WHEN BROWN’S DARKER THAN BLACK
By Robin Shukla
For a nation greatly distressed over its people getting harassed and killed in racist attacks in the US, India seems to have minimal qualms over its own senseless hatred of Africans.
March 27, 2017 saw three African youths being brutalized by a large mob of Noida residents. The attackers were reportedly incensed over the death of a 16-year-old Indian drug-user who succumbed to a probable overdose, and over the subsequent release of five Nigeria-born students suspected of having provided drugs to the deceased.
Anti-African violence has again reared its ugly head after a lull of about seven months. Last year, sometime in July 2016, there were two kinds of reports coming out of Africa: One was of Indian PM Narendra Modi’s five-day-four-nation jaunt to Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya. The other pertained to retaliatory violence unleashed against Indian traders in Congo over the killing of a Congolese woman, Cynthia (32), who was murdered by her Indian husband and chopped into pieces in Hyderabad, India!
During his much tom-tommed people-to-people interactions in those four countries, Modi failed to address the issue of frequent racist attacks across India that had riled the entire African continent of 54 countries. One can only hope that nobody stokes anti-India sentiments there in retaliation for the current Noida attacks, because the video footages are very sickening.
In the aftermath of Monday’s attack, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had tweeted, ‘I have asked for a report from Government of Uttar Pradesh about the reported attack on African students in Noida’ and ‘He (UP CM Yogi Adityanath) has assured that there will be a fair and impartial investigation into this unfortunate incident.’
Ministry of external affairs spokesperson Gopal Baglay said, ‘The government is committed to ensuring safety and security of all foreigners in India. People from Africa, including students and youth, remain our valued partners.’ A day later after this least assuring and questionable government tripe, Maria Burendi was brutalized by a Noida mob.
The administration had obviously failed to see an oncoming situation, even though on March 25, 2017, more than 500 (some say 1,000) residents of Greater Noida housing societies had taken a morcha to the SSP office to protest against what they termed ‘police inaction.’ That the marchers were holding printed banners and posters seeking the eviction of Nigerians should have alerted police to the fact that there was a behind-the-scenes channelizing of hatred, and that the morcha was not just a spontaneous expression of anger against an Indian drug-user’s death.
Earlier attacks on Africans
Last year, on May 25, 2016, a grand Africa Day Celebrations event was almost boycotted by 42 African nations because a 23-year-old Congolese national, Masonga Kitanda Oliver, had been beaten to death in the Vasant Kunj area of India’s capital, Delhi, only five days earlier, on May 20.
Diplomats of African nations had planned to stay away from the Africa Day Celebrations, organized in Delhi by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, as a mark of protest against the discrimination and violence faced by their countrymen in various parts of India. The envoys of several African countries signed and sent a strong letter ticking off the Indian government for failing to protect their nationals.
As a matter of fact, hundreds of Africans were set to march alongside members of the Association of African Students of India in an anti-racism rally to condemn the atrocities. However, senior BJP leaders like the then Minister of State for External Affairs, General (retd) V.K. Singh and Sushma Swaraj had made placating noises about brotherhood, shared histories, etc, and the rally was cancelled. Some diplomats later condescended to attend the Africa Day Celebrations where they voiced their concerns and displeasure over India’s treatment of Africans.
Alem Woldermariam, the Ambassador of Eritrea, warned, ‘Given the pervading climate of fear and insecurity in Delhi, the African heads of mission are left with little option than to consider recommending to their governments not to send new students to India, unless and until their safety can be guaranteed.’
Ironically, on May 25, 2016, on the day Africa Day Celebrations event was held in Delhi, a 23-year-old male Nigerian student, Ghazeem, was assaulted with an iron rod and had to be hospitalized after a tiff over parking his car in Hyderabad. A day later there were as many as four attacks with bats and iron rods on nine African nationals, including four women and a boy, in the villages of Rajpur Khurd and Maidan Garhi located in South Delhi.
It would be pertinent to point out that Rajpur Khurd, in addition to its population of about 5,000 Rathi Jats, has more than a 1,000 African men and women renting spaces for up to Rs.15,000 per month and friction between locals and the dark-skinned foreigners has continued to trigger violence from time to time.
The state of Karnataka brought real shame to India in February 2016, when a 21-year-old Tanzanian woman was pulled out of her car in Bengaluru, her clothes torn off by a mob that beat her up and continued to chase her even as she fled into a bus. The horror of horrors was that passengers, our own dear Kannadigas, pushed her out of the bus and into the hands of her ravagers even as Bengaluru police looked on and then stood by mutely as her car was torched by the mob.
Bengaluru has been bad to Africans before. In March 2015, a mob in the northeast part of the city attacked men from the Ivory Coast with stones and beer bottles. In July 2013, 44-year-old Wandoh Timothy from Chad was attacked by a mob in Bangalore after an argument with bikers while he was on his way to pick up his three-year-old daughter from school. Timothy has been living in India for more than a decade and is happily married to an Indian girl.
In September 2014, three students, Yohan, Mapaga and Guira, from Gabon and Burkina Faso were set upon by a mob at a Delhi metro station for alleged eve-teasing.
Most of us may remember the despicable behavior of Aam Aadmi Party’s cabinet minister Somnath Bharti who, in January 2014, led a raid against Ugandan women for alleged drug dealing and prostitution rackets in Delhi. Most of the women were allegedly molested, leading to uproar in their home country.
In December 2013, 36-year-old Obodo Uzoma Simeon from Nigeria was hacked to death in north Goa, allegedly the fallout of a drug peddling dispute. There were spontaneous street protests by other Africans, many from Nigeria itself and police had to intervene to prevent a law and order situation.
On April 21, 2012, Yannick Nihangaza from Burundi was attacked by nine youth from well-to-do families in Jalandhar, Punjab. He was hospitalized and went into a coma, from which he recovered a few months later. The traumatized young man died after two years, in his home on July 1, 2014.
Color prejudices run deep
Even a cursory enquiry will expose the scary situation of the common Indian perceiving Africans as almost a subspecies, and many Africans have gone on record about the teasing and baiting they have had to cope with from unknown persons or groups on the streets of India, or from their overtly suspicious neighbors who view every African as a drug-smuggling or online-racketeering Nigerian.
Anti-African prejudices continue to run deep in Goa where even BJP ministers are known to have mouthed off uncalled for remarks and later had to eat their words for reasons of political correctness. Nothing is mentioned however about the violent Russians who have virtually taken over swathes of Goa’s beachfront areas into which Indians are discouraged from entering.
The dangerous downside
On the numbers front, there could be a fine line we are crossing as population equations could well work against us. We may have at best about 50,000 Africans currently in India as against the millions of Indians living and working in that continent. At any time, injustices highlighted here could trigger violent retaliation in various parts of Africa, a situation India could ill-afford.
There was a backlash of sorts after the killings of Masonga Kitanda Oliver and Cynthia, with many Indian settlers getting roughed up and shot at while their shops were vandalized in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa. There are about 5,000 Indian living in that country.
On the economic front, India’s trade with Africa is worth approximately $72 billion, and it sources 24% of its crude oil from Africa. Several Indian private companies have invested there in the agriculture, renewable energy, pharmaceutical, automobile, telecommunication and engineering goods sectors.
China’s trade there was pegged at upwards of $200 billion in 2012, three times as much as that of India, with US figures pegged at $100 billion. Bad relations and the presence of such business rivals could be our undoing.
What about dark-skinned Indians and Asians?
There is scarcely a dusky complexioned Indian who will not have heard the word kalia or kali being used in reference to him or her because of skin tone.
The advertising for fairness creams which one sees on almost all of the hundreds of TV channels and scores of magazines and newspapers in almost all languages may easily be crossing the billion-rupee mark each year.
Parents and grandparents groom little girls with applications of various pastes made from ingredients in the kitchen to lighten their color. As they grow older, manufactured cosmetics get used and there are several in the market to choose from.
Even players like Nivea, who were satisfied with the success of their winter creams and lotions and deo-sprays, have graduated from under-arm whiteners to lotions that could bring in fairness all over!
The obsession with fairness is not a factor only with the fairer sex. There are Fair and Handsome creams, face washes, and lotions and many other such products for the men and boys, with superstars and cricketing legends endorsing and vouching for their efficacy. The contagion has spread as easily as cream and lotion, thanks to the deep-rooted prejudice that Indians have against their dark-skinned countrymen or women.
Matrimonial prospects are better for the fair and good-looking while those a few shades down have to offer a dowry of extra cash and goods to get a chance at being carted away by a spouse.
Not a new problem, God suffered too
Color equations in India have avowedly ancient origins. As the Vicco people tell us in their jingles, a fair and lovely complexion is guaranteed because their turmeric cream has ingredients recommended in ancient Ayurvedic texts.
Yashomati Maiya se boley Nandlala
Radha kyun gori, mai kyun kala
These are the first words of a popular song from the super hit film, Satyam Shivam Sundaram, which even today has sing-along acceptability among all age groups and persuasions. Little Lord Krishna is asking his mother, why is it that Radha is fair and I am black.
Our dusky curd-grabbing flute-playing god is the stuff of many romantic legends and enjoys absolute devotion among Hindus. He has an overseas presence via the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), where mostly white devotees adopt Indian sadhu and sadhvi nomenclatures and attract attention at various temples across the globe with their heavily accented chanting and their swaying and dancing to bhajans sung to an accompaniment of cymbals and drum beats.
Unfortunately, acceptance of black or dark skin is limited only to Krishna and a few other gods and goddesses like the dark Kali Mata (Durga) and the pitch black Balaji of Tirupati.
In fact, Lord Balaji is probably the most venerated figure, ensconced atop Andhra Pradesh’s Tirupati Hills, the most visited place of pilgrimage in India when compared to all the mountain trudging and river dipping at various other yatras, kumbhs and maha-kumbhs in the East, West and Northern parts of the country and also the Sabarimala walkathon in the southern state of Kerala.
Skin color may well continue to be one among India’s various intolerance issues, but it may not be safe to continue to subject Africans to our biases and prejudices. If patience runs out, those of us living in or visiting Africa may find it difficult to mouth the usual drivel about ‘Africans being our brothers and being very safe in India’ with our badly bruised lips and broken teeth.