Changing Perception First Step Towards Stopping Racial Attacks
Even within the police department, although denied publicly, Nigerians have become synonymous with drug peddling.
Racial attacks have always received polarised opinions in Bengaluru. While a large section of the population comes out in protest, there are those who think these attacks are a response to frustration with Africans. However, the response of the government and government agencies is what is perplexing.
The pattern has been simple, whenever a racial attack takes place in the city, the government promises action and assures steps to ensure the safety of Africans. However, months later, the government makes statements like Africans are behind the drug problem in the city.
Even within the Police Department – although denied publicly – Nigerians have become synonymous with drug peddling. Amidst racial attacks in the country, such distorted perceptions from the seat of power add fuel to fire.
The Case Study
The attack on a Tanzanian woman on 31 January 2016 is an example of how perception about the community has become its worst enemy.
A Sudanese student ran over a 35-year-old woman, Shabana Taj, at Ganapathipura in Bengaluru, on January 31. A mob caught hold of the driver and torched his car before handing him to the police.
The unruly mob, however, stopped another car in which three Tanzanian students, including a woman, were travelling. Though the passengers did not know the Sudanese national, they were attacked by the mob in full public view. The mob also tore the shirt of the woman passenger.
The Double Standards
In the days that followed, five people were arrested for the assault. The arrests were announced by the then Home Minister, G Parameshwara, who assured that all measures would be taken to ensure the safety of Africans and other foreign nationals.
However, soon after the announcement, the government began an operation to identify and deport Africans overstaying their visa in the city. By mid-March, the police ordered all landlords in the city to submit the details of all foreigners staying with them.
A task force was set up to track down overstaying foreigners, and few months later, Parameshwara made a statement that several overstaying Africans were responsible for drug pedalling in the city.
Numbers Tell Different Story
Till the first week of June, Bengaluru police registered 135 cases under NDPS Act for drug pedalling. Among those arrested in these cases, 187 were Indians and 55 were foreigners. In 2016, 128 cases were registered under the same Act, in which 285 Indians and 20 foreign nationals were arrested.
When it comes to overstaying citizens, according to statistics of the Home Department, as on March 2015, Bengaluru had 32,463 foreigners living in the city, out of which 1,156 were overstaying their visa. This accounted for only three percent of the total foreigner population, and out of these overstaying citizens, Africans accounted for a little over 850.
The Perception Problem
The numbers clearly show that less than three percent of the entire African population in the city was overstaying their visa and only a fraction of them had criminal records; however, perception of an African in Bengaluru is that of trouble.
So, the question remains, how can the Police Department provide security for the African community when they themselves have a perception problem?
John (name changed) is a Nigerian studying BCom. He came to Bengaluru to study three years back. He aspires to be a politician back home, and a degree from India was a step towards his goal. However, his stay has not been easy.
“Policemen in our area have special love for us. The policemen who conduct checks at night on the road, even though they have seen me several times, check me thoroughly. I don’t have a problem with that, but they ask several questions indirectly suggesting I am a drug dealer. Who would like such treatment?” he says.
Lack of Conversation Leads to Assumptions
A visit to East Bengaluru, which is home to several Africans in the city, shows there is limited interaction between the African community and locals. However, both have strong opinions about each other.
“Yes, there are some good people, but most of them are drunkards,” said Sameer, a 29-year-old shopkeeper, in Banaswadi. “They are ready to fight all the time and we try to keep a distance,” he added.
However, when asked how he knows this without talking to them, he bobbed his head saying, “I just know.”
The African community too likes to keep their distance. “One of the biggest problem is communication. Many of them don’t understand what we are saying, and even if we ask them for an address, they think we are going to attack them,” a student from Chad, central Africa, who didn't want to be named, said.
An African Peace Coordination Committee was set up by the Bengaluru police to address the problems faced by Africans. The committee comprised of African students of various nationalities, the police, the Foreigners Regional Registration Officer, and Education Department officials. It was an effective method to bridge the gap between the community and the police.
However, according to Bosco Kaweesi, legal adviser to the All African Students' Association in Bengaluru, with the committee getting disbanded, the connection between the community and the police has eroded over the years due to the apathy of the officials.
With little or no effort put into closing the gap between the city’s African community and authorities, the divide is getting bigger, he says.
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