The grey in Black

In the past decade, there has been a steady inflow of Africans and there is no denying that there is a culture clash brewing among the locals and these “visitors” who have homed in on conservative urban villages like Khirki Extension. Allegations against them are many, ranging from illegal dalliances with drugs and prostitution, not to mention staying on without a valid visa. DEEBASHREE MOHANTY and SANGEETA YADAV examine the entire issue and tell you how there might be some grey in Black here but not all can be painted with the same brush

Nurse: Where have you come from?

Caswir Akuma: Madagascar.

Nurse: What? Does it really exist? Is that where animals live?

— Caswir Akuma runs a shop called Afro Needs in INA Market, New Delhi

In 2009, when Akuma was admitted to the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital for an open heart surgery, medics couldn’t stop staring at him as if he was from the zoo. When he told them where he came from even doctors looked puzzled. They thought Madagascar existed only in the movies. They thought that the place belonged to Alex, The Lion and his friends.

“Today, at my shop there are hundreds of Indians impatiently waiting to buy the okra soup pre-mix packet. The soup made out of lentils and lady fingers is staple food of Nigerians but Delhiwallahs have taken a liking to this non-spicy treat,” Akuma who lives in a South Extension B- Block barsati, tells you. He was diagnosed with a serious heart ailment in 2009 and was advised to fly to New Delhi for a cheap surgery.

The operation was successful and affordable. In his country, he says, medical facilities are virtually non-existent. “If a person suffers from cancer he just gives up. Very few have heard of chemotherapy so people die young. Since his was a special case of prolonged treatment, he is here on a 10-year medical visa. “I’m hoping to get a visa extension after applying to relevant authorities,” Akuma who manages to sell African essentials worth Rs 20,000, says. He owes it all to his Parsi friend who rented out his shop to him for a meagre sum.

In INA and Kotla Mubarakpur area there are many 2×2 sq feet kiosks where these tourists make a living. Almost 60 per cent are illegal outlets which operate clandestinely and the owners live on a visa that has long expired. Weary of the police who combs these area regularly, many part-time shop-owners tell you that they know how to get out of a situation, much like the illegal tenants living in official accommodation sub-let by Government servants.

“Are you lonely in India? Want an African companion? Come register with us”. So reads a signboard on the first floor of the Kotla Mubarakpur Market. The shop in the basement sells furniture and modern lightings and the first floor is said to be a community-gathering-cum grocery shop for Nigerians and others from the African continent.

Jitendra, a salesman in the lightings and fittings shop, whispers that the door to that shop opens only after 8pm (other shops in the vicinity are shut by 7pm). “Koi aata jaataa nahin hai but iska malik Toyota car chalata hai,” the shopkeeper tells you.

Although the outlets belong to the same owner, Shantilal Sharma, the occupants in the basement have little idea about the goings-on on the floors above.

These Black-only pockets aren’t restricted to posh parts of South Delhi alone. Kamla Nagar in North Delhi also boasts of many colonies where Blacks live. Most of them prefer to live where the activities are minimal. “Some housing societies have given out strict instructions that people from the African continent shouldn’t be allowed to rent out houses in their colony. It is insulting but we are used to such remarks. The problem is that not many of us are used to the language. Our culture is also different. We work in the mornings and party hard at night. May be, people don’t like the way we party and make noise,” Akuma says, adding that many bars in the city don’t grant him access. “Many times, if I want to enter a bar, I’m asked for my passport. They don’t check any details but they still want to see my passport,” he reveals.

Akuma says he is aware that the general perception about Blacks is that they engage in nefarious activities. “I don’t deny that Black can create quite some ruckus while partying. African women don’t dress like Indians do but that doesn’t make them all prostitutes,” he says, pointing out how peeved he is about the restrictions on Black residents in places like Dwarka and Khirki Village.

But there is a reason why such curbs have been employed by Resident Welfare Associations. Talk to residents and the common perception is that Blacks are surreptitious, don’t maintain hygiene standards and they have a propensity to get involved in petty fights. Allegations of women running prostitution rackets are abound too.

Take a stroll in the Khirki Extension post 8 pm and you understand from where these opinions are coming — drunk men and women abusing each other, children as young as nine years smoking and snorting and unkempt youngsters loitering in and around the Select City Walk mall is a common sight.

Then there are African women fully made up and wearing small and tight clothes, signalling to passing cars. Village elders swear that ever since houses started getting rented to these foreigners “for huge money”, sex rackets have emerged as never before.

Go to J, K and E blocks of Khirki Extension and you will find citizens from all parts of Africa residing there. On popular demand, some basements have even been converted into make-do Churches by these Africans. Surabhi Trivedi, owner of the Affinity Media Consultancy and Public Relations firm who has been staying here for more than five years with her sister, says that in the past two years, the number of Blacks has peaked. “Some of these women dress vulgarly, show their cleavage and wait for cars to pick them up. Sometimes there is a drug deal that happens in full public view,” she says.

Adjacent to Khirki Extension is the Khirki Village where there is a no-rent to Blacks notice. “This area was basically agricultural land which spread across more than 100 acres. The culture of Khirki village started changing in 1962 when the Government purchased the land from the Sainis and Chauhans and it was sold for just Rs 2 a yard.  From 1962 to 2005, there was no construction. It was only after Robert Vadra and Rahul Gandhi visited this area that the Government decided to do something here,” claims Sandeep Saini, president of the Jan Kalyan Morcha and a long-time resident of Khirki Village.

DP Singh, a retired professor and a landlord tells you that with the rapid development of the area with malls and hospitals, the influx of foreign tourists and students has increased manifold.

“Now, all the land has been sold off and converted into five-floor buildings where students and outstation employees live. Some buildings have been illegally constructed and occupied forcefully,” Singh says, adding that incidents of crime involving foreign nationals have also risen in the past three years.

On August 12, 2013, Sunil Taneja, a resident of J4/80 Khirki Extension, was beaten up by a Nigerian who lived at Dheer House. Taneja had objected to the latter’s drunken brawls.

On October 27, 2013, more than 20 residents of the J-3 and J-4 blocks of Khirki Extension filed complaints stating that the Nigerians and Kenyans, especially residents of J4/65A were indulging in illegal activities such as selling drugs to schoolchildren in the locality. Another complaint was filed on November 20, 2013 stating that apart from drugs, nudity was becoming an issue too.

In another case, the residents of Vikas Samiti, E-12/10, Hauz Rani, filed a complaint requesting the cops to seal a bar and stop what they claimed was a prostitution ring being operated.

According to Deepak Chauhan, after the raid conducted by Aam Aadmi Party Law Minister Somnath Bharti on January 15, around 95 per cent of these foreigners shifted to Deoli Extension, a fact confirmed by the owner of the restaurant Lemon Sole who said he was surprised when he started getting bulk home-delivery orders from that area.

With no help from the police, people of this area are left wondering if they have to take things on their hands. “When SHO Vijay Pal Yadav approached a group of Black women for inquiry, one of the girls beat him up,” Saini informs.

As trouble brews, one wonders why there has been a sudden influx of people from Africa to India? “It would be wrong to say that there has been a sudden rise in the Black population in New Delhi. It all depends on international ties and exchange programmes,” Joint secretary (foreigners) of Ministry of Home Affairs, V Vumlunmang says. KS Dhatwalia, ADG (media) also maintains that this is not a noticeable a trend. “They come wherever they find cheap living. Education is cheap in India and so are medical facilities. When I was in Chandigarh, there were a lot of Africans there and now you see them in Delhi, Goa, Bhopal and other places too,” Dhatwalia points out. Although he argues that there is no trend as such, an FRRO officer in Goa says that for the last 10 years, the Black population has risen significantly.

“Registered African population in Goa alone is over 7,000 which include tourists, people who have come on medical visas and students. Medical tourism has picked up,” he says. The officer tells you that Nigerians and Kenyans make for more than 70 per cent of the Black population in Goa.

In Delhi, the trend is no different. Apart from popular African nations there are many people from relatively unknown nations like Swathe and Madagascar.

“India has opened new horizons for many of us. Education was a distant dream for many people but in India the fee is affordable,” Mbaya Christopher, president of African Students Association in India (ASAI), tells you. Ask him if everyone complies with visa rules and regulations and there is an awkward silence.

“Students normally get a visa for a year but that varies. To sustain themselves they get involved in part-time jobs which pay well. Most of them get a visa extension. Some even marry local citizens to make India their permanent home. There are a few who overstay because they are not aware of visa norms. Then there is a section which engages in nefarious activities. But you can’t blame or taint the entire Black population because one per cent is bad,” Christopher says.

Apart from managing student activities, he manages the community of small-time Black businessmen in New Delhi which boasts of 580 members with proper shops and some hole-in-the-wall kiosks. “People from Zimbabwe and Congo have set up salons in South Delhi while Nigerians have shops in INA. We have some presence in North and East Delhi too,” he says.

While people from the African continent thrive in the Capital and other States in the country, lawmakers and officials have their job cut out to ensure that they have their documents in order. As for the locals, there is an urgent need to change their mindset regarding nationals from other countries.

Points to be noted

  • 13 dedicated pages for African Nationals in India with a whopping 1.2 lakh registered students only from Nigeria, Congo, Namibia, Algeria, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola and Rwanda
  • According to official figures of 2013 there are 10,000 Nigerians, 1,500 Zambians, 5,000 Zimbabweans and 21 Kenyans in New Delhi – and the numbers are only increasing
  • The most concentrated Black pockets in New Delhi are Khirki Extension, Mohammadpur, Kotla Mubrakpur and South Extension B Block
  • After Delhi, there has been a noticeable increase in the Black population in Goa, Kerala, Hyderabad and Chandigarh
  • 23 African communities pan-India with more than seven special clubs in New Delhi
  • The Republic of Congo Club in Mohammadpur Extension in South Delhi boasts of 200 members, mostly businessmen
  • There are 17 African students pursuing PhD in Philosophy, Ethics, International Relations and World Political Systems in Jawaharlal Nehru University
  • Two Political Science students from Zimbabwe and one from Nigeria are pursuing PhD in Delhi University
  • There are three dedicated restaurants that serve African delicacies in South Delhi. A and G Afro Shop in Saket and Manny’s Square in Safdarjung are the most popular one which serve Afro cuisine.

(The article was published in The Pioneer Newspaper – http://www.dailypioneer.com/sunday-edition/sunday-pioneer/investigation/the-grey-in-black.html)

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