Till early 2014, Nigerian national Jonathan* was known in the Khirki Extension locality for picking fights with local children who pelted stones at him or splashed him with water as he walked through the streets. He knew his countrymen living there would back him up if the fight to protect his “dignity” turned ugly.
Today, Jonathan is a changed man. He no longer responds to the racist taunts or physical abuses. Instead, he plugs in earphones and pretends to be lost in his own world. “There are times when I play no music but keep the earphones plugged in, just to check if they have finally gotten tired of abusing me,” says Jonathan.
Exodus from Khirki
The change in attitude of Africans living in Khirki Extension is not limited to Jonathan. Philips, who would not even reveal his nationality, turns aggressive when approached. “Why do you ask me questions? Do you want to see my visa, my passport? I carry them at all times,” the man shoots back.
Locals attribute the dwindling population of Africans in Khirki to the vigilante raid led by AAP legislator Somnath Bharti at an alleged prostitution hub in the area in January two years ago.
“Almost 90 per cent of Africans moved out of Khirki village after that (the raid) incident,” says Praveen, a property dealer there.
“The Africans were living illegally. Locals began asking them questions, so they felt uncomfortable and moved out,” Mandeep Jain, another property dealer says.
The ones who remain try their best to avoid any conversation.
“You may find a few more in the evening hours, but the lanes usually are devoid of them now,” says K. Thakur, a barber whose shop is located close to the building that had been raided.
Only those who work nearby, or are students, have stayed back. “My friends moved to areas like Chhatarpur, Neb Sarai, Khanpur, Deoli and Greater Noida. No one wants to visit Khirki even to meet me,” says Ben, a Nigerian. Ben is a cloth merchant and the place is convenient for his business.
But staying behind has come at a price for Ben.
His landowner pays random visits to his room to check his visa. Locals randomly ask him to produce documents to prove his stay is legal, and he obliges without an argument. “I have lived in India long enough to know that the locals will fear my physical appearance wherever I go. But can I reduce my body size or change my colour,” he says.
But the worst affected, particularly since the Somnath Bharti episode, are the African women.
The raid and the subsequent exodus of Africans from Khirki village, they say, have encouraged the locals to abuse them more freely now.
“In the streets, people pinch my buttocks or touch my breasts without any fear. They throw water at me just to see my clothes stick to my body. This did not happen so brazenly earlier as there were many Africans in this locality. But now everyone is scared,” says a Ugandan woman known to Ben.
Local Indians dismiss the allegations saying most of these women are prostitutes.
“There was a time when these women would openly entertain customers between parked cars. These activities have greatly reduced because of the actions taken by Somnath Bharti,” says Mr. Praveen.
But the property dealer believes that the Africans are slowly returning to Khirki.
“The malls are located nearby and they know that this is the place to get the customers for their illegal activities,” says Praveen.
The exodus of most Africans from here meant that local businesses, particularly rental, took a hit. By various estimates, foreigners here pay at least 25 per cent more rent than Indians.
House owners say that the fear of retaliation and frequent police visits after the 2014 raid led them to ask most Africans to vacate.
“We house owners decided to let go of our greed for a few thousand rupees extra. Most Africans anyway could not resist the eviction drive as we found them to be without valid visas. The menace created by them has decreased,” says Varun, a building owner.
Even local few African businesses here have suffered. David Yesufu, a Nigerian who owns a saloon, has few customers now. “I pay 40 per cent more rent for this shop, but my customers have reduced by three-fourths,” says a bitter Yesufu.
Abuse and taunts
He says Indians rarely visited his saloon before.
Now young men and even children visit his shop occasionally, but for a different reason. “They peep for a second, shout abuses like be******d and Kaalu , and run away. They think I don’t understand these Hindi words,” says Yesufu.
As the communication between Africans and Indians in Khirki reduces, some other foreign nationals have come into the picture. A two-month-old small eatery started by Afghan national Abdul Khaleel Sheif is becoming popular among Africans. “I don’t judge my African customers. We don’t share a common language, but when they visit my shop, they smile and wave at me,” Sheif says.
*Name changed on request
African women say that the exodus
locals to abuse them more freely now