Not proud to be an Indian
The attack on an African student underlines our prejudice against 'outsiders'. Namita Bhandare writes.columns Updated: Sep 30, 2012 13:20 IST
Dear Mr Nihangaza,
I write to you as a mother and as a citizen of India, a country that has a proud tradition of tolerance; a country where guests are supposed to be treated as gods - atithi devo bhava.
But today it is not with pride but shame that I write to you, a father in faraway Burundi whose son lies in coma in India following a murderous assault on him.
Your 23-year-old son, Yannick, came to India to pursue a Bachelor's degree in computer science. You say he was an 'outstanding student who was constantly busy learning the skills needed for his future and the contribution to the betterment of the world'.
When parents choose to send their children to a faraway country to study it is in the belief that they will return more knowledgeable, more understanding and with a positive vision for tomorrow. Our children are our investments in hope, a testimony to the human spirit's undying optimism in its ability to make this world a better place.
I do not know the circumstances under which you sent Yannick to India. I do know from newspaper reports that on the night of April 21, he was on his way to a party in Ludhiana when he got into a quarrel with a group of people and was attacked with bottles, iron rods and stones and left for dead until some passers-by took him to the hospital. Two arrests have been made, but the others are free.
Doctors are not hopeful that Yannick will come out of coma. What you now, understandably, want is to return home with him. And for this you have written to chief minister Parkash Singh Badal asking for justice and financial help. "In a country that I believe is a civilised one and where the laws of the land should be respected and evil be punished…the killers who stoned my innocent son and left him assuming dead are known and still free," you wrote.
Mr Nihangaza, I do not mean to be cynical but I would caution you against raising your hopes for justice. Your letter has gone unanswered and you are in a country where racism runs deep, not just against African students but also against its own citizens. Were the deaths of Loitam Richard in Bangalore, Ramchanphy Hongray in New Delhi and the suicide of Dana Sangma part of a racist pattern? We cannot leap to conclusions but surely attitudes to 'outsiders' become evident when Delhi police ask women from the north-east to avoid wearing revealing dresses or cooking 'smelly' food or when Hyderabad University focuses on students from the north-east during a drug awareness campaign.
Racism is often hard to prove. It comes in the form of a sneer, a leery look or a slur - chinki, Madrasi, kallu. Was Yannick the victim of a hate crime or just a crime? We may never know but enough Africans in India have spoken about blatant as well as latent prejudice.
Prejudice seems to have become one of our defining features. We see it when the Shiv Sena declares war against migrant taxi drivers. We see it when millions of people purchase 'fairness' creams in the hope of improving prospects. We see it in our ads that declare: "It's tough being a West Indian in India." We see it when IPL authorities send black cheerleaders home.
Yet, we are hyper sensitive when the shoe is on the other foot. On April 21, the night your son was attacked in Ludhiana, a student from Odisha, the same age as your son, was shot dead in Boston. We shouted ourselves hoarse with outrage over his killing. We shouted ourselves hoarse when Indians students were attacked in Australia. And we shout ourselves hoarse when Ashton Kutcher makes fun of our accent and way of life.
Will we shout ourselves hoarse over what happened to your son? I fear we will not. I hope you will get the justice you desire. But more realistically, I pray that your son will find a better place than the one he had here in my country.
Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer
The views expressed by the author are personal