Last week’s horrific attack on a young African woman rightly drew the world’s attention to India’s racism problem once again. There is widespread condemnation of the incident and there is talk about the bad name the country is getting internationally. But that’s just one part of the loss that the country will suffer. The other side is the economic aspect of such attacks on foreigners.
And here we are not talking of trade but two other sectors: Education and healthcare. While there is no consolidated estimate of the number of African students in India, some reports say that at any given point there are more than 15,000 African students in India. While many Africans in State-run institutions arrive with scholarships, private institutions have outreach programmes that target students who can pay. Take, for example, two private universities. While Sharda University has 800 African students, a relatively new institution like OP Jindal Global University has 41 foreign students between 2013 and 2016. There are 2,000 African students in tier-two cities like Jalandhar and Phagwara. In the healthcare sector, more than 50% of foreign patients coming to India are from Africa.
Both are sunrise industries and the private players are looking towards Africa to tap the huge market. It goes without saying that for the two sectors to flourish and provide employment to Indians, physical security of foreigners is a must.
But often questions are raised as to how one can explain this economic rationale to the locals in an area, such as the ones who targeted the Tanzanian woman in Bengaluru on Wednesday. It is not easy. But it needs to be done because students or patients contribute to a local economy in many ways other than college fees or medical expenditure: House rentals, transport, tourism, entertainment, etc. To take a local example, look at how Kota’s economy runs on students coming from all over the country.
Last but not the least, is of course the foreign policy engagement with Africa. The Indian government and several private universities have scholarships for students from Africa. While such engagement is largely philanthropic, it is also a way to ensure that we have ‘friends of India’ to spread a good word or two about the country and ensure that more and more Africans look towards India for meeting their various needs.