It was a most unsavoury backdrop to the meeting of business czars and political luminaries which was underway in Karnataka. As Make in India was talked about and the state projected as an attractive investment destination, a Tanzanian girl was reportedly stripped and paraded naked in retaliation for a Sudanese national having run over another woman. Such ugly racist incidents are not new to a city which is touted as the Silicon Valley of India, home to a vast IT industry. Earlier, it was northeasterners who bore the brunt of ugly racist rage from locals for no reason other than that they are ‘different’.
It does not stop at that: Women are routinely harassed in the supposedly progressive city. Although in the Bengaluru case, a few people have been arrested, the law-enforcement seems particularly lax in pursuing punitive action. Earlier, there was a horrific incident in Delhi when a Ugandan woman was attacked in which a former AAP minister was involved. Instead of taking swift action against the culprits, all manner of allegations about the morality of African women were bandied about.
The simple truth is that a large proportion of Indians are racist and have pre-conceived notions about people of other races. Women from the West are harassed in tourist destinations on the grounds that they have inferior morals to Indians. All this does not paint a very bright picture of a young and modernising nation. India is a preferred education destination for many African countries since they find the standards are good here and the fees are more affordable than in Europe or the US.
These incidents will make many think twice before heading here. In addition, we keep talking about education as a route to soft power in Africa. But when it comes to treating African nationals with dignity and respect, we seem to fall back on old prejudices and ignorance. The government of Karnataka should have wasted no time in acting, instead we see one of its ministers quibbling over what exactly transpired in the case. Many African students have reported difficulties in finding accommodation, having to face taunts and racial insults, being overcharged in shops and restaurants and simply being ostracised by the local populace.
This really does not cover India in glory nor does it help in our Africa outreach which was to gain momentum after the mammoth heads of state meeting last year. Now the issue has taken on diplomatic tones with Tanzania issuing a note verbale. This means the issue will snowball leaving no one in any doubt that neither observing law nor common decency comes easily to many Indians.