Kareem Olawale Toheeb and Okolie Chidera sit idly in their rented room worried about their future and wondering how they ended up in such a situation where they have to stay indoors to survive.
The two Nigerian nationals are part of the 4,000-strong student community from Africa studying in various colleges and private universities in Greater Noida, 24 miles from New Delhi.
After a March 27 mob attack in which four Nigerian students were thrashed in a shopping mall in Greater Noida, off-campus African students have now locked themselves up in view of the recent surge in violence targeting them.
The attack followed a protest over the death of a 19-year-old student with the mob accusing the Nigerian community of supplying drugs to the pupil, media reported.
“We just stay indoors. Since the time of the attack, since on Monday, nobody went to the college, except those who reside in the university, college, so there, there’s no problem with them. But any other (student) living off campus, they cannot go, I don’t have heard of anyone living off campus who had gone to the college to receive lecture. Everybody is just afraid of another attack. So, we are just here while the classes are going on, we are here looking for a way to go back and join our colleagues,” he said.
Toheeb, 23, is pursuing civil engineering from a private university, and feels his education has taken a setback since the attack and restricted his movement in the town.
The Ibadan-born student says he has been facing discrimination and racial prejudice since landing in India two years ago. He believes the lack of awareness and literacy about Africans among locals is the reason behind the almost-daily ordeal of being a subject of racist jokes and ogling.
“They feel superior on us, so I see no reason why that should happen. We are all equal. So, and series of attack has been carried out by this, our host country. The major reason why this attack keeps on repeating itself is I think I can see, I can say it is illiteracy because these people, they needed an orientation and civic education on how to associate with foreigners and they should be made aware that actually Africans, we are friendly, we are peaceful people and we don’t like violence,” said Toheeb.
Apart from racial discrimination, the communication barrier also makes life difficult for the students who have travelled over 4,000 miles to seek better education and work opportunities.
Toheeb says the number of students coming from Africa will reduce drastically and tarnish India’s image as an education hub if the government fails to tackle the raging racism in its streets.
There has been a spate in attacks on African nationals in and around Delhi in the recent past. Last year, several Africans were beaten up in New Delhi and a Congolese man was stoned to death.
Chidera, who hails from Nigeria’s river port of Onitsha and came to India in 2014 aspiring to be a lawyer, says some of the locals consider them as “animals”.
“Adequate security, a very tight one. Secondly, educating the people, the local people actually and telling them what and what we look like, what and what we are, you understand, because when you go give them some information which are not good about us, then, they will look at us at (with) another perspective but then when you tell them something which we are, really are, then things will be better,” he said.
The 25-year-old enjoys Bollywood music, loves listening to Pakistani singer Atif Aslam and is fascinated by Indian festivals. He feels Indians should shun stereotyping the overseas students so that they could live together in peace and harmony.
Though police arrested five people for beating up Nigerian students, the brutal attack could deal a blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government’s ambitions to put India as a trade and investment partner for Africa.