High time to end racism at home

The irony is hard to miss. In February, Indians were outraged by the tragic death of a fellow countryman in America. Srinivas Kuchibhotla was killed in a US bar by a man who yelled “get out of my country” before pulling the trigger. Weeks later, an Indian mob mercilessly thrashed a group of Nigerians in Greater Noida, just  outside the national capital, after a local boy went missing and later died. Like the Kansas killer who boasted that he had killed some ‘Middle Easterners’ — in his unfortunate worldview, apparently all brown people are Arabs, and all Arab people terrorists — the Noida mob, too, displayed an ugly tendency to label people unlike them. Some goons charged the Africans of being cannibals and even went about looking into a fridge for human flesh. The episode has brought shame on the country. While we rightly cry “racism’’and “hate crime” when Indians and people of Indian origin are attacked in countries like the US or Australia, we remain in denial about the same affliction we suffer from at home.

Greater Noida is not an isolated incident. Indian cities have repeatedly witnessed such attacks against Africans. Sadly, the authorities are often reluctant to see crime against Africans as racist. In Delhi in 2014, Somnath Bharti, the law minister in the first Aam Aadmi Party government, went a step further. He led a band of vigilantes on a midnight raid to shame some African women, branding them as drug dealers and prostitutes. In Bengaluru last year, Home Minister G Parameshwara refused to see any racism in an attack on a Tanzanian woman by a mob after a Sudanese man’s car ran over a pedestrian. However, he was quick to blame Africans for drug peddling and overstaying their visas.

Drug trafficking and visa violations are serious issues that must be dealt with head-on. But they should not be used as excuses to tar an entire community. Africans come to India mainly to study or to make use of the country’s medical facilities. Treating them well, or at least making them feel safe, also makes for good diplomacy. India competes with China over Africa’s energy resources. It needs the support of African nations in its bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Towards this end, Delhi is fond of invoking past trade and cultural links, a shared colonial experience and the vast Indian diaspora in the continent. Clearly, calling African students names or setting upon them doesn’t do the country’s image in Africa any good. It also makes our slogan of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ sound hollow.

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