Congolese nationals arrested in Punjab, a 'real hell for black Africans'

 The recent arrest of 21 Congolese students by police in Jalandhar, a city in northwestern India, has angered the black African community in the state of Punjab. Local Congolese say there is an intolerably racist atmosphere in the state.




The recent arrest of 21 Congolese students by police in Jalandhar, a city in northwestern India, has angered the black African community in the state of Punjab. Local Congolese say there is an intolerably racist atmosphere in the state.


The Congolese students were arrested on Saturday at a bus stop in Jalandhar, near the university named “Lovely Professional” where they are enrolled.


The reasons for their detention remain unclear. According to a representative from the Jalandhar police, the authorities were investigating luggage theft that occurred the day before at the same bus stop and were verifying the identity of the Congolese nationals. According to the police, the students allegedly refused to obey, hit them, and broke the camera of a journalist present on-scene. The Indian media are reporting this version of the story.


In a message sent to the Congolese embassy in New Delhi, the Congolese Community of India (CCI) explained that a group of Indians had directed racist slurs and threats at one of the Congolese students. The student called his friends and a fight broke out. The police questioned the Indians and Congolese involved in the fight; however, following the questioning, none of the Indians were detained, while the Congolese were kept in detention.


On Sunday, June 16, the Congolese nationals were transferred from the police station to the court of Jalandhar. Video posted on YouTube.


The students appeared before the court immediately and were placed in pre-trial detention for 14 days (the maximum length of detention allowed by law) after which time they will be judged. According to the CCI, who says it visited the detainees, “the detention conditions [of the Congolese students] are inhuman, and [the detainees] claim to have been subject to all kinds of insults and torture”.


When contacted by FRANCE 24, the secretary of the Embassy of Congo in India, Jean Baptiste Kasongo, said he “firmly condemns the events that took place” and that he found it suprising that only the Congolese are being judged. He called for “equitable justice” and expressed his displeasure that, in the eyes of the police, “the criminals could only be the Congolese”. FRANCE 24 also reached out to the Indian Interior Ministry, but to date none of its representatives has agreed to answer our questions. We will publish any answers as they come in.


The arrested Congolese were transferred to the court of Jalandhar on Sunday, June 16. Video uploaded to Facebook.

“They provoke us because they know that, whatever happens, it’s the black man who will be arrested”

Keita (not his real name) is an information technology (IT) student at the Lovely Professional University in Jalandhar. He was part of the group of Congolese brought in for questioning, but he managed to escape the police station where the police were interrogating them.


The Congolese student who was attacked by several Indians, which is what sparked the fight, is one of my friends. As he was taking money out of an ATM, a car headed straight toward him and bumped into him. The car “bumpings” perpetrated on black Africans are very common in Punjab as a means of intimidation and provocation, because they know that, whatever happens, it’s the black man who will be detained.

My friend then asked them what was going on, and the Indians got out of the car with cricket bats, saying they were going to get him. At that point, he called us, so we came to try to rescue him, which is when everything went downhill. [Editor’s note: FRANCE 24 could not independently verify this version of events].


The police were not aggressive when they arrested us. But once we were in the police station, they became increasingly threatening. When one of the policemen wasn’t paying attention to me, I managed to escape. I heard my friends yelling and saw from afar that the police were beating them.


“People make monkey noises at us”


As many Indian people—even police officers—see it, anyone who is black is suspicious. We are regularly accused of being drug dealers or alcoholics. I can’t go to the doctor without him or her asking me whether I take drugs.

Indians often call out “kalou” [editor’s note: “negro” in Hindi] while making monkey noises at us. Even the most banal daily activity becomes complicated for us. When we need to get administrative paperwork done, we often encounter people who speak to us in Hindi on purpose and make fun of us. Others tell us that India is already overpopulated and that we should leave.


“We get the impression that, to them, black people are cursed by the gods”

Christophe Okito is the president of the Association of African Students in India.


Africans come to India because student visas are easy to obtain, namely to study IT. There are about 500 to 600 black Africans in Jalandhar, including about 50 Congolese. Punjab is a very religious state [Editor’s note: 60% of Punjabis are Sikhs and the state is home to the holiest site in Sikhism, the Golden Temple]. Generally speaking, foreigners are not welcome here. There is a greater tendency here, relative to elsewhere in India, to shun those not in your religious or ethnic group.

We really get the impression that many of them truly believe that black people are cursed by the gods, destined to be slaves, whereas white people here as seen as intrinsically successful. The intolerance and racism make Punjab a real hell for black Africans. This is less the case in New Delhi, where the population is far more diverse.


And it’s not the first time that a black person is attacked by Indians in Punjab. In April 2012, a young man from Burundi was beaten up and spent nine months in a coma. The situation is getting so bad that we are seriously considering getting all Congolese students not in their final year to transfer universities in New Delhi for their own safety.


This new injustice has caused all the black Africans in Jalandhar to unite and we plan to organise protest activities to condemn this racism we are made to suffer.