By Kul Bhushan*
India has a great deal to lose by mistreating and beating up Africans who come to study or live in India. The latest attacks on March 27, 2017 on Nigerian and Kenyan students living in Noida, a suburban city bordering New Delhi and part of what is called the National Capital Region, have made breaking news on all TV news channels and front-page headlines in leading newspapers.
While playing up ad nauseum the sensational news story is supposed to increase the viewership of TV channels and boost dwindling newspaper readership, it inflicts massive harm to India-Africa bilateral relations, Indian investment in Africa, and Indian diaspora in Africa. The medium and long term repercussions and massive damage to India’s goodwill internationally is lost on the angry, racist and violent Indian goons who assault and injure Africans.
The tragedy is that this is not an isolated incident resulting in injuries to Africans inflicted by boorish locals. Such incidents have been happening in major metros for years, especially in and around Delhi. Sure, they are reported in the media but no lasting remedial action is devised or implemented. After some hue and cry, the police hold some meetings, increase patrolling and it then fades away until the next flare-up.
African envoys make strong protests to the Indian government and the response is worded in diplomatic jargon. But no sustained campaign is launched in the media, on the streets or in higher educational institutions to inform, educate and sensitize local Indians about racial discrimination and India-Africa cooperation on many fronts and levels. The media hardly ever reports on African affairs, leave alone African success stories. The newspapers report only when an Indian company secures a major contract, starts an investment project or expands its operations in Africa.
The woes of Africans living in India are compounded by frequent news items when they are apprehended at airports with drugs. Thus, a sustained image of almost all Africans as drug carriers has frozen in the minds of Indians. Or they think that African women make money by selling their bodies. Africans – from 54 countries – are viewed and dealt with on the basis of these media stereotypes.
It’s high time that this stereotyped image was smashed for all time and the fact that thousands of African students are obtaining higher education in India and hundreds of African patients are coming to India for specialized medical treatment is boosted. If these students are treated with concern and understanding when they are away from their home in a complicated society, they will go back as the most effective ambassadors of India. Similarly, if the patients and their relatives are treated with care and sympathy in India, they will go back as the top promoters for India.
But no! In their racist and brutal reaction to any situation with Africans, all this never comes to mind. No thought for the massive Indian investments in Africa, hundreds of joint ventures, and especially the three million Indian diaspora in Africa. More than 1.2 million Indians live in South Africa; another 200,000 live in East Africa and smaller numbers in thousands in many countries. These Indians can be attacked and injured in revenge, their shops and factories can be damaged or destroyed and their goodwill washed away.
At the national level, the Indian government is making special efforts to woo Africa and obtain the cooperation of the 54 African countries for mutual benefit and as a block for votes in the international fora like the United Nations. India has been holding India-Africa Summit with all African countries since 2008 to promote bilateral relations in many spheres. The most recent such meeting in Delhi in 2015 was attended by almost all heads of African states and Prime Minister Narendra Modi made special efforts to welcome and meet each one of them. Cooperation in many fields was proposed and agreed upon. Investment and export credits were top features. Between summit meetings, like the conclave in New Delhi earlier this month, carries the economic agenda further. Indian has mounted a diplomatic outreach to Africa with visits by its president, vice-president, the prime minister and ministers to African states.
However, repeated boorish behaviour and violent assaults wipe out all these goodwill gestures while seriously damaging India reputation and the fate of the Indian diaspora contributing to the development of Africa. So what can be done to retrieve this pathetic situation?
First, the police must crack down on all accused of racial insults and violence to Africans. A thorough investigation, a fool-proof prosecution and tough punishment is the primary response by the authorities. And that’s not enough; the punishment must be reported by the media as a deterrent to all others.
Second, in addition to pacifying diplomatic statements by the External Affairs Ministry, other ministries and organisations must be roped in to launch a strong and aggressive public campaign to promote racial harmony.
Third, the Public Diplomacy division of the MEA should launch a campaign to inform and educate Indian students in high schools, universities and higher institutes of learning about Africa and its importance to India. Africa is still undiscovered by almost all Indians. All they know about Africa are the cricket teams from South Africa and Zimbabwe!
Four, in addition to offering higher education and medical treatment for Africans, India should urgently establish branches of its universities and specialist hospitals, at least in east, west, central and South Africa. These projects have languished for long in the preliminary stages and now the time has come to implement them urgently to reduce the flow of African students and patients to India.
The prejudice and violence against Africans in India is not going away some time soon. Strong, drastic and sustained action is overdue.
*Kul Bhushan can be contacted at [email protected]