The Greater Noida police and district administration shrugged off crucial factors that indicated a rising anti-African sentiment among the public, thereby allowing race riots to break out on Monday evening.
A day before the mob attack on Africans, two Nigerians were beaten up by local residents on Sunday night. Though a case of assault was registered against unknown assailants, a senior police officer dismissed it as a “stray” incident.
That was an incorrect diagnosis of the situation. Today, even police officers agree that public anger had been building against African nationals over the past week.
“We heightened police vigil after being informed of such an incident. But we cannot assign a police officer for every Nigerian residing in Greater Noida, can we?” asked superintendent of police (rural) Sujata Singh.
Singh said the district administration had permitted only 50-60 people to take out a candlelight march in honour of a 17-year-old boy who succumbed to alleged drug overdose, but over a thousand gathered at the spot. “As more and more joined the march, we directed all Greater Noida police personnel to Pari Chowk. However, while the participants kept their peace, violence erupted inside Ansal Plaza – 50 metres away from the junction,” she added.
The superintendent of police said it was more a “socio-cultural issue between African and local residents” than a law-and-order problem.
Anger had been building up among local residents ever since the deceased, Manish Khari, went missing on Friday evening. They accused the Nigerian nationals of kidnapping the boy, and persuaded Kasna police to search flat no. B-14 – their place of residence – in NSG Society. Some even said the foreign nationals had “killed and eaten” the boy, and searched their refrigerator for remains.
On the residents’ insistence, police detained some Nigerians and – after finding no reason to doubt their statements – released them. But when Khari succumbed to alleged drug overdose the following day, the residents were quick to label them as the dope pushers responsible for his death.
Buckling under renewed pressure from residents, police registered a case of kidnapping, culpable homicide and murder against the foreign nationals. However, as there was still no evidence of wrong-doing, investigating officers confiscated their passports and released them.
This made the residents angrier still, and they took to the streets in protest on Monday morning. Many even picketed the offices of the district magistrate and the senior superintendent of police in Surajpur. They withdrew only after senior officials promised to act on their complaints.
However, discontent continued to simmer among the local residents. Thousands took out a candlelight march from NSG society to Pari Chowk later in the evening, blocking traffic on all roads leading to the junction. Police didn’t try dispersing the gathering, despite its organisers not adhering to the prescribed guidelines of peaceful assembly.
During the candlelight march, protesters shouted slogans against African students, held up flags that screamed ‘Nigerians go back’, and accused them of cannibalism and drug trafficking. And yet, police failed to gauge the degree of public hatred against African students – something that could have helped prevent the racial attacks that followed in its heels.