Cry for Me, Africa

Social Commentary

Cry for Me, Africa

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Two years ago, Aliyu landed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport from Abuja, Nigeria. Then 25, Aliyu was looking forward to working toward a master’s degree at Noida International University. He’d arrived in Delhi on the recommendation of his father’s friend, who’d sung praises of the Indian capital’s burgeoning education sector. Aliyu had presumed that he would get the same warm reception here that his compatriots extended to the many Indians in his home country.

Being here, however, has been a rude awakening for the youngster. He got used to being heckled and the daily abuses he received on Noida’s streets, but he had hoped his fellow students and teachers would be better. No such luck. While Aliyu has a few Indian friends in class, he can’t shake off the feeling that they view him as “the other”. “I try to keep calm because it’s not my country,” he told me, harrowed. “They treat us like dogs but we aren’t dogs. We are human beings like them. I will tell everyone I meet to never come here.”

At 4 am this Tuesday, things came to a head. Aliyu hurriedly left his home in Surajpur, Greater Noida, fearing for his life, to bunk with friends in a part of South Delhi. He’s scared out of his wits because he has seen the videos.

The day before, grainy videos of four African students getting thrashed at Greater Noida’s Ansal Plaza mall, surfaced on social media. The brutal beatings were a result of a “peaceful” candle march gone rogue. The perpetrators, young men from the suburb, were reacting to the rumour that five Nigerian boys – who had nothing in common with the ones at the mall, except for their colour of skin – had drugged 19-year-old Manish Khari, a class 12 student and resident of NSG Society, leading to his death by cardiac arrest. The five Nigerians had been booked and subsequently released by the police for lack of evidence, which incensed the residents of the society and surrounding community.

Five Nigerian Students Attacked In Greater Noida By Mob Over Death Of Local Youth

Four African students were thrashed at Greater Noida’s Ansal Plaza mall. The brutal beatings were a result of a “peaceful” candle march gone rogue.

Courtesy: Hindustan Times/ Getty Images

On March 27, they decided to hold the march in memory of Manish as the day would’ve been his birthday. Despite the lack of evidence, the residents mobilised 600 people on a hot afternoon to carry out the march. The crowd of mostly young men marched two kilometres to Pari Chowk, armed with banners asking for “Nigerian-free Greater Noida” and chanting “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” and “UP Police Haaye Haaye”, and “Hapshiyon Ko Hatana Hai”. Chaos reigned as the men attempted to shoot selfies every few metres.

For the people of Greater Noida had already deemed the Nigerian men guilty on the basis of a WhatsApp forward. The message had said that Manish was last spotted at their place and that he had once seen the Nigerian boys cut open and eat two stray dogs. At the march, it was easy to see how rumours take a life of their own – and lead an incensed mob to take the lives of others.

Ankur, a marcher dressed in a crisp white shirt and maroon pants, told me that he had heard that someone had broken into the house of the Nigerian boys and discovered the body of a half-eaten autowallah in their fridge. Of course, Ankur could hardly cite a source but felt a great need to safeguard his community from “such people.” Harish, a local ABVP member was upset that the police was “with the Nigerians” and was bewildered that the young men could not be persecuted without evidence. Aided by inflammatory messages on the loudspeaker, the march felt like a tinderbox, waiting to explode.

And then, it did explode.

Around 6 pm, the march reached the busy Pari Chowk. Some of the marchers ventured into nearby Ansal Plaza, saw the group of Nigerian students, and went in for the kill. The beatings stopped only after the police finally intervened.

IMG_20170327_185949_colour - Copy

Because for us Indians, it’s convenient to lump an entire continent together and think of them as uncivilised cannibals only out to attack us.

Parthshri Arora/ Arré

The beaten students were taken to Kailash Hospital. While the victims tried to come to terms with the shock, their friends and compatriots around the city, were reduced to tears of helplessness. The attack at Ansal Plaza was a final, deadly reminder that they were not welcome in India.

Another Nigerian student, A Abdullahi, who is friends with the boys “under investigation” for Manish’s murder, echoed that sense of helplessness. “Two of them are devout Muslims and never even drank a drop of alcohol,” he told me. “Now these people are accusing them of doing drugs and of being cannibals. That kid (Manish) could’ve gotten drugs from anywhere.”

Abdullahi should know that it is impossible to reason with a mob that believes in WhatsApp forwards that only reify their prejudices against a particular community. The mob does not even listen to its own government. After the incident, the UP government had to ask African students to stay indoors until further notice, washing its hands off their safety. By all indicators, this attack on the Nigerian students will be yet another blip on the radar, yet another entry in a laundry list – just the way the others have been.

In January last year, a 24-year-old Tanzanian woman was stripped and beaten by a mob and her car was torched in Bengaluru. In January 2014, two Ugandan and two Nigerian women were forced to give urine samples in public in Delhi’s Khirki Extension. In November 2013, a Nigerian national was stabbed to death in Goa. In 2012, a Burundi national was beaten up brutally and left to die on the roadside in Jalandhar.

IMG_20170327_175523_colour - Copy

The crowd marching in Manish Khari’s memory carried banners asking for “Nigerian-free Greater Noida” and chanted “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”

Parthshri Arora/ Arré

Because for us Indians, it’s convenient to lump an entire continent together and think of them as uncivilised cannibals only out to attack us. It matters little that people of African nationalities form a minuscule part of the minority, and are always at the receiving end of these vicious attacks.

For people like Aliyu, this attitude is bewildering. In his temporary hideaway, he asks me, heartbroken and baffled, “This is your country, you have a massive population. What are you scared of?”