Cycling for change: Peter Ngugi's one-man quest to protest racism against Africans in India

As the lone bicyclist pedals into Kolkata on a weekday morning, a crowd of around 1,400 people gathers on the streets to cheer him on. In a yellow t-shirt and shirts, with a satchel on his back, and helmet bent against the November sun, Peter Ngugi, 25, doesn’t strike a particularly impressive figure. It’s only when he begins to speak, and you take stock of the endeavor he’s set for himself, that you begin to see him as different, special.

Ngugi, who hails from Mombasa in Kenya, came to India in 2013. He lived in Mumbai and Chennai before finally moving to Bengaluru for a project with IBM. Over the years, he experienced the racism that Africans living in India have reported — the stereotyping as drug peddlers or prostitutes, the calls of ‘Negro!’, ‘aye kaala’, ‘kaalu’, ‘apshu’ when you step out. But a spate of incidents in 2017, when Africans in India were assaulted, molested, chased by mobs, made Ngugi determined to do something to combat the racism.

 Cycling for change: Peter Ngugis one-man quest to protest racism against Africans in India

Peter Ngugi rides into Kolkata. All photos courtesy Satwik Paul

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“I was working in Bengaluru when a guy from Congo was beaten to death in Delhi. There were viral videos of Africans being assaulted all across India. A Black woman was beaten up and molested in Bengaluru while she was just taking a walk on the road. Every day you stepped out, you knew your life was under threat,” Ngugi told Firstpost, during his Kolkata pit-stop.

“Do you know what it’s like to be scarred for life (by racism)? You might not, unless you’re visiting a European country and the Whites treat you in exactly the same way Africans are treated here,” Ngugi added. “I’ve seen how Africans are stereotyped here in India — we’re thought of as being involved in the drug trade or prostitution. I don’t know what this propaganda is all about!”

What angered him further was the African and Indian government’s silence on the issue. What might be a unique yet peaceful way to protest the rising violence, he wondered. “These were clearly racial (hate) crimes, but no one was speaking about it, either in Africa or India. I came up with the idea of a cycling trip because it would be a way to spread awareness in different parts of the country,” Ngugi said.

Starting in Shillong on 28 October, Ngugi is making his way towards Kanyakumari, from where he will ride back to Delhi. He hopes to cover a total of 6,700 km on his bicycle, stopping at major towns and cities like Guwahati, Bhubaneshwar, Kolkata [this leg of Ngugi’s tour is complete], Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kanyakumari, Kochi, Goa (mostly Panjim), Pune, Mumbai and Ahmedabad. He intends to reach Delhi on 10 February 2018. His tour is being supported by the African Youth Union in India as well as the Kenyan Ambassador’s Office here.

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Peter Ngugi in Kolkata. All photos courtesy Satwik Paul

At every pit-stop, Ngugi makes it a point to interact with locals; he converses with those who’re willing (not everyone he meets is) about hate crimes, the problems Africans in India face, and his own initiative. His message is always the same — “Blacks are just like other people”. He can speak fluent Hindi, so communication isn’t an issue, and the response he’s received has been mostly positive. In Bhubaneshwar, he was hosted by the Red FM radio channel; in Kolkata — as mentioned earlier — he had 1,400 supporters cheering him on.

“I think the one thing this tour has taught me is — there are always two sides to a coin… Once you get to the core of Indian culture, you find so much to take away. Especially the spirituality — not the religion, mind you. People here are so knowledgeable; the country feels like a vast, live, open library. Of course, there are stark contrasts in social and educational backgounds, and maybe that explains the disparity in behaviour as well,” Ngugi said. He also wished to tell his fellow Africans not to react to everything they heard, or perceive it as an insult.

Back home in Kenya, Ngugi is part of a six-member family. His upbringing was instrumental in teaching him to take a stand when one’s dignity was at stake. He’s always been actively involved in working with non-profit organisations for various causes. Does he have any Indian friends here? we asked. “All my friends here are Indian,” he said, adding with a wink: “Dude, I have an Indian girlfriend.”

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Updated Date: Nov 25, 2017 12:10:27 IST