When 21-year old Anna from Namibia chose to study in India, it was a conscious decision. India’s success story in the IT field across the world, and her observations about India back home thanks to the large number of South Africans of Indian origin helped her narrow down the choice. After three years of her stay in Hyderabad to pursue a B.Sc in Computer Sciences at Osmania University, she is going back with a heavy heart.

“It was better than home. Even my mom loved the place”, she says wistfully. She vows that discrimination on the basis of colour or her African origins was not at all an issue with her friends or the administration or the local residents. “I never faced any problem while searching for rented houses or eating out. Among Indians there is inherent respect for women and I could feel it during my stay,” she says. “In fact, I feel safer in Hyderabad than my own country.”

Zainab A. Kasubi, from Tanzania affirms Anna’s views. Zainab who completed her B.Sc (Food and Nutrition) from Nizam College rejects allegations of African students being subjected to discrimination. “Neither I nor my friends have faced ill-treatment in the college, locality or while moving about in the city,” she says. Zainab feels Indians are god-fearing and the respect emanates from that fear.

But African boys are a little cautious about giving a clean certificate even though they agree that Hyderabad is a safe city for foreign students. Dunstan, who attends OU Law College, says some bad incidents have left a negative impression on him, but on the whole as a community Hyderabadis are good and the city is safe. Some policemen, he says, behave rudely and there is a need to sensitise them about foreign students. “But police across the world are the same.”

Aydarm Mahamed from Ethiopia who decided to stay back for his post-graduate studies agrees on the existence of some negativity due to the involvement of some African students in drug peddling recently. Only a few people are involved in such nefarious activities but the community has to take the blame. “Perhaps, it happens to the foreigners in any country and we understand that,” says Dunstan.

Police records reveal that it is not the genuine students who are involved in such cases but those overstaying after the expiry of their visa, and whose prime objective is not academics. Some police officers concede that there is a tendency to suspect African students. “Except incidents where individuals are involved, by and large as a community foreign students don’t face many problems,” a Police Inspector says.

The Osmania University Foreign Relations Office (UFRO) Director, Prof. C. Venugopal Rao points out that no major complaints were lodged with his office over discrimination on colour and ethnicity or violence. Some students complain of reluctance to rent houses to African students, mostly boys. “Violence or discrimination based on colour has not been reported in the last 10 years since foreign students started flocking to the city,” he says. That positive image is, in fact, attracting students to Osmania University and the growing numbers perhaps indicate that.

As of now 3,698 students from 78 countries are pursuing various courses, a rise from a mere 661 in 2005. Another 1,500 are expected to join this year.

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