The shop boys call me names like ‘black’, ‘negro’, ‘gorilla’ and ‘monkey’,” says Kwaramba Simbarashe, a Zimbabwe national

Fear racism and accusations What some Bengalureans and Africans think of each other
news Racism Thursday, February 04, 2016 - 21:43

"We don’t hate them,” he says cautiously, when asked what the locals think about the increasing number of African students in the area, but his next line is a dead give away, “we just keep away from them because they are known to do drugs. They look like drug dealers too.” Girisha, a resident of Soladevanahalli in Bengaluru, was taking a break at a tea shop as he answered my questions. Not too far from there was Acharya Engineering Institute, to which the Tanzanian woman, who was assaulted by a mob angered over a road accident on Sunday, belonged.

“This place was very different about a decade ago,” he explains,” but now things have changed. It is going out of control with the college and foreign students coming in.”

The insecurity felt by the residents of Soladevanahalli and other nearby areas is perhaps the emotion underlying the rage which poured over these very streets on Sunday. Angered by a road accident in which a local woman died, an angry mob caught hold of a Tanzanian student and her friends; beat them up and disrobed her, while police constables allegedly stood by watching. Later, they burned down the woman’s car right in front of her. The assaulted student had nothing to do with the accident, which was reportedly caused by another car driven by a Sudanese man thirty minutes before the mob violence.

There is an eerie sense of fear and mistrust in this entire stretch in north Bengaluru, dotted with several educational institutions. And there is a general consensus among the locals that the Africans have changed the place for the worst.

“Near my house there are two bars, and many people visit them. But it is only the African students who get drunk and create a ruckus in the night,” he says, “We have seen many drunk African students riding rashly around the area. There is a minor accident almost every day. Even I have escaped a close shave,” he said.

Not too far from the tea shop, Hemanth has been running a hardware store for several years. He too believes that the Africans brings along a drug culture. “It was just last year that my neighbor’s twin sons were found with drugs. When asked how they managed to get them, they said they bought it from a foreign student.”

“If the situation has gone this far, in no time the place would not be safe for our children, sisters and girls in general,” he says. “Even in their parties they play loud music in the nights and it is not even something we would enjoy.  How can one stand such music late in the night and not question?”

It isn’t just accusations of drug abuse and public disharmony. Many are open about their disgust for the ‘dressing sense’. Lakshmi, a textile shop owner near Acharya Engineering Institute says that she has spotted many girls dress provocatively when they come to college. “I have not seen them enter college per say, but there are many who come with their loud hairstyle, low cut neck and short dresses. They have such well-built bodies that locals can’t stop looking at them out of surprise or disgust,” she says.

 When asked Lakshmi whether it was not racist on her part to cringe over the dressing sense Africans, she concedes that except for a handful of African girls, others are usually in their uniforms.

Some are so wary of the Africans that they won’t even take their business. It has been two years since Ganesh, an auto-rickshaw driver, has taken an African national as a customer. “I stopped ferrying African students because most of them are drugged and sometimes they even pass out in the auto. Two years ago, a drugged out African student passed out in my vehicle. I had to wait for two hours before she gained conscience,” Ganesh said.

 “Many times we don’t understand what they speak. We ourselves don’t know English and if these people are going to speak to us with an accent, we can only resort to sign language,” says Ganesh.

“They suddenly raise issues like over-charging in spite of turning the meter on in front of them. They start the fight and then we just hurl abuses our respective languages but never really indulged in violence,” says Jaiyanna, another auto-rickshaw driver.

Ganesh denied that he was judging the African nationals too harshly after that one incident but he fears that a day would come when they would start peddling drugs in his auto.

If the locals are aghast at the African ‘invasion’, the Africans say they are regularly abused and threatened, and are now living under fear.

“I want to just go back home after what happened to the Tanzanian girl. I just don’t want to stay in India anymore,” says Micky, a student at the Acharya Nursing Institute in Soladevanahalli.

Micky, like many of her friends from Africa has dared to step out of her house only on Thursday, four days after the attack on the Tanzanian woman.

While the African students accept that the Sudanese man has to be punished if he is guilty of ramming the woman to death on Sunday, they are horrified at the way the mob acted. And while violent incidents are rare, they are often subject to racial abuses, say students.

“I buy alcohol from a bar that is two kilometres away from where I stay. The shop boys call me names like ‘black’, ‘negro’, ‘gorilla’ and ‘monkey’,” says Kwaramba Simbarashe, a Zimbabwe national who has been studying in Bengaluru for 7 months.

African students are facing a daily challenge for the most basic services.

“Since Sunday’s incident, auto-rickshaw drivers have either refused to ferry us or they have started to overprice us. If we question, they feel we are causing trouble. More locals join in and it is just intimidating,” said Bwalya Mugala, a student in the institute.

Hassan Sibinje, another student, has even had a group of irate locals knock on his doors late in the night

“Few weeks ago I had a fight with a driver who tried to overcharge me. The same night I heard a group of people knocking at my door. I did not open the door, because I heard a group of people murmur in a language I didn’t understand,” Sibinje says.

“If they can find the place I stay in, then how long will it take for them to attack me?” he asks.

Asked about whether local people complain of how the African students party, Sibinje said that we party, but do everything we want inside our houses without disturbing the locals. “The way we understand Indian culture is that they don’t approve of parties, but it is not like we are bad because we party,” he said.

When asked about locals accusing them of drunk driving, Kaluzi Sindazi, did not deny it entirely, but also said that they were not the only ones.

“Indian students have violated traffic rules many times too. Why aren’t they blamed?” he asked.

The simmering anger in some areas however is not what people in other parts of Bengaluru feel. The incident has been condemned by many in the city.

A candlelight protest by students at Brigade Road.

This is not the first time that a racial attack has happened in Bengaluru, and in spite of 'peace meetings' by the Bengaluru police, the mistrust continues to breed.

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