Mob attack on Tanzanian woman renews concerns about racism in India

A mob attack against a Tanzanian woman in India's high-tech capital has renewed questions about racism in the country, particularly against African immigrants.

The Tanzanian student was apparently pulled from her car, stripped and sexually assaulted in the city of Bangalore on Sunday night, authorities said. Police on Thursday arrested five people in connection with the incident, the Karnataka state Chief Minister K. Siddarmaiah told reporters.

The 21-year old university student in business management told police that a mob pulled her out of a car and set it ablaze. Later, she told police, she was beaten, molested, stripped and paraded naked.

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Authorities said the reported attack stemmed from a collision a short time earlier in the same area in which a Sudanese driver, allegedly drunk, struck and killed an Indian woman with his car. Angry residents had set his car afire and beat him before he fled.

The incident involving the Tanzanian student occurred after her car traveled along the same street while the mob was out.

Officials have sought to dispel allegations that what happened with the Tanzanian woman was racially motivated. Karnataka state Home Minister G. Parmeshwara, at a news conference, said it was “just a response” to the earlier accident.

The woman has told authorities that a police constable witnessed the attack against her but did not intervene.

Bosco Kaweesi, legal advisor to an African student association, told reporters in Bangalore, “She tried to enter a bus, the passengers pushed her outside. She tried to get an auto-rickshaw, they refused to take her. And she was running up and down when she actually had no clothes on."

“Right now we are scared of every Indian around us,” the Tanzanian student told the India Today news channel.

There have been previous cases of attacks and anger directed by Indians against African immigrants in the country, many of whom are university students.

In October 2014, in the capital New Delhi, three young African men were beaten at a metro station by a mob that chanted "Victory for Mother India," according to news reports of the incident that were posted on YouTube

The three men -- identified in news reports as from the West African nations of Gabon and Burkina Faso -- climbed atop a police post as the mob pursued them with sticks. They were eventually rescued when a police officer reached the scene.

Comments posted online accused the men of "misbehaving" with women on the train and included racist descriptions of them.

Earlier that year, a minister in the Delhi government, Somnath Bharti, called for a late-night raid against a group of Nigerian women who were driven out of their homes and accused of being prostitutes and drug dealers. Some allegedly were forced to urinate in public for drug testing.

In 2013, in the coastal tourist haven of Goa, residents put up sign boards that accused Nigerian migrants of being drug dealers.

"Say No to Nigerians, Say No to Drugs," the signs said. A minister in the state government called Nigerians "a cancer" and was forced to apologize.

The incidents betray not just a latent hostility toward blacks, who are relatively rare in India, but also the expectation among Indians that the majority is like-minded and prejudicial attacks will not be punished, said sociologist Satish Deshpande.

“It is not limited to race or color,” Deshpande said in an interview. “The mob is confident that society will back you after an attack on homosexuals, minorities or blacks. And it extends to the police as well. Police tend to go with the popular sentiment."

Parth M.N. is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Shashank Bengali contributed to this report from Kolhapur, India.

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