Racism in India blamed for unrest in the streets as African migrants claim they are victims of discrimination

Problems stemming from a culture clash risk tipping over into something more dramatic

The young man stood in the half-light of the stairwell, not willing to give his full name, not willing either to remain entirely silent about the discrimination he had suffered. He was shivering, perhaps from the cold, perhaps from anxiety.

“We get a lot of problems here from some of the Indians,” he said, glancing around him as people passed him. “I know that not everyone is like that...But any African living in India always feels tension.”

He added: “As soon as my college course is completed, I will leave. The next day.”

The 23-year-old Nigerian, Kevin, is one of hundreds of African residents of Delhi at the centre of a mounting controversy sparked by a government minister who led nighttime raids on women he claimed were linked to a drugs and sex trade. The minister said the police were refusing to take action. The women, two Nigerians and two Ugandans, were found not to be carrying drugs and have filed charges against the minister.

The raid, carried out in front of the television cameras, sent shockwaves through the city. Delhi’s newly elected chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, led a protest, accusing the city’s police of corruption and demanding that responsibility for them be moved from the central government to his administration. He backed the actions of his minister.

Yet others accused Mr Kejriwal of vigilantism and said his populist actions were breaking the law. Some commentators said that a nation which was invariably quick to complain of slights against its own citizens, was now behaving in a way that was nothing short of racist. African residents of the area said they had long faced discrimination and abuse.

Some traders are welcoming to migrants Some traders are welcoming to migrants

The raid was carried out ten days ago in the Khirki Extension neighbourhood, a hard-scrabble quarter of narrow alleys on the southern edge of Delhi. The area was once the site of a 14 Century city. The ruins have since been enveloped as India’s modern capital expanded. Close by are shopping malls filled with boutiques and two cinemas.

The area’s cheap-to-rent rooms, and its location close to two private hospitals, have always attracted migrants from India and overseas who have arrived in waves. There have been Kashmiris, Nepalis, Afghans, people from the north-east of India, people from the states surrounding Delhi. They come to work, study and receive medical treatment.

And as they have come, they have established businesses that cater to their community – an Afghan bakery, a Kashmiri restaurant, an African bar where man sit watching music videos and sipping beer.

People from various African nations have been coming for many years, usually to study. Among those making their homes in the congested, cluttered area are those who lost everything and came in search of sanctuary.

A 28-year-old called John came to India three year ago as a refugee from South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where conflict raged. “I don’t know where my father or mother are, or my brothers and sisters. They all disappeared,” he said.

He and other Africans said Indian residents of Khirki treated anyone with a black skin in the same way, regardless of their country. He said they suffered discrimination in various forms, from vegetable vendors who tried to charge more than the regular rate, to landlords who insisted on higher rents.

Others said the abuse was more vicious. Ahmed Qabile, another refugee, from Somalia, said he had lived in India for ten years and spoke some Hindi. He had previously lived in southern India, where he said he faced less discrimination.

In Khirki, by contrast, African residents were subjected to abuse and name-calling. “They call us “habsi” [a racial epithet in Hindi]. They use it openly,” said Mr Qabile. “There are lots of people who were born here and understand Hindi. If you understand the language it is a lot worse because you understand the racism.”

A 37-year-old Nigerian woman, who like many residents declined to be named, said Indian women sometimes treated the Africans with respect but that young boys often shouted out names and threw stones. “They shout out “black monkey” and then they run away,” said the woman, who was braiding another woman’s hair in a salon.

Some of the problems in Khirki may be a clash of cultures. Several African men said they could not understand why they sparked an angry reaction from Indians simply by saying hello to a young woman. A number of Indians, by contrast, highlighted this as inappropriate behaviour.

Yet on Friday, as armed police patrolled the lanes amid an atmosphere of obvious tension, Indian residents said the problems went beyond that of a cultural mismatch.

On a piece of land adjoining a temple, a group of residents, Hindus and Muslims alike, gathered to air their grievances for the benefit of a local television channel. They claimed that since two years ago there had been a sharp increase in prostitution, drugs, loud music at night, fighting in the street and even public nakedness. They said they police took bribes from the African residents and therefore refused to take action against them.

“There have been many problems. They need to remove all the criminal elements in this area. This is illegal,” said Moin Haque, 29, a fashion designer. He dismissed a suggestion that Indian residents were making assumptions about people from an entire continent simply because of their colour. Asked how many people might be involved in illegal activity, he said: “Around 80 per cent of the African people are into bad things.”

Another man, Dr A Khan, a physician, said he supported the stand that Mr Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi (Common Man) party (AAP) were taking action. “I will definitely vote for them at the next election.”

The politician who carried out the raid and could be seen on television footage arguing with police is Somnath Bharti, a barrister who now serves as Mr Kejriwal’s law minister and in whose constituency Khirki falls.

In an interview in his office, where a poster showing Martin Luther King making his dream speech is prominently posted to the wall, he dismissed a suggestion that his actions were encouraging racism or that he was resorting to mob rule. (On Saturday, the AAP released video clips it claimed showed various African residents committing unlawful acts. It also posted the addresses of some of the women involved in the raid.)

“The Delhi police have not listened to a word. The police been taking money. No-one expects the Delhi police to do any good,” he said.

The controversy is playing out as India prepares for a general election. The upstart Aam Aadmi party, which secured power in Delhi last month, is seeking to challenge across the country in the national polls. It remains unclear whether the raid in Khirki will attract more voters than it puts off.

While most Indian residents of Khirki supported Mr Bharti’s actions, not everyone did. Sitara, a 40-year-old Indian woman who runs a tea ship opposite an African barber, said the Africans supported various Indian businesses.

“Without them we would not be able to make money – the shops, or people earning rent,” she said. “There are some women from some countries who dress provocatively. But if you have a problem with that then it’s better to close your eyes.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Steven Fletcher scores the second goal for Scotland
cricketBut they have to bounce back to beat Gibraltar in Euro 2016 qualifier
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing