INDIA: Government must investigate racist attacks and establish forums to promote inclusive atmosphere

On March 26, in Greater Noida, near New Delhi, India was home to a blatant display of racism, following the death of a teenage boy, Manish Khari. The teenager’s family and neighbours registered an FIR against five Nigerians in the locality, accusing them of ‘cannibalism’ and Manish’s murder, as well as of being drug peddlers and supplying Manish with drugs. While it is not yet certain how Manish died, vengeful mobs took part in despicable acts of xenophobia and racism. From March 27, African people were attacked in different incidents of violence and mob outrage. A video of a mob attacking two Nigerian men, Endurance Amalawa and his brother, outside a mall, has surfaced, resulting in the hospitalization of the brothers. They have alleged that that they cried for help, but no one, including the security guards at the mall came to their aid, resulting in them being thrashed with chairs and bins and kicked and beaten by the mob. Five men were later arrested for this attack. Earlier, another Nigerian man, Auwal Aliyu, was attacked by a gang when he went to buy some food. He too was hospitalized due to injuries and remained indoors after, fearful of being seen in public. These are just two of the sporadic attacks occurring in the region.

The Association of African Students in India (AASI) has been the main voice against these racist attacks, and on March 28, had advised African students to stay indoors. They recalled this advisory on April 1 after being reassured by the police, and asked Africans to resume their normal activities. African envoys – chiefs of missions of 43 African countries – have called out the attacks as xenophobic and racial in nature, and said that Indian authorities did not take ‘sufficient, visible’ action to deter the incidents. They stated that they will call for an independent investigation by the Human Rights Council and other bodies. The Ministry of External Affairs has drawn criticism for its response that this was not a racial attack but was a criminal act triggered by the untimely death of the young boy.

The Asian Human Rights Commission(AHRC) stands in solidarity with the AASI and the African Heads of Mission and condemns the racial attacks on Africans living in Greater Noida. This is not the first time that Africans have been attacked in India and it is clear that there is a growing culture of stereotyping and consequent intolerance and racism against Africans. By terming the incidents ‘unfortunate’ and just a ‘criminal’ act and refusing to term them bigoted and racist in nature, the Indian State is doing itself a huge disfavor. The sooner India recognizes and accepts that racism is alive and kicking, reactionary and violent in nature, the sooner it can begin to address the growing alienation of the African communities in India.

If accusing Africans of cannibalism and drug dealing at the slightest provocation, and targeting them violently is not racist in nature, then the government must explain what would constitute a xenophobic and racial act. As a country of great diversity, it is ironic and distressing that many Indians are unable to see beyond skin colour and facial features—as with North-East Indians–and incapable of understanding that there are Africans in India who are regular college-goers and working people, and not drug dealers or pushers. Vigilantism and mob justice signals a breakdown of rule of law, and India would do well to accept and address the accusations of the African community, particularly if it wants to avoid a diplomatic mess.

The AHRC thus urges the government to promptly establish the cause of death of Manish Khari and to fairly investigate the charges of drug supply against the Nigerians. The government should also condemn the mob violence as acts of racism, and carry out a full and fair inquiry into the incidents and into allegations of police apathy. While it is crucial to hold accountable all those breaking the law, it is also necessary for India to take steps to establish and promote, through various means, such as interactive forums, an atmosphere of friendliness and inclusivity so that Indians and Africans can begin to see each other beyond skin colour and toxic stereotypes.