NEW DELHI (AP) — Mobs have repeatedly attacked Africans in a New Delhi suburb in recent days after rumors that a local boy had been kidnapped by Nigerians.
The surge in violence began Friday when a teenage boy disappeared in Greater Noida, outside New Delhi, and angry relatives claimed he'd been killed by Nigerians. A mob of people began searching the area for Africans, with some accusing kidnappers of eating the boy.
The boy returned home Saturday morning. He died later that day, though the cause remains unclear.
The police arrested five Nigerian men and charged them with kidnapping and murder but let them go within hours, citing lack of evidence.
Sujata Singh, a top local police official, told reporters over the weekend that the police simply had no evidence at all to hold the men.
But mobs continued to attack Africans, the most recent attack was Wednesday, leaving at least two people with broken bones. Africans have been chased by a mob into a local mall and beaten there. There have been reports of crowds pulling African men and women out of autorickshaws and cabs and assaulting them.
The African Students' Association in the country has asked Africans across the capital to remain alert and especially warned those living in Greater Noida from stepping out at all.
"All African Students Studying in Greater Noida are hereby Instructed to Stay at home as the situation remains volatile. We are advising all the student representatives from Africa to request their students to remain at home," their advisory said. It added that a clear number of attacks was impossible to know because of the sheer numbers of calls seeking help.
The African Union in a statement Wednesday said it was "extremely appalled" by the attacks on African students and said many Africans had been displaced from their homes, "putting their lives in serious danger." The continental body urged Indian authorities to expedite investigations and bring the perpetrators to justice.
As fears of more attacks lingered most African students and student leaders have switched off their phones or stopped answering them.
Hundreds of thousands of Africans in live and study in India, drawn by better education and work opportunities. For them rampant racism is a daily battle in a country where their dark skin places them at the lower end of a series of strictly observed social hierarchies. Indians routinely perceive Africans as either prostitutes or drug dealers.
The callous, daily racism that Africans suffer usually go unnoticed by others.
In a country obsessed with fair skin and skin lightening treatments, people with dark skin draw a mixture of fear and ridicule.
Landlords shun Africans in all but the poorest neighborhoods, and in those they are charged unusually high rent. African students in the New Delhi neighborhood of Chhatarapur reported paying 15,000 rupees ($225) a month for a single room and bathroom that would normally rent for 6,000 to 7,000 rupees.
Strangers point at them and laugh — or gang up and assault them.
That changed in May last year when a Congolese student was fatally attacked in a dispute over hiring an autorickshaw in New Delhi. Three men who insisted they had hired the vehicle beat him up and hit him on the head with a rock, killing him, according to police.
The death made the city's African students, diplomats and business owners' rally together demanding quick justice. The African Heads of Mission in New Delhi issued a statement asking the government to address "racism and Afro-phobia" in the country.
The bad publicity from that attack made India's foreign ministry instruct the police to make sure they protected the city's African population. On Monday the Foreign Minister again tweeted that she had asked the government of Uttar Pradesh state, where Greater Noida is located, to investigate the "unfortunate incident" swiftly.
On Monday the local police said they had arrested at least five people for their involvement in the attacks on Africans and were investigating the attacks further.
Associated Press writer Elias Meseret in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia contributed.