It is hypocritical of India to say attacks on Africans were not racist | editorials | Hindustan Times
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It is hypocritical of India to say attacks on Africans were not racist

At a time when India is at a turning point in its relations with the African continent, this reticence, let alone the casual bias of many Indians, is unfortunate. India is now the third-largest trading partner of Africa, having overtaken the US and Japan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been at the forefront of this new relationship. He should use some of his remarkable popularity to lecture his people on the sins of racial bias.

editorials Updated: Apr 09, 2017 07:22 IST
At a time when India is at a turning point in its relations with the African continent, this reticence, let alone the casual bias of many Indians, is unfortunate.
At a time when India is at a turning point in its relations with the African continent, this reticence, let alone the casual bias of many Indians, is unfortunate. (Virendra Singh Gosain/HT PHOTO)

African ambassadors to India have issued an unprecedented formal complaint criticising the weakness of New Delhi’s response to the recent attacks on Africans in Greater Noida. While there is evidence the complaint did not represent the views of many African governments, there is nonetheless a message for Indians as a whole. The ambassadors’ complaint spoke of how, despite repeated cases of Africans being assaulted by Indians, there was “no known, sufficient and visible deterring measures” being taken by New Delhi. They argued that the recent attacks in Greater Noida were “not sufficiently condemned” and that these repeated attacks were “xenophobic and racial” in nature.

The Indian government has been quick to insist that arrests have been made and, generally, the police have been active in most such cases – though this is often because of official prodding. It is also a fact that the Indian foreign minister normally speaks out against such incidents. What is questionable is Indian officialdoms insistence such attacks are not racist. Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, after a series of such incidents last year, had told the Rajya Sabha, these “were not any kind of racial attacks” but “spontaneous” and “criminal.” New Delhi makes a specious argument that if such assaults are not pre-meditated and specifically motivated by an African’s physical appearance, then such incidents are not racial.

A minority of the Africans – as is the case with almost every class of foreigner in India – face violence because they are involved in criminal activities. But it is also clear that Indians use this is an excuse to go after anyone of African appearance, irrespective of whether they are involved in any crime. More importantly, racism is ultimately defined by the perception of the victim. Any person of black origin who lives in India faces a steady stream of petty racism whether in the form of verbal abuse, social ostracisation, and discrimination in such issues as housing. Inevitably, if they are attacked by a mob they will assume their skin colour is part of the reason. The Aam Aadmi Party all but made African-bashing an electoral selling point. It is hypocritical that New Delhi is quick to declare attacks on people of Indian origin in the West as racist while steadfastly refusing to admit what happens on the home front.