The handful of Africans who are living in India—mostly students on study visas—have complained that they are subjected to “racism” by Indians and are “seen as demons.” According to one student, Nigerian Zaharaddeen Muhammed, they all know at least one Hindi word: “bander,” which means “monkey.”
In a lengthy interview with Aljazeera, Zaharaddeen said that he has doubted his decision to attend an Indian university because of the “daily derogatory comments,” the “questions about personal hygiene,” the “unsolicited touching of his hair,” the “endless staring,” and his “failure to interact with Indian people on a deeper level.”
“People often look at me as if I am different, and hard to be trusted,” Zaharaddeen told Aljazeera. “I have never been at an Indian person’s home, as a friend. No one has visited me.”
Zaharaddeen is a member of the Association of African Students in India (ASAI), which last month announced a protest rally at New Delhi’s Janter Manter.
“African students no longer feel safe in India; we have to deal with racism at every turn,” said the ASAI statement.
The rally was planned after the Congolese teacher Masonda Kitanda Olivier died in an attack in Delhi in May. A week later, six Africans, including two women and a clergyman who was on his way home with his wife and baby, were attacked by men with cricket bats, Aljazeera said.
And earlier this year, a female student from Tanzania was beaten and stripped in Bangalore by an angry mob, in response to a fatal accident caused by a Sudanese student.
In each of the cases, the police said that racism had nothing to do with it, the article stated—but “for the student association and the Group of African Heads of Missions, it had, and the time had come to take up the issue at a higher level.”
Zaharaddeen attended one of the meetings in Chattarpur in southwest Delhi, an area full of narrow alleys popular with students. At the meeting, African residents spoke about the difficulties they often have in finding accommodation.
“When landlords find out where you are from, they just say ‘no’,” a female student said. “I don’t want to be targeted. Even when people ask me at parties where I am from, I often lie … you never know who you are speaking to. You might be followed and harassed.”
She used to live in an area similar to Chattarpur and says she was evicted by her landlord without any notice. “Even if they rent out their place to you, they remain suspicious and start asking for the rent halfway through the month. I was late with paying once and was told to leave immediately.”
And it is not just landlords who think like that, the female student explains. “Shopkeepers often check the money I give them to make sure it is not fake,” she says.
A broker who mediates between landlords and potential tenants told Aljazeera that he often gets requests not to show houses to “black people,” because they’re presumed to deal in drugs and be involved in other criminal activities.
At a recent meeting organized by the “Africa-India Solidarity Forum,” Ibrahim Djiji Adam, a 25-year-old student from Libya, told Aljazeera that Africans are “often seen as demons, drug dealers, or prostitutes.”
Ibrahim said he learned Hindi and even “dated an Indian girl.” This is how, he says, he realized that many Indians “are racist among themselves” as well.
Professor Archin Vanaik, who retired from teaching international relations at Delhi University and also spoke at the forum, told Aljazeera that he agreed with Ibrahim and linked the “widespread racism African people experience in India to the caste system.”
“The caste system makes it easier for people to accept other forms of exclusion,” he said.
There might also be what he calls “psychological compensation” at play for those Indians who experience prejudice as members of lower castes or the so-called “other backward classes.”
“They could feel better by looking at African people and thinking ‘at least I am better than that,’” he told Aljazeera.