Indian celebrities and middle-class citizens have wielded the power of social media to support the on-going Black Lives Matter movement in the West. There is a fervour of social justice on the internet, with appeals to understand racism and end it. But before India fights for Africans in the U.S, it needs to check-in on the African community living with them. And we need to realise that a socio-political issue like racism seeps into institutions very easily. Recently, Punjab police were scrutinised forreferring to an African person as ‘nigro’ in police documents. Fortunately, the Punjab and Haryana high court has rebuked the Punjab Police for using the term. The court order stated that the use of derogatory terms like “Kalla” or “negro” to address black people of African-origin is highly offensive and unacceptable. However, this is just the beginning of the social reform that we need.
The plight of African students in India
There are a huge number of African students that choose to study in Indian Universities. This is because of a better quality of education, low fee and cultural exchange according to the Association of African Students in India. However, they often face discrimination by certain people when they arrive. In May 2017, a mob attacked several African locals living in Greater Noida, calling them ‘cannibals’ and ‘drug peddlers’. They accused them of ‘eating’ a teen that was missing, however, police found no evidence to support this. If this isn’t racial profiling, what is?
In 2017, there were a series of attacks against the African community in India. February that year, a group of locals stripped a Tanzanian student naked then assaulted her in Bangalore. Again a group of locals in Greater Noida dragged a Kenyan woman out of her cab and mobs beat up two siblings in separate incidents. It’s important to mention, however, that our Former Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj denied these incidents having a racial motive. She suggested, “not all such attacks were racist in nature.”
An African Student speaks about Indian Universities
To understand the experiences of the African community and students in India, we spoke to Peter Ngugi, a 3rd-year student at the Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts. When asked why African students come to India, he said, “India and Africa have a good bilateral relationship and India has offered a line for a scholarship for African students. Most Africans come from middle-class families and opt to come to India because of the low cost of living. Also, because the medium of teaching is English, unlike China. Most people come to India from volatile areas such as Sudan and Northern Nigeria to find stability. Also, there are many Indians in Africa so they come to India out of curiosity.”
When describing the life of an African student in India he said, “In premium universities, life is normal, everyone is relatively ‘woke’ and it’s comfortable. However, there are other campuses that don’t qualify to host international students. Here, students and professors do not have much exposure. The students might have racial biases and the professors sometimes teach in their native language.”
On the question of experiences in public places he explained, “When you go out, 70% of Indians are deprived of exposure so levels of ignorance are very high. Discrimination has become deeply embedded in Indian culture. I noticed that the caste system is the predicate of the way people interact with each other.”
A collective struggle for acceptance in India for Africans, Dalits, Muslims
It’s a lesser-known fact but India has a tribal community of African descendants, the Siddis. Rulers and Merchants brought them to India as slaves. Even though now they’ve assimilated with Indian culture, their lineage remains African. But we rarely discuss this little piece of history. Our society needs to address the issues of racial bias against African Communities, caste discrimination against Dalits and religious hatred towards Muslims. Even though Article 15 legally protects these communities from discrimination, it still persists. And it remains our job to ensure end discrimination. So, when we say Black Lives Matter in India, we must also remember that Dalit and Muslim Lives Matter here too.