Unhappy experience with racism prompts McPherlain Chungu, 21, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Zambia now studying in India, to reflect on the role of apathy. He argues that each individual can combat racism by speaking up and looking for ways in which we are similar rather than different.
Just weeks ago, ten Nigerian students sustained severe injuries after being brutally attacked by a mob of local residents in Noida, India. This was after an Indian student died of alleged drug overdose. The mob accused the African students of using and supplying drugs, murder and atrocities. India’s Minister of External Affairs tweeted assurances about a fair and impartial investigation.
While to some this may look like a resolution, I beg to differ. I write this piece to express anger as I recount how my life has been for more than five years in India. I cite apathy, on all levels of society, as an escalating agent of racism in India.
“Tanzanian students attacked in Bangalore.” “Congolese man killed in Delhi.” “Africans attacked on Delhi Metro”, and “Noida locals attack Nigerians.” These are some headlines that have appeared in local Indian newspapers in the last year. Racism in India is a reality, which has sadly been normalized.
I recall one blazing summer afternoon on the New Delhi metro. It was my first year of university. A group of men stared at me, pointed fingers and uttered “Kala bandar” and burst out laughing. It was only a day later that I learnt that the phrase meant “black monkey.” I carry this with me every day.
“We do not live in India, we survive here. People in this national capital treat us as if we are not human beings,” said 20-year-old Guira, from Burkina Faso. Hundreds of young Africans come to India every year to attain a better education, but the sad narrative of the racism struggle echoes across the board. The sad part is that this racism has become an everyday reality.
You may, after reading this, think, “I have never attacked any black person.” Maybe you weren’t part of the mob in Noida. But ask yourselves these pertinent questions. How do you react when you see or hear stereotypes about Africans? When did you last try and understand, with concern, the experience of Africans living in India? When did you last speak out when you saw a fellow country man or woman directly or indirectly causing discomfort to Africans? If you can honestly answer these questions, you will see the traces of apathy I speak of.
One day I was catching up with an Indian college friend outside the Jahanghipuri Metro station, waiting for university transport when a group of local boys approached us. They came too close, made comments about my hair, laughed at it, and made several attempts to touch it. Seeing how uncomfortable I got, my friend asked the boys how they would have felt if they were in my shoes. One of the replied, “Bad, okay we will go.” In that instance, when my friend vigilantly stood up for me, it became apparent how apathy is the problem. This was the only time in five years that someone stood up for me against racism. I know it can be done, and it works.
By virtue of being a democracy, India is expected to guarantee equality and protection to not just citizens but also to legal immigrants who are minorities, regardless of their race. The state can do more than just ask for reports. How about raising awareness and organizing cultural integration events? I refuse to believe that the state’s failure to protect vulnerable Africans is an issue of state capacity. It is one of apathy!
And no, it’s not ignorance either. Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
All my life, I had never been conscious of my race; I perceived myself as human. I liked to think I am a strong individual. But five years of awkward stares by locals, the insensitive remarks, and racial slurs break you.
This is my fifth year in India, and I have never felt completely safe. I don’t feel safe travelling anywhere. “Then why did you choose to stay and persevere?” you may ask. It is because I believe that racism doesn’t define Indians as a people. There is much more to them that reminds me that I am more similar to than I am different from any Indian.
I want neither sympathy nor apologies. I chose to write this article to make the following main point: We live in a world where our very identities are construed in antagonism with others. We define ourselves, our fields of studies, our affinities, our possessions, in opposition to others’. Imagine what we could accomplish as humanity if we chose to first see what similarities we share rather than our differences.
I did not write this article just to start a conversation, but to call on everyone to question the status quo, make a difference and defeat apathy.
About me: I am curious, charismatic, ambitious and determined, with keen interest in social and political issues, gender and identity politics in particular. Born and raised in Zambia, currently I am pursuing my undergraduate studies in Delhi. My dream is to make the world a place with the same standards for everyone and emphasis on mutual benefit – an ideal we must strive towards.
News blogger, movie and film fanatic and travel enthusiast. A practical idealist.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/
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