A PARADISE MORTGAGED
Last month’s raid on Khirkee Extension’s African-national residents further ostracizes a community already confronting prejudice daily. Some of their stories
Souzeina S Mushtaq Delhi
We’re in a crowded metro coach as it hurtles towards its destination. Kwami, in his late twenties, is squeezed against the passengers—a couple holding hands, two men discussing politics, a boy skimming through his IAS course book, and others visibly angry or tired, hanging by the rails. As the coach comes to a halt at the last station, Huda City Centre, there’s a mini stampede as the crowd tries to get off, and others try to board. As Kwami slices his way through the crowd, a man shoves past him, mumbling: “Abe kaale, peeche hat!”(Hey black guy, get out of the way). Kwami notices the man is clearly an educated type—or that’s what his clothes seem to suggest—but doesn’t respond. He says he is used to it now.
The Nigerian Civil war of 1967 claimed Kwami’s family. His parents lost their assets, their relatives. Fearing they’d lose their son, they sent him to live in India, to build a career. Since then, Kwami—who works in a call-centre—has been living with his friends in South Delhi’s Khirki Extension.
“Life has been driving me crazy all along,” says Kwami, sipping coffee. “I wanted to live with my parents, but there’s too much violence and fear of death back home. Now I am living with my friends, but things are changing here too.”
The midnight raid early this year in Khirki, by a mob led by Delhi Law Minister Somnath Bharti, following charges of a drug-and-sex racket, has left these residents petrified.
Kwami’s fears are echoed by one of his roommates, Jacob, a student. “The situation is grave. This has been happening with us for a long time, but the recent incident was the last straw; we’re forced to lock ourselves in,” says Jacob.
While colony locals hailed Bharti as a hero for “highlighting the problems plaguing the area for years,” people across Delhi were shocked at the blatant actions of the AAP minister, and there’s pressing demand for his resignation. Instead of hauling up Bharti, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal sat on a two-day dharna demanding executive control of the Delhi Police, and the transfer of police personnel who had defied Bharti’s orders to arrest the African women without any warrant.
Things, however, have changed drastically for the foreign nationals living in Khirki after this incident. The streets wear a deserted look, and many African nationals have gone back to their countries fearing further unrest. This landfill-turned-ghetto-turned-cosmopolitan bohemian colony is now under threat from the prejudices of its own residents.
The acclaimed Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains in her lecture, ‘The danger of a single story’, how single narratives create stereotypes: “The consequence of the single story is that it robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.” Khirki is turning out to be a textbook case of racial intolerance.
Daisy, 23, is studying at Delhi University’s South Campus. She aspires to be a writer and tell her stories to the world. “I fail to understand why people treat us like this; we are also human beings. We have emotions, we get angry, hurt and annoyed. We live, eat, breathe like you do—then why are we being dehumanized?” she asks in a choking voice. Living in Khirki, she says there’s discrimination on a daily basis. A boy, for instance, had teased her shouting she was not even “rape material”. Daisy was so infuriated that she wrote about the incident, which has not been published.
“I couldn’t sleep for days. Just because I am darker, you can say such things to me?” Her first instinct was to slap the boy, but she let it pass, “That would have created a furore; I don’t even want to imagine what that would have led to.”
“Yes, some Africans are involved in drug-peddling, but how can you tar all Africans with the same brush. Just as so many rapes happening in India doesn’t make every Indian a rapist,” reasons Kwami.
Kwami, Jacob and Daisy,* trying to find their ways, fighting against stereotypes and single stories, say they still love India and its culture, and concur, “there is hope that things will change for the better.”
That’s how Adichi sums up her lecture: “When we reject the single story, when we realize there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”
(*Names changed to protect identity)