Welcome to Dilli. Home to the land that has unabashedly created the ‘Habshi’ Halwa. As a Delhiwala would have it, ‘Don’t mind the slur, it’s sweet.’ The slur casually used for all Africans in Delhi is Habshi, the equivalent of ‘nigger’ in Hindustani, though the term traces its origins to Habesha, the people inhabiting the Horn of Africa. Noida, where the ‘Habshis’ are getting pulped to a halwa, is technically not Dilli. It is NCR, National Capital Region, part of the now-Hindu Yuva Vahini–ruled neighbouring kingdom of Uttar Pradesh. Noida (like Gurgaon or the more casteist sounding Gurugram in Haryana) is deemed a part of the horizontally-hungry capital.
And then there’s Greater Noida which has done nothing really to deserve the adjective prefixed to it, although an intern at Navayana does live thereabouts. It is just a wretched old Delhi habit of ascribing greatness where none exists as territory-seeking metropolitan greed does away with the countryside. Hence ‘Greater Kailash’ (Parts 1 and 2) in ‘posh’ South Delhi where Africans cannot even think of renting a house. The racist attacks in Greater Noida on 26 and 27 March 2017 were not genuine and morally indignant protests turning violent, as the official narrative would have it. This kind of racial bigotry comes easily to a caste-ridden populace that has normalized the collective punishment of defined communities.
African nationals have been excluded and assaulted by locals in a city and country where black skin is instinctively bracketed with crime, uncleanliness, drug consumption and even cannibalism, and of course a halwa that looks black. Racist slurs such as kaalu, blackie, bandar/monkey, nigger and negro freely escape the mouths of auto-drivers, shopkeepers, college students, landlords, neighbours, and the police. There is ‘no protection for us even after the attack’, says a student at IEC College, Greater Noida.
A statement by African envoys on March 31 directly blamed inadequate deterrence by the Indian state for the assaults, while the official denials that followed this were no more than customary. This country has perfected its technique over the decades. Obfuscation and silence are a fine art that India employs whenever criticized for the human rights situation in the country.
While the media by and large admits to the fact of Indian racism, it has far greater concern for Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. It remains ambivalent on the hostility and contempt both Indian society and the state have for immigrants from the African nations who pay heavy fees to get an education at private universities in India.
In some corners the latest outrage has generated an opportunity to push a very Indian agenda. Once again, racist violence against Africans forms the backdrop to an image makeover for Mohandas Gandhi as the champion of racial equality. If this incident spurs introspection and a desire to establish equality, it should not invoke a quasi-mythical Gandhi, the man who made ‘persistent attempts to improve the position of South African Indians by emphasizing their superiority to Africans and reliability as subjects of Empire’, as Kathryn Tidrick writes in her appraisal of The South African Gandhi by Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed.
Rather, a discourse that sees skin color as an irrelevant—and indeed unacceptable—marker of worth is long overdue and inseparable from redressing all the other imposed disabilities that thrive in India.