The case of racial discrimination – Is Delhi turning antagonistic?



Very recently, a Congolese teacher was beaten to death by a group of three men, after an argument while boarding an auto-rickshaw.

In the past, too, there have been multiple incidents of violence, which raise serious questions about the security of foreign nationals. African expatriates are often subjected to misbehavior and viewed with suspicion, for no fault of theirs. In fact, many African missions boycotted the celebration of Africa Day organized by the GOI in protest. This begs the question, is Delhi turning racist?   

It is important to analyze the issue from the context of IIT Delhi, which plays host to a large community of Ethiopian students. These students are pursuing their Masters and Doctorates, thanks to scholarships provided by their government. We talked to a few of them, to understand what their experience at IIT Delhi has been; whether they face discrimination, and how they think these problems can be rectified.

“Indians are really curious about us. We get a lot of questions about our nationality, and it’s funny that a lot of people just assume that we’re Nigerians. A lot of them believe that all African nations are poor and unstable. In fact, Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. It also has a functional, well-equipped army, which is even involved in peace-keeping operations in Korea and Sudan. Also, the Ethiopian climate is very mild, compared to Delhi. The average temperature there is 20-22 degrees, so it’s a tough job to acclimatize ourselves to the situation here” says Mesfin Mamo, who is pursuing his Masters in Civil Engineering. For these students, communication isn’t a big issue, as a basic amount of English is spoken and understood by most of the people they interact with. The mess staff and guards, they say, are especially friendly and helpful. 

Upon being asked whether they faced incidents of discrimination, we received mixed replies. “At times, yes. Occasionally, other students don’t help us out when we need something. Even in the project groups, we tend to feel out of the loop. On the other hand, professors try their best to address our doubts and aid us” said one student, on the condition of anonymity. Another student, Wubishet Wollo, disagrees. “All you have to do is ask. Once you take the first step, the students are really amicable. We do have to pay extra for autos, and while shopping, but that’s normal, it happens in every country. We just buy whatever we want online. I think that countries and people are not rigid, and given time and the right learning, any untoward incidents can be avoided. There just needs to be more acceptance of the lifestyle and behaviors of different people.” On the other end of the spectrum, says Martin from TU Munich, Germany, that the most problematic times for him in Delhi were when he had to get through a bureaucratic procedure. So also says Karoline Kadletz from TU, Munich who had to make multiple visits to the regional passport office and was asked a lot of questions about her stay because she was an outsider.

That even one student has such a complaint, is unjustifiable. We must ensure that we create an environment conducive for their growth and learning, so that they can achieve the purpose they came here for. It is easy to dismiss such complaints as trivial in the paradigm of a secure campus, but outside, it is these small issues that pile up to create a tense atmosphere, which leads to distrust. This is visible in the fact that African men and women are labelled with derogatory terms and are often unable to find employment and residence. We are all too familiar with the hushed tones in which stereotypes and jokes about them are discussed within our circles. 

Many African communities in Delhi, in an amazing display of acceptance, realize that India is a conservative country, different from their own, which requires certain laws and etiquettes to be adhered to. To ensure their inclusion into society, they are making a proactive effort not to offend our fragile sensibilities, by changing their clothing choices, habits and lifestyle. We must return the gesture, by demonstrating the true power of Indian diversity and assimilation. The external affairs minister asked us to tell African immigrants that we love them. Although this seems patronizing, and was rightly slammed by the twitter community, there is no doubt that there was a well-meaning intent behind it. It is time to demonstrate that emotion through action as well.     

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