Dear Sushma Swaraj: Why offer more security to Africans if attacks were not racist?

Your gesture assuaging India's concerns is confusing.

 |  4-minute read |   01-06-2016
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Honourable minister,

Before I say anything else I take this opportunity to congratulate you on the prompt and just actions you have initiated since the attacks on six African nationals. I wholeheartedly support your assertion that the attacks are deeply hurtful, and it is incumbent upon us, all Indians, that they are not repeated going forward.

I would also like to add that it was very comforting to be reassured by our external affairs minister that the attacks were not of a racial nature, given the fact that it was so easy to be carried away with that impression.

sushma-swaraj-with-s_060116040633.jpg Chants like 'go back to your country', allegedly shouted at the victims, only make the situation seem more skewed.

In that regard too, it was gracious to see a central minister take the time personally to offer reassurance on a public platform such as Twitter, and I thank you for your gesture towards assuaging India's concerns.

However, minister, I must confess that since reading your response, I have come across some articles that throw up certain troubling alternate scenarios, such as this Indian Express article chronicling the testimonies of the African nationals attacked, or this NDTV article which says that three separate attacks occurred in three different places, which has led to three police cases, but the only thing common among the incidents, separated by less than a kilometre, is the race of those attacked.

Also, in the backdrop of the tragic circumstances of Mr Olivier's death of which you write and the repeated insistence of African nationals in India - prior to the incidents in Delhi - that they are racially targeted, it is hard to resist the mistake of seeing a racial colouring on the sequence of events.

That chants like "go back to your country" were allegedly shouted at the victims only make the situation seem more skewed.

Also, I must confess comments such as those made by minister of state VK Singh, calling the altercation "a minor scuffle", or DGP Ishwar Singh's pronouncement of "minor injuries" to Leuchy, a Nigerian national whose wounds seem graver on photographs, seem insensitive. They only serve to highlight the need for the basic humanity expressed in your post.

It is this reason that confused and distressed from the reports I had read, I came back to read your article to reassure myself that things were not as racially motivated as they increasingly seemed.

However, in the process of reading your comments again and again, I have managed to sink myself deeper into the hole, which led me to write this letter to you.

Therefore, without wasting any more of the honourable minister's time, I will just jump into it:

Your comments point out how the attacks were "spontaneous" and that "they were not premeditated against a particular community".

As you point out incisively, madam minister, the "anti-social and criminal elements" also beat up Indian bystanders "when they tried to intervene", so the attacks were not targeted towards just the African nationals; they were targeted against them first.

While the Indians' intervention gives the goons a clear motive to beat up the Indians, such a motive remains hard to find in the case of the African nationals' plight.

My personal confusion, however, stems from your comments which outline the state's approach to make sure such attacks don't happen again, by increasing police patrol in areas with high populations of African nationals.

But, honourable minister, you said yourself that the acts were "spontaneous", or random - "not targeted at Africans in particular. If the attacks are random, why does the state see fit to increase security in areas where the African nationals reside?

Are they under some specific threat that puts them in more danger than any other community in India?

The same goes for the "sensitisation campaign" you speak of. Since India - the land of Gandhi and Buddha as you rightly pointed out - cannot possibly be racist, and isn't, what the subject of such a sensitisation campaign would be is befuddling.

Sensitisation campaigns are usually intended to increase awareness about an issue among the public.

What would the issue be for this campaign - that African nationals live in India, or that they look different, or that India is not in the least racist?

Also of some distress is the fact that we have no examples of racial equality that don't need to go as far back in history as Gandhi or Buddha.

Surely, the fact that we have no new icons must be proof that racism indeed has no presence in India - there is no demand, and therefore no supply.

I am sure some rational explanation exists for the other doubts I have expressed.

I apologise to you for my inability to understand this, but I would rather take your advice on this than rely on any other explanation which might be devious.

I have no doubt that I can trust your word on the matter. I sincerely hope you will answer my queries and quell my distressful notions.


An Indian citizen


Binit Priyaranjan Binit Priyaranjan @binitpranjan

The writer is a student of English at Delhi University, freelance journalist and a published poet.

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