Even African diplomats face racism

The episodes range from verbal abuse and taunting to outright humiliation on public transport.

May 26, 2016 03:31 am | Updated October 18, 2016 02:57 pm IST - NEW DELHI

African students during a vigil in Bengaluru. File photo

African students during a vigil in Bengaluru. File photo

Three years ago when the particular diplomat from Sub-Saharan Africa came to India after a successful stint in China, he did not expect the horrors of “Afro-phobia” that awaited him.

Tall and athletic, the diplomat is widely travelled and first encountered racism during his daily exercise session in South Delhi’s Deer Park.

“I realised after a while that the taunts of ‘monkey, monkey’ were aimed at me,” he said, recounting that a group of young men would taunt him daily during his jogging and create a ruckus imitating monkeys.

‘Not a polite gesture’ After a while he realised that the young men who were jumping and making scratching gestures were referring to him as a monkey. “Calling someone a monkey is not really a polite gesture, given the racist connotations that Africans associate with the word,” he said.

The diplomat travels to different parts of the world, but he has not faced such humiliation elsewhere.

“Sometimes, people get up when an African sits down next to them in the Metro.

In other countries such incidents would be considered serious racist humiliation, but here we usually avoid taking note of the incident,” he said.

Diplomats are the most influential African figures based in India and feel that the frequent attacks are fast becoming a “problem” in bilateral ties.

It was not easy to decide against celebrating Africa Day in India, said a senior diplomat from North Africa. Yet, after the long meeting on Tuesday conducted by the African Group of Heads of Mission in Delhi, most of the 54-member countries decided to cancel the celebrations both in their embassies as well as the ones to be conducted by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).

“Too many attacks are taking place against African youths in different parts of India and we had to respond as we consider our ties with the country very special and would not allow them be damaged by such actions of a few,” he told The Hindu .

However, diplomats are full of stories of how they and senior dignitaries from Africa have repeatedly faced awkward situations.

One such incident took place during the India Africa Forum Summit of 2011 when the First Lady of Senegal was not accorded due courtesies at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. This led to a huge row and was resolved only after the ambassador of the country got involved.

Unfortunate: Mali envoy Niankoro Yeah Samake, the Ambassador of Mali, said the racist attitude is unfortunate and casts a shadow on India’s image.

“I have heard so many accounts of my colleagues facing racial discrimination. We can overcome this with support of civil societies on both sides,” the Ambassador added.

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