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Africa

India: Tanzanian student attack brings charges of ingrained racism

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Bangalore Palace Nikkul/Open access

A Tanzanian student was attacked by a mob in the Indian city of Bangalore on Sunday. The young woman was stripped and paraded in front of onlookers. This is not the first case of racism and violence against Africans living in India.

On Sunday evening a Sudanese man driving in Bangalore ran over an Indian women, killing her. Half an hour later, four Tanzanian students stopped by the accident site to see what had happened. 

The angry locals assumed the young students were somehow involved in the incident and dragged them out of the car.

The three men managed to get away but the young woman was trapped by the crowd. They beat her, molested her and stripped her. She later told police that she had tried to get onto a bus but that the people inside pushed her back into the mob. There were also reports that there were police on hand, who failed to help her. 

This incident happened Sunday but wasn’t reported until Tuesday, apparently because the young woman was traumatised. 

“Right now, she [the victim] is with authorities,” said Christopher Okito, the former head of the Association of African Students in India, who traveled to Bangalore when he heard about the incident. “The authorities are saying no one took her clothes off. But we have witnesses who can prove it.” 

A senior police official denied that a sexual assault had occurred. Others denied that the act was racially motivated.

Okito disagrees. 

“People are not talking about the truth,” he said. “These things will happen again and again if they [the authorities] keep protecting people.” 

This is far from the first case of violence against Africans in India.

In 2014 a video was released showing a mob nearly lynching three young African students in Delhi. 

“Africans who are dark in colour suffer similar colour prejudices as dark-coloured Indians,” said Professor Ajay Dubey, who works in the African Studies Centre at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, where he has reported extensively on diaspora politics and Indian-African relations. “It is hard to differentiate discrimination against caste and race in India because they are intertwined. Darker people are associated with lower castes. The Africans are being included in long-reigning prejudices in Indian society”. 

For Okito, the African student leader, change starts with media coverage.

“When the authorities arrest any Africans, all the media will broadcast it,” he said. “They mention rape, drugs charges. But when Indians hurt Africans, it is rarely reported. I have reports of Africans being killed in India and no media has broadcast that incident”.

Now social media helps to get reports of these incidents out. So, increasingly, Africans know what is going on.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been reaching out to Africa for more partnerships of late. In the past three years alone, 25,000 Africans have been trained or educated in India.

In December the Indian government announced a further 900 scholarships for African students. If India wants to continue to forge these ties, it will have to address the problem of these attacks.

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