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How We Beat African Nationals To Death But Still Don’t Accept We’re Racist

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By Rohini Banerjee:

“We Indians are conservative people. We don’t have anything against foreigners but they must adjust to our way of life,” says a resident of Delhi’s Maidan Garhi — a locality which is home to a thriving community of African immigrants — as she tries to establish that the recent attack on Congolese teacher, Masonda Ketada Olivier (in an area not very far from her own) was not motivated by racism. What really is ‘our way of life’, and why do African nationals who have migrated to Delhi for professional or academic pursuits have to ‘adjust’ to it?

Olivier was assaulted and battered to death by three intoxicated men on Saturday night, following an argument over an auto rickshaw. The altercation began when the three men insisted on boarding the auto rickshaw Olivier had hailed, and at his refusal, they beat, chased and brutally assailed him with stones. Olivier was a French teacher at a private school in South Delhi, and despite being in this country for over five years, he was still seen as the ‘other’, and as some sort of transgressor.

Indian Racism Is Not New

India’s history with racism — especially towards its burgeoning community of immigrants from African nations such as Uganda, Congo, Nigeria, Cameroon and so on — is a vast and widespread one. In January 2014, Delhi’s then-Law Minister, Somnath Bharati tried to launch a raid on a group of Ugandan women, suspecting them of running a drug and prostitution racket; following which he was issued a formal notice from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) calling his suspicions both racist and sexist. In October 2014, three African men were attacked at a metro station by a racist mob so violent, that they had to climb on top of the station police booth to escape from the attackers—while bystanders only watched and filmed the whole thing to be uploaded on Youtube later on. In 2013, a Nigerian man was killed by a mob in Goa and the tourism minister, in response, called Africans a ‘cancer’.

But these cases don’t even scrape the surface. In the past few years, there have been so many cases of racial discrimination, and racially-motivated violence against African immigrants all over the country, that these events have become too commonplace to even find more than a passing mention in the news.

racism india
A very desi racism.

The Double Standards

One aspect, in all the news and official police reports, remains common in these cases — and that is the insistence that these attacks aren’t ‘racist’. Like the aforementioned Maidan Garhi resident, most people maintain that it’s because the ‘lifestyle’ of African nationals is different from ‘conservative’ Indian values — which is the oldest and most racially-charged euphemism that ever was.

Racism, as a belief, stems from a fear and lack of understanding of the race in question, and that’s exactly what is happening here. Since middle-class Indians cannot reconcile themselves with the physical, cultural and behavioural differences between them and Africans, they demonise these people and inflict violence and hate upon them. In a bid to impose ‘Indian conservatism’ upon the African people (which, in itself stems from hypocrisy), they are essentially disregarding not African culture, but also the individual liberties of the immigrants. They shouldn’t have to adhere to the ‘Indian way of life’ to live peacefully in our country. By the way, what even is an ‘Indian way of life’?

The double standards become more prominent when you see white tourists and immigrants in India’ being respected and even idolised, while African immigrants’ discriminated against thoroughly. Even our Atithi Devo Bhava’ ads, which ask us to respect the foreigners visiting and migrating into the country, show only white people. Is this, again, a disturbing remnant of colonial ideology?

The Aftermath

Olivier’s murder led to a major diplomatic backlash from the High Commissions of various African nations, who threatened to boycott ‘Africa Day’ celebrations (an annual event organised by the Delhi government to celebrate African cultures). However, they did not go through with the boycott — but the registering of the threat finally forced the Indian government to sit up and take note of this issue. The Minister of State for External Affairs, Gen. V. K. Singh, met with the representatives of the African missions to negotiate some sort of peace and assured that concrete steps would be taken to counter ‘racism and Afro-phobia’ in the country. However, this seems like an empty promise, because External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has come forth to parrot the same disturbing rhetoric that the attack in question, ‘was not a racist attack’.

Whether the government will take any actual steps—to sensitise locals about African cultures and communities (and the fact that there is no ‘one’ African culture) and check racial discrimination and violence—only time will tell. However, as of now, the situation remains bleak. Barely a week after Olivier’s death, four Africans were attacked in the Chattarpur area of South Delhi within an hour, so the threat is still as real as ever. When will the violence end, and when will people realise that these attacks are not ‘isolated incidents’ and are far from being ‘not racist’?

Featured Image Source: Getty

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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