‘In search of tolerance’: Why Capital’s African nationals moved to west Delhi
- In the last few years, west Delhi colonies, such as Tilak Nagar and Vikaspuri, have seen an influx of Africans from south Delhi localities such as Khirki Extension, Chhatarpur, Kishangarh and Mehrauli in the perpetual quest for what Chukwuebuka calls “an affordable and tolerant” neighbourhood.
Timothy Chukwuebuka, a Nigerian national, lived in Chhatarpur in south Delhi before he shifted to Krishna Puri in Tilak Nagar last year. The place, he says, has been much friendlier so far. “Hundreds of people of our community have shifted here from south Delhi villages, which became hostile to them. But I hope we remain welcome here,” he says. Recently, Tilak Nagar saw a protest by hundreds of Africans after a Nigerian national was allegedly assaulted by police, and eventually died. The police denied the allegations.
In the last few years, west Delhi colonies, such as Tilak Nagar and Vikaspuri, have seen an influx of Africans from south Delhi localities such as Khirki Extension, Chhatarpur, Kishangarh and Mehrauli in the perpetual quest for what Chukwuebuka calls “an affordable and tolerant” neighbourhood.
Today, Krishna Puri in Tilak Nagar, a middle-class maze of narrow streets and multi-storey houses, has hundreds of people from countries such as Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, and Cameroon, among others. It boasts of several churches, kitchens, salons and grocery stores, all run by Africans. It is a Friday evening and many young Africans are outside shops in groups, talking and sharing a laugh.
“Unlike in a village such as Chhatarpur, where locals want to control how we live, whom we invite home, and where the landlord would not think twice before barging into our house any time, people here so far have been tolerant of us,” says Chukwuebuka. “Africans tried hard to integrate with locals by following their rules and changing their lifestyle in south Delhi villages, but it did not change their hostile attitude towards us,” he adds.
He is not off the mark about the community’s efforts to integrate. In 2016, after attacks on people of African-origin in some south Delhi neighbourhoods, one of which left a Congolese teacher dead, the All India Nigerian Students and Community Association imposed a fine of ₹1,000 on anyone found wearing “inappropriate dress” as part of its efforts to adopt what its then president Arinze Nelson called the “Indian way of life”. The association advised the community members for the early closure of the African eateries in places such as Chhatarpur and Khirki villages.
“These villages are very conservative and a lot of villagers, especially elderly women, do not like our women wearing short clothes. So, my wife stopped wearing shorts and singles, which most women wear in Nigeria,” says a Nigerian national who did not wish to be named. “Here, I have advised people of my community not to do anything that antagonises the locals, such as loitering around in the night or organising late-night parties,” says Chukwuebuka. His relationship, he says, with his Indian neighbour in Tilak Nagar is formal. “I try to smile, say hi but some smile back, while others do not. But my landlord, who is a Sikh, is nice. He knows what it is like living in a foreign country, because he lived in the Gulf for over 25 years,” says Chukwuebuka.
In Chhatarpur, Jennifer B, who runs a beauty parlour, says people are left with no choice but to constantly shift as they continue to face discrimination, racist slurs and hostility from locals. She says she shifted to Chhatarpur from Malviya Nagar and Khirki Extension area two years ago because of the rising hostile environment towards Africans there.
Since 2014, when former Delhi law minister Somnath Bharti led a midnight raid at a house in the locality after a complaint of prostitution and drug peddling, Africans have been moving out of the area. Today, Khirki Village, which saw many Africans arriving in mid-2000s, is left with only a few of them. “I was forced to shift here as most of my African customers had left the place,” says Jennifer, sitting in her parlour in Rajpur Khurd village in Chhatarpur.
Bharti says, “I had taken action solely on the basis of the rising complaints from the locals. While there are both good and bad people in any community, the fact is a lot of people of African origin in the area were into drug peddling and human trafficking. Many of these dubious people left Khirki Extension after my action. Not a single complainant has appeared in court till date in the case.”
And what does Jennifer say about the experience in Chhatarpur? “Much the same, unfortunately. Here too, we get racist taunts and a lot of Africans are now moving to Tilak Nagar and Greater Noida,” Jennifer says after a pause. She adds that trouble for them can start over anything – loud music, being out in the streets at night, inviting African guests, and even over the tone of the conversation.
Locals in Rajpur Khurd, a Jat-dominated village, say they want the village to be free of all Africans. “The villagers have decided to ask all the remaining Africans to leave,” says Dilbagh Rathi. “Their lifestyle and culture is against our value system. These days, we have to keep an eye on our youngsters to ensure that they do not become part of their nightlife,” adds Rathi, without explaining what he means by “their nightlife”.
In 2016, in the twin villages of Rajpur Khurd and Maidan Garhi in Chhatarpur, there were four cases of attacks on African nationals. Following the attacks, over 15 African countries raised concerns over the safety of their citizens in India and the Union ministry of external affairs had to intervene. There were several meetings between the locals and Africans organised by the police. But these efforts had a temporary effect. Within months, Africans started moving to colonies in west Delhi.
Roa Narender Yadav, editor of India-Africa Today, an online magazine, says that resident welfare associations (RWAs) in south Delhi are part of the problem. “Most are controlled by retired people with fixed ideas, prejudice and skewed perception about Africans. NCR towns such as Greater Noida are relatively less racist and a lot of people in the RWAs are young and tolerant of different beliefs, systems and lifestyles,” he says.
Murtala Ibrahim, president of the Association of Africans Students in India (AASI), says that he advises the students to follow Indian rules and regulations and cultural mores. “I believe that every place is safe if you follow the local rules. The fact is there is much difference between Indian and African culture,” says Ibrahim, who lives in Greater Noida.