The mob’s bias: attack on Nigerian in Noida reflects our racial prejudices

An attack on Africans in Noida is a chilling reminder of the racial prejudices we harbour

The attack on a small group of Africans in Greater Noida, a suburb of the national capital located in Uttar Pradesh, has once again thrown a spotlight on a disturbing trend in the country: mob violence, and specifically the targeting of persons of African origin in many of these instances. What is particularly disturbing and shameful is that the attack took place in a busy shopping mall without a single bystander, shopkeeper or security guard intervening. This has, understandably, touched an anxious chord about their personal safety among the thousands of African nationals who live, work and study in and around Delhi. While the police have made some initial arrests and opened cases against several hundred unnamed persons on charges of rioting in the wake of video footage of the attack going viral, such incidents of racial violence need a stronger response from the administration and civil society. That the attack was ostensibly triggered by accusations that some African students were linked to drug-dealing and were somehow responsible for the death of a local student is no justification for taking the law into one’s hands, leave alone indulge in such violence. That the law enforcement machinery and the courts are the only places for seeking redress for any breaches of law cannot be overemphasised. That a mere rumour can trigger such violence is truly alarming.
It is difficult to see this incident in isolation from other instances of discrimination against African nationals who have taken up residence in cities around the country. Last year, the murder of a Congolese student in Delhi compelled African Heads of Mission to threaten a boycott of Africa Day. The message was not lost on anyone that the envoys had been moved to consider such an extreme step just months after New Delhi hosted the Third India-Africa Forum Summit, in October 2015, where they had announced their resolve to “enhance Africa-India relations… based on the principles of mutuality, complementarity and true sense of solidarity as well as the promotion of people to people interactions.” In the end, Africa Day went as planned, but the point had been made, that even as India makes abundant effort to deepen ties with the 54 countries of the African Union, this cannot be achieved without understanding and acting upon the aspirations of nationals of these countries. In modern diplomacy, the quality of people-to-people contact is a factor in determining the overall strength of a bilateral relationship. But even as Indian diplomats move to assure African students in Greater Noida about their safety, with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj discussing the matter with U.P. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, this issue is not about foreign affairs. It is a reminder of the latent racism in India, of the terrible prejudices too many of us harbour, and of the need for a political and social effort to overcome it.

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