The issue on hand is not one of racial prejudice as much as it is about cultural dissimilarity. Foreign students everywhere need to respect local sentiments as much as locals need to understand foreign cultures.
The perception people have of others, especially those who are obviously different, can sometimes be dangerous. But it can take a bizarre share when attitudes are built around the skin colour or features of another human being.
This is precisely what made Bengaluru (old name Bangalore) hit global headlines last week, particularly, in the African continent, when a 21 year old student from Tanzania had to go through the ignominy of being partially stripped by a mob.
That the girl was not sexually assaulted in the melee was the saving grace in hindsight. The circumstances leading to this incident are critical in understanding the nature of the crime and the wide-ranging implications it has on the nature of relationship between foreign students, local people and the governments of different countries.
On the previous Sunday, an Indian woman is run over and killed by a car driven by an inebriated Sudanese student. An angry crowd gathers and a section of it turns into a violent mob by setting the car on fire as the driver runs away. The crowd is still restive when, a good half an hour later, a car carrying four students passes by the spot.
The occupants of this car are three men and a woman. The crowd notices that the occupants of this car are also of the same colour as the driver of the car which ran over the woman and starts banging the glass pane. The driver of this second car realises that there is something serious that has happened and drives away as fast as possible. He also realises that he is being followed by a couple of cars and a few two-wheelers. On one of the roads, the car is blocked by one of the cars that overtakes his car.
The occupants get out of the car and, as one of them told this writer, ‘ran for our life’. The girl’s top gets torn by the mob as she runs and she gets partially stripped. A local resident tries to help her with a shirt and he also gets beaten up by the mob. Finally, an Iranian student comes to her rescue and she is taken to safety.
On the face of it, it would appear like a typical case of road rage which happens, rather frequently, with many Indians. The number of cases of road rage in a city like Bengaluru, India’s IT capital, are dime a dozen and it can happen to anyone given the humongous rise in the number of private vehicles (with an average registration of over 1200 cars daily. Yes, daily!) and the related pressure on traffic and infrastructure.
It was, indeed, interesting to find that one of the three victims held the view that it was a clear case of road rage as the mob was unaware of the difference between a Sudanese and a Tanzanian. His reasoning was interesting.
He believed that most people thought Africa was one country and, in this case, it was clear that they were angry because one of their own had been killed. His co-passenger who was also beaten up held a contrary view. He believed it to be a case of racism. In fact, even the Tanzanian High Commissioner in India, John W H Kijazi, believed it to be so until he reached the city for a meeting with the Home Minister and top officials of Karnataka.
The change in his approach is significant. It was not very different from the approach that was adopted by India’s then foreign minister when attacks on Indian students in Australia had become a raging controversy. In a few cases, it was realised by Indian officials that it was not racism that was at the core of this problem.
It was simply an issue of understanding local cultures and systems. It was found by Indian officials that the issues ranged from raucous behaviour to playing of loud music at times which disturbed the local population. The complaint of the people living in the area around the college where a large number of students from Tanzania and other countries also live, for instance in Bengaluru, is not any different. Of course, in Australia there were also specific attacks which turned out to be more racist in character.
But, a deeper analysis showed that the attacks were because the perception was that the Indians were taking away jobs which the locals believed were rightfully theirs. It was a question of skill sets that was making the difference in an era when younger people have been ever so mobile, unlike the previous generations.
But, then certain sections of the local population do not understand these aspects. Neither did they, at least at that point of time, realise the contribution that Indians were making to the local economy. This is very similar to the situation that the students from Tanzania or other countries face in their respective localities.
The local shopkeepers, for instance, would vouch for the foreign students who deal with them on a daily basis, making regular payments for their purchases, on the outskirts of the city where a clutch of colleges have opened up. In fact, the foreign students’ contribution fuels the financial stability of these institutions. In short, all this boils down to a very simple message to those students who travel abroad, irrespective of which country they are from, that it is very important to respect local sentiments and cultures.
As Kijazi so succinctly put it: “My message [to the students] is very simple. Follow laws of this country, live in harmony with the local communities. Respect local communities. But, it applies to the local communities as well. It has to be a two-way traffic.”
What Kijazi said is not just applicable to the Tanzanians but to citizens of any other country visiting or staying in another country. And, living in harmony is a natural win-win for all.
Serious monkey business
This is something that will tug at your heart. A new born puppy, born on the roadside, was crying for his mother and was about to be targeted by a pack of stray dogs in Erode in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
That’s when the inhabitants became witness to the strange spectacle of a monkey entering the field and chasing away the strays. The monkey promptly carried away the puppy to safety and has since then been taking care of the puppy.
The local residents, reports say, are providing biscuits and milk so that the puppy would also be fed. The monkey has been so protective of the puppy that she ensures the canine is fed before she takes a morsel, herself. Over the last few days, the puppy is also being carried by the monkey to the top of the tree where the two play around.
Isn’t it an interesting lesson for all those human beings who indulge in discrimination on various grounds against fellow human beings?
Social media can really play havoc with the lives of people, both positively and negatively. A recent report from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh could well become a side story in a romantic Bollywood movie.
Let’s first look at this interesting story of a couple which went separate ways after frequent fights. Each of them decided to look forward in their lives, picked up assumed names and began to chat up on social media. Over a period of time, each of them found somebody interesting enough to shift from the virtual to the real world with a meeting. On the all important day, the two land up at a restaurant only to find that the friendly and exciting person of the virtual world was their lawful partner until recently.
Once the reality hit them, both are reported to have got into what they were so adept at. They started fighting in public, forcing the restaurant to call the police. The police, of course, checked their books and realised that there was nothing much they could book them under.
Years of experience made them point to the family counselling centre as the best option. But, the reports did not indicate whether the couple got time to think of the ‘exciting’ chats that led to this meeting with bright prospects. Social media, truly, can be a double-edged weapon!