‘Cultural gap, not racism causes India-Africa divide’

‘Cultural gap, not racism causes India-Africa divide’

By DIBYENDU MONDAL & AREEBA FALAK | NEW DELHI | 4 June, 2016
Graffiti in Khirki extension.
‘Their lifestyle is an absolute opposite of ours and the alleged illegal activities become a problem for our localities.’
Two weeks after the death of a Congolese national here was termed as a “racist attack”, an investigation by The Sunday Guardian has, however, thrown up a different picture. In an attempt to understand if racism was the reason behind the recent alleged attacks on African nationals in the capital, these correspondents surveyed a neighbourhood with a significant population of Africans. Locals, however, denied race was a problem and instead maintained that vast cultural differences and alleged illegal activities by some have led to “unpleasant stereotypes”.
 
GUESTS AND HOSTS 
Braving the blazing summer heat, Shadab (name changed), a young vegetable seller near the Khirki Extension area, sitting near his cart, said, “The locals call the Africans living in these areas ‘Habshis’. These people are way too different from us. They dress different, they eat different food, and their accent isn’t easy to understand either. Once I was coming back from a movie around 3:30 am and on my way back, I was stopped by three Africans. They wanted me to buy drugs from them. I had to dodge them to run away from the situation. ”
Even though “strong stereotypes” prevail among the locals, most of the houses on rent in the locality are inhabited by African nationals. Shadab said, “A flat here which might cost between Rs 8,000-Rs 10,000 a month for Indians, will cost around Rs 15,000 a month for Africans. Who wouldn’t want to earn some extra bucks? People first willingly give their homes on rent, but then their lifestyle becomes a problem.”
Rehman (name changed), a resident of the Khirki Extension area, said: “Every person coming from Africa is not bad and not all of them are coming here to do illegal business. I am friends with Africans who live here. I had rented my five flats here to African nationals, but eventually, I had to tell them to vacate due to unnecessary discomfort their activities caused.”
Both Shadab and Rehman supported the 2013 raid conducted by Somnath Bharti, former Delhi law minister and AAP leader. Bharti had carried out a “raid” in the Khirki Extension area near Malviya Nagar here for alleged drug peddling and prostitution in the area by African nationals. “Since then, the population of Africans in this area has decreased by almost 60%,” said Shadab. Irfan, another resident of Khirki Extension area, said: “The truth is that their race is not a problem with anyone here. But their lifestyle is an absolute opposite of ours and the alleged illegal activities become a problem for our localities.” 
Somnath Bharti told The Sunday Guardian, “It was not a raid, I tried to help them. All Africans are not bad, like all Indians are not good. There were many African nationals who were running prostitution rackets and the place was infested with crime and drug peddling as well.” 
Bharati added, “The real problem is not related to racism, but the cultural differences that we need to bridge. In this regard, we had started the Indo-African coordination committee where many meetings were held between the locals and the African nationals to bridge the cultural gap.” 
Running an African saloon in a basement in Khirki extension, Esser Ba (name changed) from Nigeria, warned: “It should not be forgotten that there are a lot of Indians staying in Nigera, and we can also do to them what we have experienced here.” Overcome by emotions, Ba waved her hands in the air and said: “Indians are racists and they do not like foreigners. I have been in India for more than a year and running this salon for about nine months. I had come here for a better livelihood.”
Psaka (name changed), another Nigerian, said: “All black persons are identified as only Africans, but there are 54 different countries in Africa. Many Indians think that black people are not good, but that’s wrong. Yes, there are many people from our community also who engage in illegal activity, but all people are not bad.”
These correspondents who visited the Khirki Extension area later at night between 11pm-12am, found several groups of Africans crowding the street corners. Loud music was played within homes and could be heard on the street. However, the existence of drug peddlers or prostitution could not be established. 
A senior police official of the Malviya Nagar police station said that this neighbourhood hosts no racial discrimination. He said: “Once in a while a minor scuffle might occur among neighbours that the residents prefer to handle themselves. We don’t have any cases registered here on grounds of racism.” 
 
INDO-AFRICAN RELATIONS
Professor S.N. Malakar of the International School of African Studies, JNU, said, “These incidents would affect the India-Africa diplomatic relationship. There is a wide Indian diaspora with over 25 lakh Indians living in African nations. As far as diplomatic relationship is concerned, the 54 African nations have 54 General Assembly seats in the United Nations and India is vying for a permanent membership of the UN’s Security Council. Such incidents could also hamper India’s prospect of a permanent membership of the UNSC.”
He added: “India has been making efforts to reach out to African nations for better ties. The Government of India last year hosted the India-Africa forum for better trade and political relations. African nations are also a part of the Indian Ocean Rim Association which could help India strategically in international relations.”
“Africans who come to India for academic and medical facilities bring in a lot of remittances. The African continent is rich in natural resources, including oil and other minerals which we can tap,” said Prof Malakar.
 
BRIDGING GAPS
The Delhi Police has proactively taken up the cause of Africans and conducted several community exchange workshops in various districts of the city to sensitise locals and guests of the cultural differences that run deep among the people. 
Joshua Boitt, a Kenyan student studying in the Baba Saheb Ambedkar Maharashtra University and the Aurangabad president of African Students’ Association India, said: “We are discriminated against all the time. I have been in India now for the past five years and I like this place. But the way some of them treat us and look down upon us is simply inhuman. There are educated people who may have prejudices against us, but they don’t treat us bad and there are others who think of us as non-humans. We don’t treat Indians like this back in our country. But here we are rewarded with stares.” 
A resident in Khirki extension said, “They know that India is a comparatively conservative society. So while they are here, they can try to adopt our lifestyle. If they don’t play music too loud at night, try to live in a more hygienic manner, unnecessary prejudices can be done away with.”
Prof Malakar said: “The local authorities and residents should work together to bridge the cultural gap and have a dialogue with the African community.”
 

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