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Already struggling, students suffer racial profiling in India

African students in India are the subject of racial profiling and are being blamed for spreading the coronavirus. It is so bad that most of them are unable to go out and shop for essential supplies.

Profiling of African students has been reported in China where COVID-19 was first detected and is becoming a trend across the globe.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown on 24 March, limiting the movement of people as a preventive measure against the pandemic. The government then extended the lockdown by another 21 days.

Leon Lidigu (27), a final-year mass communication and journalism student from Kenya studying at Pacific University in Udaipur City, Rajasthan state, told University World News that he entered a mini-supermarket last week, prompting everyone, including the shop owners, to run away from him shouting “corona, corona”.

Branding of foreigners

“It is a serious situation but funny at the same time,” Lidigu told University World News. He said local Indians believe COVID-19 was brought into the country by foreigners, so they have branded all foreigners “corona”.

Lidigu said he is housing five other African students in his apartment as they were chased out of their lodgings.

“I am lucky because my landlord is very good and my neighbours are good too. At times I have to send my neighbours to the shop for me because of the fear of being called ‘corona’ and being treated badly in public.”

He said since the lockdown food prices had almost doubled or tripled in some shops and people have limited hours to shop (7am-11am).

“There are food delivery tracks that we can use to order food, but they are expensive and with the little money I have remaining I cannot afford that,” he said.

He said the Catholic Church had been helpful in housing people who have been chased away from their houses.

As far as his studies are concerned, Lidigu said he has been attending online Zoom classes organised by the university.

“We were meant to sit for our final exams from 26 May and then graduate in mid-June but all this has changed. The university has announced that we are likely to sit for our exams as from 3 June,” said Lidigu.

For Lidigu and other Kenyan students a major challenge is the expiry of their visas in May.

“To renew my visa I need a bona fide letter from the school stating that you are still a student at the university, which I can’t get with the lockdown,” he said.

Targeted by police

Joseph Ogbolu, a 25-year-old public health masters student from Nigeria attending Apex University in Jaipur city, told University World News the Indian police were also targeting African students.

“The police too are profiling us just like the locals. They ask us questions about our origins and why we are in the country all the time,” he said.

Faith Mokeira, a 21-year-old Kenyan nursing student at Maharaj Vinayak Global University in Jaipur city, told University World News she has been openly accused by people in the street and by some neighbours of importing coronavirus into the country. People run away or walk past faster when they see you coming, she said.

“When you go to the shop the shopkeeper refuses to sell to you and says they have already closed for the day even when you see them sell to their fellow Indians after you. It’s difficult because you can’t complain to the police who are also Indians and who believe that you are actually the cause of the lockdown,” she said.

“We are also forced to stay indoors because of the tension in town whenever people see you walking freely,” she said. She said her university has not been conducting online classes and her fear is that this will affect their academic calendar.

William Rhymes, a 19-year-old second-year computer application student from Tanzania studying at Vidyapeeth University, said if Africans are caught outside without a mask, the police harass them, unlike their fellow Indians.

Discrimination

“Landlords are now asking us to fill in a Form C that includes personal details and the reason you are in the country. This is filed at the police station, which is a new thing to us because before you are given a house in India, everyone has to fill in the Form C. So doing it again – and only because I am a foreigner – is discrimination,” he said.

He said when approached, police either walk away or address foreigners from a distance.”

“My university doesn’t have online classes,” he said. Our lecturers only send us notes to read. There has been no communication from the university on when we shall sit for our exams that were expected in June.”

Morris Burphy (23), a second-year biotechnology student from Liberia studying at Bhupal Nobles University, said when the government announced the lockdown he was at his friend’s house in another city and could not return to his apartment. He has no idea if his things at his house are safe or not.

“It has been a difficult situation because no one wants to associate with us as foreigners. So we are not sure how things will be if we resume school again,” he said.

“My savings are almost finished and it is hard now to get money from my family back at home. I am worried about how I will survive in the coming days.”

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