Student recount positive experiences, but many hint at deep-seated prejudice

Ask 23-year-old Thomas, a nursing student from Uganda, about his relationship with Bangalore, and he gets talking about the great weather, the “relatively affordable” cost of living and the “young, diverse” crowd.

 Prod him further, and he’ll tell you that he and his friends pay double the house rent charged from other students in the locality. It is challenging to find a place near college (in the heart of the city). Every now and then they have minor run-ins with the police, who suspect they are “up to no good.” Negotiating their way through simple “government systems” such as getting a licence or applying at a bank as a foreigner is not easy either.

 Thomas’s roommate did not wish to speak to the media about "these uncomfortable things.” The memory of being beaten up by a group of residents near Tumkur Road on the outskirts of the city for no apparent reason is painfully raw. Perhaps they thought he was “creating trouble” when he merely asked for directions, Thomas says.

 So is Bangalore prejudiced? The city, which attracts many foreign scholars every year, is “friendly” with plenty of positive experiences for some. Yet, for some others, the experiences are tinged with bitter memories.

 Not surprisingly, a majority of those who recounted cases of abuse, discrimination or negative stereotyping leading to confrontation with authorities or residents were African nationals.

Some students from Korea, Vietnam and Singapore spoke of “cultural differences.” “But very few of us have had negative experiences,” says Sharuna Doyal, a Singaporean postgraduate student at Bangalore University.

However, many of the girls The Hindu spoke with complained that at times they felt unsafe, and so they preferred to travel in groups.

 A survey revealed that the large contingent of South Asian students were the most comfortable, perhaps because they could ‘blend in’ more easily. Albert Sudip Bhattacharjee, an engineering student from Bangladesh, says the campus crowd is diverse, and students are friendly. Every now and then, though, people surprise him when they ask him if he's an “illegal migrant” or a “refugee”.

 Among the reasons that many international students gave for choosing Bangalore was that they perceived it as a young, ‘happening city’ with lots of pubs, malls and multiplexes to ‘hang out’ at.

 But last year, a sting operation by a Bangalore tabloid exposed racist undertones to these otherwise ‘hip’ places. On a Friday night, a group of young African nationals were turned away at four leading pubs/discotheques/lounges because they were seen as a “security concern,” and as “drug peddlers”, “scamsters” and “troublemakers.” Women didn’t feel ‘safe’ around them. Ironically, several African students told The Hindu that girls simply did not feel safe in the city.  

On the other hand, the rising international student enrolment in arts, science, professional and even allied health studies masks regulatory problems. Farhad Kahani, an Iranian Ph.D. scholar at the University of Agricultural Sciences, says the unregulated admissions system has allowed students with little prior training or even English language skills to enter. “Agents are exploiting foreign students, particularly Iranians.” In many cases, students have lost the “booking” money paid for professional courses. 

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