“It is Ridiculous That These Things Keep Happening to Us”: Racial Violence Against Nigerians in Greater Noida

“When other African students are treated violently in this city, I get angry and I keep thinking that it could happen to my friends and I, and yesterday it actually happened,” Endurance Amalawa said. Virendra Singh Gosain/Hindustan Times/Getty Images
30 March, 2017

“When other African students are treated violently in this city, I get angry and I keep thinking that it could happen to my friends and I, and yesterday it actually happened,” Endurance Amalawa told me, on 28 March 2017, when I met him at Kailash Hospital in Greater Noida.  The previous day, after a protest march turned violent, a mob of protestors had attacked and severely injured Endurance and at least three other Nigerian students in the Pari Chowk area in Greater Noida. The protesters had received permission from the police department to carry out a peaceful candle light march for Manish Khari, a twelfth-standard student who died, purportedly due to drug overdose, on 25 March. In his police complaint, Khari’s father alleged that five Nigerian men, who stayed in the same colony, were responsible for his death because they had given him the drugs that led to an overdose. But the Nigerian students who were attacked on 27 March were not residents of NSG Black Cats Enclave—where Khari’s family resides—and knew little about what had happened with Khari when they were attacked.

According to a report in the Indian Express, Khari was last seen walking outside his house at 7.30 pm on the day before his death. Later that night, Khari did not return home. His family and neighbours decided to look for him. They reportedlyforced themselves into the house of the five Nigerian residents, whom they suspected to be involved in his disappearance. Upon failing to find Khari in the house, Kiranpal, Khari’s father, filed a complaint at the Kasna police station. In his initial complaint, Kiranpal alleged that the five men had kidnapped and cannibalised his son. Two of them were present in their house at that time. The police took them into preventive custody for questioning, and released them later that night.

On 25 March, Khari’s father was at the Kasna police station at 9.30 am, when he learned that his son had returned home. An hour later however, when Khari complained of heart palpitations and started to vomit, he was admitted to Yatharth Hospital. He died later that afternoon.

Avnish Dixit, the station house officer (SHO) at Kasna police station, told me that Khari’s family subsequently alleged that their Nigerian neighbours had given him the drugs that led to his death. Upon the family’s complaint, the police added charges of murder and causing hurt by any poisonous substance to the complaint against the five men that had been filed the previous night. On 26 March, the police took them for questioning, but released them on the same day “because there wasn’t any evidence against them.”

Police officials have told the media that Khari’s post-mortem report states that the cause of death is uncertain and that further tests will be conducted at a forensic lab in Agra to determine the exact cause of death. I spoke to Kiranpal Khari on the phone on 29 March. He told me that the police have sought four days to thoroughly investigate the reasons behind his son’s death. When I asked him about the release of his five neighbours due to lack of evidence, he said, “I know that they are responsible.” He continued, “My younger son saw Manish vanish with them that night, but the police are refusing to take his word for it because he is 12 years old.” He told me he believed that there would be no drug problem if the Nigerians left the neighbourhood. “They come here and overstay their welcome even after they finish their courses only because they profit from the selling of drugs here. The police never seem to arrest them for this,” he said.

The racial violence that took place on 27 March began as a candle-lit vigil attended by around 1000 people, according to the FIR filed by the police, who sat at Pari Chowk for over an hour. A report in the Hindustan Times stated that towards the evening, a few men spotted some Nigerian nationals at the junction, and “started raising slogans against Nigerian nationals and turned furious at the sight of them.” The peaceful vigil soon escalated into violence.

“I was walking on Pari Chowk with my brother and we were on our way to a friend’s house when we saw the large mob chanting loud slogans and holding up anti-Nigerian signs,” Precious Amalawa, a 23-year-old student and the elder brother of Endurance, told me. Precious and Endurance are two of the three students who were admitted into Kailash Hospital in Greater Noida after the attack on 27 March.

Precious told me that on seeing the angry mob, his brother and he ran into Ansal Plaza, a mall near Pari Chowk, thinking that they would be safe inside. “Those people followed us in there and started beating us. I am not even sure how many of them attacked me personally,” he continued. His shoulders and back were covered with bandages and a large faded bloodstain marked the back of his vest. Endurance, his 21-year-old brother, appeared to have been injured even more severely—he had a head wound and both his hands were bandaged. A video of the attack in the mall released by the Association of African Students in India—a non-profit organisation that seeks to unite African students in India—shows the mob violently beating Endurance with chairs and a metal dustbin. A third student Iqbia Malu, who also had a head wound, was asleep in their ward at the time of my visit.

Precious and Endurance are students at Noida International University, pursuing their  Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics, respectively. They have been living in Greater Noida for nearly two years now. They told me that they were very disturbed by the attack and that their parents are very worried about them back at home. Precious said that while his university’s infrastructure has kept him happy, he is frequently upset by the discriminatory behaviour of non-African students and teachers. “People here, some in our college and rickshaw drivers frequently use words like habshi”—a Hindi racial slur—“to refer to us,” he said. “Even shopkeepers here frequently get abusive with us, but we have gotten used to it,” he added.

Echoing his sentiments, his friend Najeeb Hamisu Umar, a PhD student of electrical and electronics engineering at Sharda University and the president of Nigerian Students’ Welfare Association, who was visiting the injured brothers at the hospital, said, “It is ridiculous that these things keep happening to us. There are so many Indians in Nigeria and this never happened to any of them there.” Abdullah Wakili, another friend of the brothers, told me that following the incident, he is terrified to leave his house. Wakili is a 26-year-old student who lives in Greater Noida and is pursuing a Bachelor of Business Administration degree at Stratford University in Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi. “I have evening classes usually, but I will not be able to go for a few days now,” he said. He added that the fact that Pari Chowk has become a dangerous area for him to walk through causes him great inconvenience, because he shops there and takes the bus to Delhi from the bus stop at the junction.

Nearly 600 unknown persons have been booked for rioting and 44 known persons for rioting and attempt to murder in the case registered by the police at Kasna police station. Of the 44 people named in the FIR, the police have arrested five men—Abhishek, Vipin Khari, Anil Chaihan, Ravinder Nagar and Shyam Lohia.

The attacks that began on 27 March were seemingly a response to the death of Manish Khari and the subsequent allegations made by his family. However, they belong to a  pattern of violence against African nationals in the capital. In January 2014, the former Delhi law minister and a leader of the Aam Aadmi Party, Somnath Bharti, along with police officers and a group of supporters, forcefully entered the houses of several Ugandan women in Khirki Extension—an area known for its high population of African nationals—for their alleged involvement in sex- and drug- trafficking. While the police were unable to verify any of Bharti’s claims, they filed a charge sheet against him in the ongoing criminal case instituted by the Ugandan women. In September 2014, a mob attacked three African students at the Rajiv Chowk metro station in central Delhi. In May 2016, three men chased and beat to death Masonda Ketanda Olivier, a Congolese national, in Kishangarh near Vasant Kunj, over the hiring of an auto rickshaw. The same month, a group of locals attacked at least seven Africans, including four women, in the Rajpur Khurd village in South Delhi—this was one of a series of four attacks, carried out in an hour.

On 28 March, the day I visited Pari Chowk and its neighbourhood areas, senior police officers conducted a peace march from Kasna police station to various parts of Greater Noida as a part of a trust-building exercise for the African community in the area. Meanwhile, the Association of African Students in India issued advisories telling African residents of the Greater Noida area not to leave their houses till the situation is brought under control.

A shopkeeper at an apparel store in Ansal Plaza, who requested not to be named, told me that the attacks frightened him, but that he understood why they happened. He said that Africans “behave strangely” because of which their neighbours “feel suspicious and unsettled.” The hostility towards these students was not as veiled in the posters that I saw around the area that day. One of them read, “Greater Noida se Nigerian ko bahar karo, Nigerian Free Greater Noida.”