Perpetrators seldom punished

Perpetrators seldom punished

We must not condone violence by the lynch mob. Street justice must have no place in India. But it does, regrettably quite often.

Recent attacks against Indians/Indian Americans in the US have caused deep anxiety and scare. These have been condemned by all as racial attacks and hate crimes.

But what about the attacks against the Nigerians who were mercilessly beaten and kicked in Greater Noida in broad day light? Those disturbing visuals have been beamed across the world by most major TV channels leaving viewers aghast, wondering if this was the much touted `Incredible India’.

Viewers can’t comprehend how brown-skinned Indians should be attacking black Africans. Isn’t this the racial discrimination of Indian variety? Is this the love and affection for the people of a continent with which India claims to enjoy an umbilical cord? The fact is, these attacks have caused enormous damage to India’s image globally, particularly in the African continent and put a question mark on our claims of being a tolerant society.

All Indian citizens and foreign nationals must abide by the law of the land. Violations ought to be addressed by the concerned authorities promptly, transparently and effectively but without any prejudices and bias nor coloured by preconceived notions. If some African nationals have allegedly been found involved in drugs related crimes, it doesn’t mean that we turn against the entire African community in India.

Let the law of the land take its own course. But can that happen if the police, most of the times, refuse to register the complaints as claimed by several African students? We aren’t a banana republic! We must not condone violence by the lynch mob. Street justice must have no place in India. But it does, regrettably quite often.

Samuel T Jack, President of African Students Association in India has made charges which sound familiar. Many of us make similar comments about the white racists in the USA. Calling the attacks on the Nigerian students as “barbaric” and asserting that “there is racial discrimination in this country”, he stresses that the African students in India are “very scared” and fear for their lives. “There is so much hatred towards African people in this country....we are victims of abuse on roads....” Is it not a disgrace for a nation which has been boasting of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam’ for centuries?

We are a virtual superpower in the field of information and communication technology. We have sent Chandrayaan to explore moon. We have launched 104 satellites recently at one go.

We talk of bullet trains, smart cities, start up India, digital India and feel legitimately proud of our achievements. But at the societal level, have we made much headway? Can’t we get rid of our feudal mindset when the world talks of “post-modern” times? Why do despicable crimes like attacks on the Dalits in Una last year and against the Nigerian students in Greater Noida last week take place?

Because the perpetrators are seldom punished. They aren’t scared of law. Politicians of various parties made a beeline to visit Una as the attack on the Dalits could become a major issue during the assembly elections. But the attack on African students can’t be an election issue, so it elicits only expression of sympathy and assurances of prompt action. Samuel claimed, “The government has not sent even one official to see how African students are doing. Our situation can’t improve by mere tweets ...”

The third India-Africa Forum Summit held in Delhi in 2015 was attended by 45 heads of states and governments. It was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s watershed endeavour to reach out to the African continent which is crucial for India’s energy security and global geo-political aspirations. Besides, it offered huge prospects for economic cooperation.

Modi’s announcement at the summit of credit line of $10 billion over five years, grant assistance of $600 million and 50,000 scholarships was deservedly welcomed. Speaking at the summit, Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had described Ind-ia-Africa as “old friends and old family.”

President Pranab Mukherjee visited Ghana, where he told the audience, “Africa, we stand by you,” and to Cote d’Ivoire and Namibia; Vice President Hamid Ansari’s visited Nigeria, Mali, Tunisia and Morocco; and Modi made a whirlwind tour of Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa and Tanzania. All these have sent unmistakable signals that India takes Africa seriously, wants to expand and deepen relationship on several fronts, and that she wasn’t gunning for Africa’s natural resources only.

Bilateral trade
Nearly three million people of Indian origin/Indians live in Africa. According to the data from the ADB, between 1995 and 2015, bilateral trade between India and Africa has risen from $1 billion to $75 b. During 2010-2015, Nigeria was India’s largest trading partner followed by South Africa, Kenya and Mozambique. Sudan, South Sudan, Libya, Egypt, Mozambique and Gabon where India has invested $7-8 billion are an important source for our hydrocarbon needs.

The fourth India-Africa Hydro Carbon Conference in 2016 with the theme: “Energising the bottom of the pyramid — Together towards tomorrow” was a laudable endeavour. Bharti Airtel, Tata holdings, ONG Videsh, Jindal Steel & power, Essar Steel, Coal India, Vedanta Resources, Apollo Tyres and Varun Industries are major Indian players in Africa.

Besides the traditional items, oil, gas and coal, rare earth mineral and uranium have entered India’s inventory for imports from Africa. India’s support in setting up specialised institutions, training centres, capacity building and scholarships, Pan-Africa connectivity of 48 countries through e-network, fight against HIV/AIDS has generated considerable goodwill.

With the largest number of UN, Commonwealth and non-alignment members, Africa is also indispensable for fulfilling India’s aspirations to emerge as a major global player commensurate with the size of her economy, military and human capital. We must not let some hotheads destroy this relationship with wanton act of violence.

Modi should set out a new mantra: Na kanoon haath mein loonga aur na kisi ko lene doonga! Let us, not by words but with our actions, make the Africans in India feel that we care for them and will stand by them and won’t let the perpetrators go unpunished.

(The writer is a former diplomat who has served in Kenya, Libya and other countries)