Karnataka’s home minister G Parameshwara would have us believe that the assault on the Tanzanian student in Bengaluru was no racial attack. It is understandable that as a political leader he would be economical with the truth and squeamish about admitting that the crowd which gathered at the spot on Sunday night after the accident was racist. It would give the city a bad name and would, of course, make his government look bad in popular perception.
“This was definitely not a racial attack,” the minister said, adding it was merely a mob response to a crime. Now, the minister must explain in how many instances of road accidents involving locals or visibly Indian citizens are received with such a response from the crowd at the spot in the city. He needs to tell us whether any other car passed through the road in the half-an hour after the accident. If the crowd was waiting to attack anyone looking African, then in how many cases does such a thing happen? By all indications, the attack was racist.
The incident would have been ignored as an exception in a supposedly cosmopolitan city, had there not been several similar cases earlier. In October 2014, an engineering student was beaten up for not speaking Kannada. Two months later in the same year, former city police commissioner’s HT Sangliana’s daughter was racially abused by two women in a supermarket. While assaulting her, they asked her to “go back to China”. Prior to these incidents there were attacks on two Manipuri women.
In 2012, the city witnessed an exodus of students from the north-east after an SMS threatening them started circulating in the city. In April last year, the police had to organise a co-ordination meeting between locals and South African students after a number of attacks on the latter. The government may write these off as isolated incidents not connected by a broad racist theme. But the frequency of attacks on foreigners suggest otherwise.
The pattern of such incidents reveals that a section of locals not only hates Africans, but also Indians with racial features different from their own. There’s a clear disconnect – cultural and otherwise – between the locals and the guests and the city, despite its cosmopolitan branding, has not grown up enough to accept the presence of outsiders in its midst. It’s not that such incidents don’t happen elsewhere in India, but the frequency here is disturbing. What is evident here is a cumulative anger at work and it refuses to go away.
The role of the administration and the government should be to harmonise relations. But both appear to have failed miserably. It does not help when they take an ostrich-like approach, denying any racial undertone in the city. In a city like Bengaluru which attracts a huge number of foreigners and thus serves as a brand ambassador of sorts for the country, it is critical that the government accepts the existence of racial behaviour, treats it as a problem and takes steps to find a solution.
The minister’s statement on Thursday, and that of the police chief, is a denial of reality. It would have been much more comforting had both acknowledged that there’s a problem. By treating the incident involving the Tanzanian student as simply a case of any mob violence, they have only swept the real issue under the carpet till yet another such incident hits them in the face.