New Internationalist

India’s xenophobia shame

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India's 'the guest is divine' motto is failing to protect some visitors from xenophobic attacks. Adam Jones under a Creative Commons Licence

Hitting Indian headlines right now are stories that fill all decent Indians with sadness and shame.

Periodically, recently, we’ve had ugly racist attacks on people ‘not like us’. We’ve always had caste-based prejudice and communal clashes (read: Hindu-Muslim riots). These we are definitely inured to, and tend to treat as normal.

In Delhi, last week, a boy went missing. Somehow a rumour was started that this particular boy had been – believe it or not – attacked and eaten by cannibalistic Nigerians (yes, you read me correctly). In this day and age, where almost every Delhi-ite has a mobile phone and is active on social media, and watches news from all over the globe, the ignorant still abound. The boy, sadly, turned up dead, of an overdose of drugs. This didn’t deter the Nigerian-baiters. Word spread that the boy died because Africans had sold drugs to him. One African, like one white person, or one Chinese-Burmese-Thai-Northeastern person, is exactly like another for these sick, hate-filled people. Newspapers reported that a mob descended on a nearby shopping mall and brutally beat up a young Nigerian student to within an inch of his life. This is not the first attack on Africans in Delhi. Bangalore too, has had frenzied xenophobic spurts of violence against Africans and our own Northeastern citizens. An African woman was pulled out of a cab and stripped by a mob. Another African was beaten with iron rods and stoned to death. Regrettably, the penalties for these crimes have not made headlines.

Millions of Indians have family and friends living and working all over the globe. There is widespread anger, understandably, when Indians face hate-crimes in the US and Australia. There’s generally a nationwide rage, reflected in newspaper and TV headlines. How then, can we do this to other visitors to our turf?

What’s even more annoying is that our government, every government, continues to pretend that racism and xenophobia don’t exist in India. It’s not even treated as a seriously criminal act. So very little action is taken against the perpetrators. They get off scot-free, which emboldens people to keep bullying and beating people up. This phenomenon is also totally against Indian culture, where the guest is supposed to be revered and treated like a visiting god. ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ (‘The guest is divine’) is a phrase every Indian villager knows. So these vicious attacks are on one level incomprehensible. They are, however, very much a part of life for the bewildered African at the receiving end. African students in Delhi have messaged each other saying ‘Don’t leave your rooms, it’s not safe.’ What a shameful day for us as a country.

This time, though, outraged African envoys from several countries have demanded a separate, independent investigation by the UN into the racist and xenophobic attacks on their students. Reports are flying around that some African ambassadors, who have hitherto been fairly reticent regarding earlier attacks, have sent reports back to their home countries advising their nations to desist from supporting India’s bid for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.

They have realized, through bitter experience, that we as a nation allow racists, bullies and bigots to get away with murder. And unless they can protest effectively, vocally and internationally, so that it hits our government where it hurts, nothing will change.

I hope India’s non-racist, global community will get together to empathize with our African visitors.

To show them we are not all the same. We are not all bigots, racists or xenophobic. African sports heroes are revered. As is Nelson Mandela. But that’s not enough. We need to show solidarity here, in our country. On home ground.

It’s time for Africa.

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  1. #1 Anita Christy 07 Apr 17

    What a shock!!! Am so disappointed that the India that Gandhi strove to free through a discipline of non-violence and tolerance has digressed to such a state!!! I hope there will be a rise in activists to prove that bigotry and racism is a shame and belongs to the dark ages.

  2. #2 chandrika sen sharma 08 Apr 17

    Unfortunately, we are bullies and people who slavishly fawn on the rich and mighty in our own country - look at how we treat film stars and those in power,like Gods! it is incomprehensible to people with even half a brain! I am not surprised that these poor Nigerians were treated so badly - it is only when those responsible are held to their actions, that things will change. I, for one, am not holding my breath!

    Chandrika Sen Sharma

  3. #3 mari marcel 08 Apr 17

    http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/if-we-were-racist-why-would-we-live-with-south-indians-tarun-vijay/article17866698.ece

    Indian Minister compounds issue, we are not racist we live with black south indians

  4. #4 richard compart 10 Apr 17

    I wish that I could give each culture or religion a planet of there own.I hope that with suns diminishing sun spots witch might cause an ice age. Or the polar north shift witch would cause magnetosphere to collapse with the two of them together it might come fruition. I hope that the government or capitalist establishment has an understanding of what might happen witch they probably do. Maybe it could be like a new Adam and eve with 80% of the population dying with DNA caches or embryo caches it would be a new beginning is humanity a test. I have lots to say

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

Read more by Mari Marcel Thekaekara

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