For 23-year-old Nigerian national Fawale Clement Olajide, a student of R D National College in Bandra, living in Mumbai for first few months proved to be very tough. Away from home, he had to face a lot of harassment: from being driven out of his rented accommodation in Goregaon to being bullied on local trains. Clement says he took every thing with a pinch of salt.
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However, after living in Mumbai for two years, today he has earned quite a few Indian friends and the confidence to travel across the city without any fear. “We were asked to leave from Goregaon, which was a comfortable place as far as travelling to college was concerned. However now we are forced to live at Vasai. On local trains, commuters used to tell me that I was too loud and I must not talk on phone while travelling. However the best thing about the city is my college and I have a lot of friends with whom I hang out,” grins Clement, quite evidently thinking about his friends.
Despite all the “racism” and “discrimination” that African students in the city allege they are victims of, many still love Mumbai. “I love the city. We try to make friends too, but the city hates us and treats us badly. People are hesitant to befriend us. This place is very different from my country, and I miss Nigeria’s warmth. But I love Mumbai — for the enthusiasm it gives me learn and fight against all odds.” adds Clement.
Though, every now and then there are reports of African students being assaulted, harassed, arrested in police raids, denied accommodations, the city of Mumbai still offers the Africans an unique space: Dozens of Africans have taken up temporary and permanent residence in Mira Road, Naigaon, Vasai, Nalasopara etc, just outside Mumbai and the areas they live in have been named ‘Nigerian wadi’ or ‘African colony’.
For the past few months, Clement says, he has had a gala time with friends, celebrating Indian festivities such as Diwali with his Indian friends as well as the vice-chancellor of Mumbai University. “It was a great experience. We lighted phooljhadis and lit diyas. I got to eat a lot of sweets that my classmates got from home. Such happy memories are the ones that I will take with me when I leave Mumbai,” he says.
Victor Danieloziogo, 32, a Master of Science student, breaks down the reasons why they are looked down upon in the city. The Togo national says, often we are thought to be of inferior in some way or even frauds. Over a fortnight ago, Danieloziogo went for dinner with two friends, both Africans to a Bandra eatery serving Punjabi food.
He said, “The waiter took our order, but returned a few minutes later and asked us to pay up first, making it clear that only then will dinner be served. We were offended and asked the waiter whether everybody visiting the restaurant is asked to do so or was it a special treatment meted out to us. But we were embarrassed so we decided to pay, eat the dinner quietly and leave to never come back.”
Danieloziogo adds “I have been living in this city for four years now and I can see that people’s attitudes towards Africans are gradually changing. Earlier autorickshaws and cabs refused to ply us. Now things have changes. The city is gradually learning to accept us. When they are trying to adjust, we should make the most.”
But all of them echo a similar sentiment: if there are people who hate them, there are also people who come forward to help them.
Kenyan national Micheal Okong’o, 23, who has lived in Mumbai for two years recounts an incident that occurred in August 2014, in a Bhayandar-bound local train. A fellow commuter started abusing him without any provocation, he alleges. “While I didn’t understand what exactly was he saying, I realised it wasn’t something good for sure. I ignored as I didn’t want to get in any kind of altercation, but other fellow travellers stepped in after a while. They yelled at him and asked him to stop. They even asked him to apologise to me but I intervened and said he did not need to as long as he stopped abusing,” he elaborates.
There is no official data on how many Africans live in Mumbai, but since India’s economic progress gathered momentum in recent years, many have come to the city as students and in search of jobs. Unofficial estimates put their numbers at more than 5,000.
Of the 182 expat students who enrolled in Mumbai University this year, 49 are from African nations and most of them are from Nigeria. Education is just one factors that is driving these African nationals to the city, they find the city more comfortable than other Indian cities, many students claims.
Take for instance Samantha Chiamaka, who says that she feels she fits in right in to Mumbai. The Kenyan student, who is currently in the third year Bachelor of Science course at Patkar College in Goregaon, left Nairobi after school to pursue higher education in India. “It is ten times more expensive in Kenya. Besides, I also wanted to gain new experience. I had heard a lot about Mumbai and hence I headed here.”
Okong’o adds: “Despite however much we crib, Mumbai is a great city. What happens to students and African Nationals in cities like Delhi and Bangalore is way worse. When we interact with our friends there, they tell us of all the scary incidents they face at public places. They live in absolute fear, especially ever since a Tanzanian student was attacked in Bangalore. Such gruesome incidents will never happen in Mumbai, I concur.”
And that is exactly why, perhaps, they rush back to the city even after they complete their courses, the moment opportunity strikes.