African students often victims of racism, stereotyping
By Parvati Tampi, New Delhi, March 12 : Twenty-three-year-old Richie Ronsard left his home in the Congo two years ago to fulfil his childhood dream of obtaining a degree from an established instutute in the India. The reality check was not long in comming.
"I arrived in this city with a lot of expectations. India has a very positive reputation in my country. I was sure that this was going to change my life, but instead I soon learnt that the image of the country outside far surpassed the reality I faced once I was here," Ronsard told IANS, adding he has been treated like a third class citizen from day one.
"Wherever I go out in public I feel out of place. People stare at me all the time. They call me names like 'kalu' and laugh at me. One day in the metro a small child came running to me and started shouting that word at me and pulling my shirt. His mother stood there looking at him without stopping him. I couldn't say or do anything because it was just a child, but inside I felt embarrassed and even angry. Is this how your children are being educated," asked Ronsard, who has political ambitions and is working toward a masters in PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economy).
The stereotyping of Africans, especially Nigerians, in India as drug dealers has in some part affected how most Africans are treated in the national capital and elsewhere. This puts them under the scanner of the police and often intrudes upon their rights and privacy.
"At least twice a week during the first year I was being visited by the local cops in what they referred to as a general check. I wonder if that is also what happens to non-Africans here," Ronsard stated.
Approximately 80 percent of the hundreds of students from Africa - labelled the world's fastest growing continent with as many as 54 countries - who come to India are students and this translates into a fair sum of money for the country's educational sector. However, despite the growing interest by foreigners in Indian educational institutes, especially universities, little has been done to ensure their wellbeing by either the state or the educational representatives. It is not just Ronsard, but many other African students the capital share his story.
Fredrick Kaitale is a 20-year-old from Uganda studying for his Bachelors in Business Management in. For him, who has met and dealt with the large Indian community in his country, being seen as different in India came as a big shock.
"I am proud to be black, so I don't mind being called "Kalu", but it does feel weird when I am stared at continuously. Everyday I meet other Africans who have been victims of racism ill-treated not just by the people on the street but also by the authorities, who turn a blind eye to what is happening in front of them," Kaitale told IANS
Additionally, getting decent living accommodation is a major task for African students who come to India. Many of them are turned away at the doorstep by potential landlords as soon as they see that the students are black. Valid reasons are not given, but it is evident from the manner that they are turned away.
Omongin Emmanuel spent a number of months trying to find a flat to rent in a decent neighbourhood, but kept getting turned away.
"The brokers kept getting back to me saying that the landlords did not want to rent out to Africans. Apparently, most of them believe that we indulge in nefarious activities. They would come up with excuses like government regulations, said the 25-year-old Ugandan who is studying for a Masters in Public Relations and Event Management.
"My father is a diplomat and even with his help, it took me very long to get a place to stay. Despite my connections, it took me so long, so what happens to the normal, un-connected African who is looking for a roof over his head," Emmanuel wondered.
For many, the problems do not end even after getting a place to stay.
"My neighbour has done everything from calling the police to complain about made up noises he was hearing to cutting my water supply. It is a constant battle to be normal here." says Ronsard.
Despite this, the students feel that there is a lot of potential in India and would still like to come here for its higher educational opportunties it offers. According to them, there are several solutions, but key in this is the role of the media and the government.
"The government really needs to work actively towards improving relations between India and Africa. This can be done by putting laws against racism in place. People should be scared of the legal repercussions of racist remarks and bullying. Also, the media needs to have more programs that focus on black Africa so that we don't seem so alien when we get here," Emmanuel Onaputa, a second year BBA student from the Congo, suggested to IANS.
African representatives in India said that there is a move to address the problems, but there's a lot that is yet to be done.
According to the Ugandan Ambassador to India Nimisha Madhvani, "these are issues that students face the world over. We are in discussions with the Indian government to alert them to our concerns and to work with them to help harmonise and calm the situation."
With India in general and Delhi in particular growing as a destination for international students, more needs to be done to ensure that the country and the capital are able to cater to their needs and adapt to the multi-cultural scenario.
But then, not everyone is unhappy.
Ugandan Omongin Emmanuel, a 25-year-old studying for a masters in PR and event management told IANS: "India has soo much to offer - a great medical system, wonderful food, culture and really nice people. There is so much to learn from her. It is just these small issues that need to be sorted out."
(Parvati Tampi can be contacted at email@example.com)