Offer African students scholarships, but assure them of safety also | editorials | Hindustan Times
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Offer African students scholarships, but assure them of safety also

The human resources development minister, Prakash Javadekar offered to double the number of scholarships the government offers to Africans. He should have also considered announcing India would be reworking its school curricula to try and counter deep-seated racist sentiment against Africans present among many Indians.

editorials Updated: May 31, 2017 17:29 IST
African students walk to their university in Greater Noida in February.
African students walk to their university in Greater Noida in February. (Sunil Ghosh / Hindustan Times)

India continues to be a study in contrast in its relations with Africa and Africans. The human resources development minister, Prakash Javadekar, announced at the recent African Development Bank annual meeting in Gujarat that India would double the number of scholarships it offers to Africans to an impressive 50,000 over the next five years. He should have also considered announcing that India would be reworking its school curricula to try and counter deep-seated racist sentiment against Africans present among many Indians.

The scholarships will help Indians win hearts and minds in Africa, a continent that is becoming economically and strategically ever more important to India. There are already a number of long-standing programmes of scholarships, technical education and military training between India and many African countries. These have been highly rated by Africans and have helped India leave a positive image with African elites. Three of Nigeria’s presidents are alumni of India’s military academies. It is not uncommon to find cabinet ministers in English-speaking African countries who have spent time in Indian institutes of research and education.

Unfortunately, much of this goodwill is subsequently frittered away by periodic stories of Africans being attacked by mobs of Indians – in a few cases, some of them even being killed. A more insidious effect is the social ostracisation, verbal abuse and petty discrimination that Africans living in India face on a daily basis. New Delhi’s insistence that there is no racial element in such experience is ingenuous. While some of the Africans have been attacked over suspected criminal activity, such vigilantism is always accompanied by racial epithets. Any survey of Africans living in India would make it clear that they believe much of the negativity they face in this country is racially based. The Indian government regularly announces that it will launch racial sensitivity campaigns and that the perpetrators of attacks on Africans will be punished. But these are increasingly seen as verbal dressing to fend off criticism. The campaigns are invisible and the government never provides any evidence that any Indian has been convicted or imprisoned.

Africans are unfortunately often the recipients of discriminatory behaviour across the world. The World Values Survey, however, rates India as the second-most racially intolerant society in a poll of 80 countries across the world. Over 43% of Indians say they would not live next to someone of a different race. Not even Pakistan and Bangladesh rate as badly as India does. India may pride itself as representing an ancient civilisation, home of the some of most advanced moral philosophies ever developed but in the 21st century it needs to do much more to accept and counter its own dark side.