident’ seven months back. But the attack on the African community has brought back memories of his own ‘nightmare’.

“I was walking in the street. It was during the night... Three bikes came and surrounded me from all sides. The bikers then went ahead, reversed their bikes and then attacked me. They hit my stomach and assaulted me. Imagine attacking a man who is just walking in the neighbourhood,” says Frank while styling a client’s hair. 

“If this is not a racist attack like the locals are claiming, then what is it? Attacks on Africans are common in this area. The locals are promoting enmity against the African community,”  he says.

Frank’s salon is popular in the area with a steady flow of African clients walking in for ‘hair styling’.  

A few metres away is another hair salon exclusively for ‘African women’. The women here refuse to talk on the attack. Other African members in the area make a living by running eateries, salons and dry cleaning shops.   

The social tension in the village is palpable as one walks down the narrow lanes. As a Nigerian youth with earphones plugged nears the end of a road, a few local youths jeer at him. The youth mumbles ‘long route’ and starts walking in the opposite direction.

John Harrison, who has come from Ghana, distances himself when asked about the social tension in the area. “I have nothing to do with the community here. I work with an NGO here to spread the word of God. I am on a three-month visa here,” he says rushing into an autorickshaw.

“It is not that Indians do not have respect for foreigners. But they do not have respect particularly for Africans,” says Abdul from Cape Town in South Africa.

“They are terrorising the African community here. There are other disadvantages for us, like language barrier. What is the need to terrorise a community which is only a minority here,” he adds.

Abdul is on a six month’s tourist visa to India and has been staying in Hyderabad for the past three months. Hyderabad is a ‘friendlier city’ than Delhi, where he came a few days back, he adds.

“There are several Indians in South Africa who have lots of investments there. We have made peace with it and maintain good relations with them. We do not terrorise them.”

The attacks are not one-off incidents. While the African community here calls such ‘unprovoked’ attacks “frequent”, most locals here feel ‘civilised’ people cannot live with the Africans. The locals’ grievances against the Africans range from them having a “provocative sense of dressing” and for “maligning the Indian youths’, to being “non-veg eaters”, “aggressive” and “a nocturnal community indulging in anti-social activities”.
Locals accuse the Africans of running prostitution, drug and cybercrime rackets in the area.

The Delhi Police’s effort last Wednesday of organising a sensitisation programme in the village and blur differences between the two communities seems to have had little impact. The local residents claim the police are not addressing the problems and the Africans are still not sure that there won’t be any further attacks on them.

“When we walk down the streets at night, we feel we have come to another country and this is their country. How is it possible for us to accept their culture which is so different from ours?” says Kuldeep Singh, who has been living in the area for three generations now. Locals dismiss the attacks as ‘road rage incidents’ and not ‘racial attacks’.

They claim the Africans pushed some residents to take the law in their hands. Despite repeated complaints to the police on brawls in the area, there is no intervention, they say.

“They play loud music and block the roads at night. They easily pick up fights if we protest,” says Kunal, 20. 

“Police do not take the matter seriously. The Africans are always creating a ruckus in the area and drawing the local youths into their drug rackets,” says Baljit Singh, who teaches Mathematics at a tuition centre.

“But it must also be highlighted that we do not hate them. Not all of them behave the same way,” he adds.

Om Prakash Rathi, 60, points out that they do not approach police if they face problems allegedly caused by the African community as it would drag the landlords into the matter. “There will be disharmony among us and other locals who have rented out apartments to members of the other community.”

With the village coming into media focus, even children in the area are not ‘unaware’ of the recent differences between the two communities. “So much is happening between the Africans and local residents here. I have been updating reporters who are coming to the area to cover the recent incidents,” says Dushyant, a class 9 student.

A few interesting hoardings in the area like ‘Exteem African & Indian salon’ and ‘New Silver Line Drycleaners – African and Indian service’ are perhaps reason for optimism that both the communities still have scope to reach out to each other.

With conflicting versions of what triggered the attacks in the village, the Africans still wonder why their community is stereotyped by Indians. “Africans are still portrayed in movies very awkwardly. This develops misconceptions among people,” says Old Jason, who runs a salon.

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