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My Dear African Friends, India Will Always Welcome You

A bunch of hooligans do not represent the majority of us.

30/03/2017 2:46 PM IST | Updated 30/03/2017 3:00 PM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images

I do not know if my words can heal the physical and mental devastation inflicted upon you, or salvage us Indians from our collective guilt. However, I will try to share a few words of heartfelt solidarity and empathy with each and every one you, my friends. My ultimate motive is to let you know that you are welcome here—you are welcome not only to the "land of Gandhi" (as an African woman's recent open letter describes India), but also to the land of Tagore, to the land of B.R. Ambedkar, a land which was borne out of a civilisation founded upon diversity. I am not necessarily talking about India as a nation state, but of a land, which is brought together because of its plurality, like your land, which celebrates diversity in every corner. I feel ashamed and guilty beyond words for the actions of a few of my countrymen, of what some rogues did to you and to members of your community. We can never forget what happened to Olivier last year in the country's capital city and the loss is irrevocable. Let us be angry, very angry and let us not be silent anymore.

I cannot whitewash the recent atrocities as "not racially motivated"... but that does not reduce us all, every single Indian, to being a perpetrator of discrimination.

You are not alone, we are with you, and by we, I mean millions of other Indians who condemn those countrymen and the power structures that have sanctioned and supported discrimination, communalism and racism.

We have lost our Rohith and Rajini, and there are untold tales of suffering of Dalit women and men and several other marginalised communities in remote corners of the country every day.

I want to shift your attention for a moment to a particular place of harmony. We, at the Centre for African Literatures and Cultures housed in the Department of Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, have been celebrating the study of the African continent for years. We try to read the treasures of African literature, orality, culture, music, politics in multifarious ways. It has been a thriving and cherished centre, where students have long been drawn to the study of Africa; its legacy will continue to fuel our love for your culture for years to come. This year we celebrated the glorious 50th anniversary of Chinua Achebe's The Man of the People at our annual international conference, called Palaver. Be it verses from your epic poem Sundiata or Achebe's words, we have always been inspired by the immortal literature created by your ancestors or in modern Africa and it will continue to inspire generations of readers all across the globe for ages to come.

Africans and Indians have co-existed in harmony, and historically the ties go back prior to the Mughal era. All those who have forgotten or do not know about Malik Amber, the founder of today's Aurangabad, should also learn about the canal system built by him in the same city. We should not forget the Siddis who came to India as early as 628 AD and their descendants who are not only permanent Indian citizens but are also an integral part of our society. We need to revisit our past as we begin to question our present.

I send a plea to all my countrypeople to come together and let you know that you are welcome and we love you.

Give us one more chance. You have given us a lot to celebrate and learn from. You are welcome to our land in every possible way and we want to collaborate with you and take forward not only an intellectual and cultural relationship but also a spiritual one. I cannot whitewash the recent atrocities as "not racially motivated" and merely as protest against criminal acts. Indeed, segregation and discrimination has become a part and parcel of the fabric of our societal system, wherein skin colour, religion or the caste you are born into becomes an emblem of your identity. However, that does not reduce us all, every single Indian, to being a perpetrator of discrimination.

You will always be more than welcome. If you decide to sever ties with our educational system, or more importantly want to dissociate with us on grounds of humanity, there cannot be a greater loss for the generations to come. Our friends, peers, compatriots and expats living in Africa have always been treated with respect and dignity in your country. It is your right to be entitled to similar treatment and I encourage you to take every action to preserve this right of yours. The blood and tears shed by you cannot be undone by my words. Nevertheless, all I want to let you know about is my solidarity, my love and respect for each and every one of you.

You are not alone, I repeat. You have given me my Achebe, my Soyinka, my Birago Diop, my Ngugi, your folktales, your music and have taught me about the triumph of resilience, of humanity over all domination and subjugation, something which is going to be forever remembered.

We probably still have a long way to go before we can "decolonise" our minds, but every beginning is a ray of hope and I send a plea to all my country people, the people of my generation reading this, to come together and let you know that you are welcome and we love you.

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