Foreign scholars in India’s most open city are suddenly more cautious

Mumbai has a special lure for students, what with its cosmopolitan image and financial capital status.  

But the brutal attack on Burundian Yannick Nihangaza has led to some alarm. A student from Nairobi, Kenya, currently studying in Mumbai who did not wish to be named spoke about the advisory from his country’s diplomatic mission. 

“The Kenya High Commission has told us to be very careful. They are very concerned. The incident is a wake-up call. We had to register with the Commission. It provided a 24/7 hotline. The Indian government took action only when the incident became public. I am now very careful in dealing with people. If it can happen to a fellow student, it can happen to anybody. Indians are trustworthy. I did not expect something like this could happen,” the student says.

What about the stares that African students have to face, with a trace of racist prejudice? “I enjoy that. It makes me feel unique. I take it positively. I even smile and say ‘hi’,” the Kenyan student said. He found Mumbai safer than his home city. “Never experience any theft or harassment. Mumbai also has better infrastructure, although sanitation is an issue.”

 For other students, “Mumbai is famous. Everyone knows it’s a business hub,” says Ali Kohzad, a B.Sc. student from Kabul, Afghanistan, studying in Mumbai on an Indian Council for Cultural Relations scholarship. “My other choices were Delhi and Pune. I had watched Bollywood films.”

 At first, Ali’s expectations were shattered. The food was “too spicy” and the commute “too hectic.” “One of my friends left, I wanted to leave too, but now I am having fun. People just go about their own business here.”

 Ali finds no great challenge in the classroom. “The students seem relaxed. Back home, there is a lot of competition in class.”

A Korean research student in Mumbai, who did not wish to be named, said Mumbai was “relatively” safe, compared to other cities.

“I have worked in Delhi and faced a lot of sexual harassment. But one year in Mumbai and I feel there is more freedom here. I travel in autos and taxis. Nothing has happened so far. But everywhere in India people stare, call me ‘chinky.’ They think I am a sex worker.”

Moreover, international students have to deal with a difficult administration, though the quality of teaching is good, the research student said.

Mumbai is not easy on the pocket. The transportation is cheap, but accommodation is expensive. Mohammed Gamal from Yemen found Mumbai to be “too restrictive,” where “people don’t open up quickly.”