INDIA

Africans in India targeted in racist attacks

Protest by African students in Greater Noida to protest against the arrest of five students accused of murder. Photo: Association of African Students in India.
Protest by African students in Greater Noida to protest against the arrest of five students accused of murder. Photo: Association of African Students in India.

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Tensions are high between locals and African students in the northern Indian city of Greater Noida, east of New Delhi, after the death of an Indian man there last weekend. African students were accused of murdering him and have been subject to violent racist attacks in retribution.

On Saturday March 25, an Indian student in Greater Noida (in the state of Uttar Pradesh) died of a heart attack, which the authorities believe was caused by a drug overdose. Locals accused African students living in the area of having deliberately drugged him. Five Nigerians were arrested and detained by Indian police.

Hundreds of African students gathered outside the local police station on Sunday to protest against what they saw as unjustified and discriminatory arrests. The police eventually released the five students on Monday after failing to find proof or witnesses.

Photo taken on Sunday March 26 at a protest by African students in front of the Greater Noida police station. Photo: Association of African Students in India.

This move by the police provoked more anger in the community. A march organised as an homage to the young man quickly turned into an anti-African demonstration. A dozen young African men were beaten up by a group of locals. Videos and photos published on social media show an angry mob attacking black men in the Ansa Plaza shopping centre in Greater Noida — some of them even picking up nearby chairs and hitting the black men lying on the floor with them.

 

Screengrab from the video taken in the Ansa Plaza shopping centre in Greater Noida, when a mob attacked a young black man. 

On Tuesday, pictures of injured African students circulated on social media, causing an outcry around the country amongst foreigners and Indians alike. 

An injured African student. Photo sent by an Observer in Greater Noida.

"We have to prove that we're not cannibals"

Manasse is Congolese and lives in Greater Noida, where he has been studying for two years. He is the president of the Congolese Community of Greater Noida association. He thinks that these tensions between the two communities have been around forever.

The Association of African Students in India told African students not to leave their homes because of the violence. The police also handed out hotline numbers to call if there was violence. I've never seen a situation like this in Greater Noida; we are really discriminated against, but it's never gone this far.

The person who was found dead had disappeared the night before, on the Friday. There were rumours going around that he had been kidnapped by "cannibal" Africans who wanted to eat him. And this isn't even the first time that I've heard this. Sometimes Indians at university ask us if we're cannibals. We have to say no, of course we're not. But it's exhausting having to constantly prove yourself. For example, there was already a situation in the town a few months ago when a family lost their pet dog. The Africans living in the neighbourhood were instantly accused of having eaten it!

"We don't want to cause trouble"

In general, we don't talk much with Indians. We go to classes together and that's it. Personally, I've never had real Indian friends in the whole time I've been living here. We focus on our studies and tell ourselves that we'll leave as soon as we've graduated... You have to hang in there. The cultural differences are quite noticeable between our communities, but we try to adapt by not eating meat that they don't eat either, like beef, and not drinking alcohol in public. We don't want to cause trouble.

"Universities should organise roundtables"

I think that our demonstration by the police station served to heighten tensions, although we were just asking that our friends be freed and that the police opened a proper investigation. But with every thing that happens, there are always different version and lots of rumours. For example, at the moment in the African community, there's a rumour that Indians are planning to attack Africans in their own homes...

I think that universities ought to organise roundtables to try to alleviate these tensions, although I'm not sure that that will be enough. I think that the Indian government should also do something to sort this out, for example by putting in place campaigns against this type of behaviour.

Several representatives of African student organisations met the town's police chief on Tuesday afternoon, along with a representative from the Nigerian embassy, to try to calm the situation. According to the authorities, seven people have been arrested in connection with the violence towards African students on Monday evening.

Meeting between foreign student associations, members of the Nigerian embassy, and the Greater Noida police.

On Twitter, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, explained that she had spoken with the chief minister for the state of Uttar Pradesh, who had assured her that there would be a "fair and impartial" investigation into the incident.

 >> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Mob attacks African students in Indian metro