Hennur’s cosmopolitanism isn’t always benign — while some foreign students feel duped by the institutions that scouted for their enrolment, others experience discrimination at every turn

It is Sunday morning and Kalyan Nagar market is buzzing. Local women in their synthetic saris, flowers adorning their hair, are selling vegetables; they smile as they see a Nigerian women, dressed in a gown, approach. “This, how much?” asks the woman pointing at the onions. After the lady takes her pick, the vendor says: “50 rupees”.

This isn’t too unusual a scene. The neighbourhood is undeniably a melting pot of cultures. A large number of colleges here have opened their doors to international students, lending a distinct international flavour to Hennur.

The Indo Asian Academy Education Trust in Kalyan Nagar, for instance, has over 1,000 foreign nationals from across 56 countries, says T. Ekambaram Naidu, chairman and managing trustee of the college. “As there aren’t many opportunities for higher education in several African countries, Bangalore has become a destination for a large number of students from the continent as education is cheaper than that offered in the U.S. and the U.K., ” he says.

Raw deal

But Hennur’s cosmopolitanism isn’t always benign. While some foreign students feel somewhat duped by institutions that scouted for their enrolment, others have experience racism.

Some students The Hindu spoke to highlighted the various forms of discrimination they face.

Berny Bokoli, from the Republic of Congo, studies at Koshy’s college. He says he rarely takes the bus, even though the bus-stop is a stone’s throw from his house. “People stare at us and make us feel very uncomfortable. It is best to avoid travelling by bus.”

Even at his college, he says, there is an “unconscious” barrier between the local students and those from African countries. “People sometimes use abusive language and make remarks about our skin colour and our facial features.”

He feels disempowered. “There is nothing we can do. We are after all in a foreign land. We have come here to study,” he adds.

Expensive

Besides, colleges that “market” themselves well and promise to provide laptops, healthcare and accommodation often short-change their candidates. Foreign students are often “cheated” and not given the facilities promised. And this after charging double the fees paid by Indian students, Mr. Bokoli adds.

Responding to this, Prof. Naidu said students should choose colleges carefully. “If they feel they are being duped, they should approach the police or reach out to their embassies for help,” he said.

He added: “Depending on the course, foreign students are charged anywhere between $ 4,000 and $ 6,000. We charge about half of this (Rs. 2.4 lakh to Rs. 3.6 lakh) for Indian students. We shell out a large sum of money towards orientation programmes and provide extra coaching for international students, so we charge them more than Indian students.”

Happens everywhere

Another student from Congo, Bright, who is doing his BBM, says it is not just colleges that overcharge: everybody from vendors to autorickshaw drivers and landlords take them for a ride.

Finding accommodation is especially difficult, and when they do find it, landlords charge them exorbitant rents. “I used to pay Rs. 12,000 for a cramped two-bedroom space. My landlord suddenly asked me to vacate one morning and told me he could not allow an African to stay in his house any longer. I was forced to find another place after agreeing to pay Rs. 17,000.”

The challenges are greater for the women. Rebecca Kipanga, who has been living alone in Kalyan Nagar for two months, says she has become “immune” to instances of sexual harassment. “Often we feel there is nothing we can do. We have no protection and no safety net that we can rely upon.”

Following the alleged racially-motivated attack on 44-year-old Chad national Wandoh Timothy, an IT professional, in July, the African students in the city carried out protests demanding protection. However, says Mbaya Guy Davis, co-ordinator of the Association of African Students in India, the issue has been “buried”. There has been no response or dialogue between police officials and African students. “The issue has been forgotten and nobody is paying attention to our demands and concerns,” he charges.

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