Ethnic relations in India have historically been complex. (It refers to attitudes and behaviours toward people of other ethnicities or races.) India is ethnically diverse, with more than 2,000 different ethnic groups. There is also significant diversity within regions, and almost every state and several districts has its own distinct mixture of ethnicities, traditions, and culture. Throughout the history of India, ethnic relations have been both positive (as with mutual cultural influences) and negative (as with discrimination against other ethnicities).
Usually, people in different regions respect each other's cultures and traditions. According to local sources, unity in diversity has been growing in India, making the country more tolerant.
In 2013, World Values Survey reported 43.5% of Indians responded that they would prefer not to have neighbors of a different race. The most recent survey, however, in 2016, conducted by the World Values Survey, found that 25.6% of the people living in India would not want a person of a different race to be their neighbour.
In recent years discrimination against people from North-East India has been reported. In 2007, the North East Support Centre & Helpline (NESC&H) was started as a separate wing of All India Christian Council. Its stated goal is to increase awareness regarding prejudice and attacks against people from North-East India. Many North-Eastern Indians face discrimination; are refused living accommodations when they travel to urban areas to study; and are subjected to racial slurs in reference to the appearance of their eyes. A spokesman for the NESC&H has stated that abuse and harassment of North-Easterners is increasing.
A study from the North-East Support Centre & Helpline reported that 86% of North-East people in 2009–2010 said they faced racial discrimination in metro cities of India, based on such cultural profiling.
In 2012, in an attempt to prevent discrimination, the Indian government asked all of its states and union territories to arrest anyone who commits an act of atrocity against a North-Easterner under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
In 2014, a North-Eastern student named Nido Taniam was killed in New Delhi.
On 24 January 2014, two women from Manipur were assaulted and thrashed by locals at Kotla Mubarakpur, Delhi. They were at first hurled racial abuses but when they did not react to this, one of the accused tied the leash of his pet dog to one of the women's boots. Then she started kicking the dog away being scared that it would bite her. Then the attackers started beating her and when the other woman intervened, they dragged her out by the hair. According to them, despite being in the lane crowded with people, no one came to help them
in October 2014, there were two separate incidents, one in which a North-East student was beaten by three men in Bengaluru for not speaking Kannada, and a second where a North-East student was beaten by seven men in Gurgaon, Haryana.
In Assam India, there have been many attacks on those from outside the region. In 2007, thousands of Hindi-speaking labourers fled from Assam after a series of massacres and bomb attacks. In May 2007, nine of them were killed and another 20 injured in violent attacks. The next month, 26 people from other parts of India were killed in a series of attacks over a period of six days. The police blamed United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and the Karbi Longri National Liberation Front for the violence. In response, the members of Purvottar Hindustani Sammelan (PHS) staged a hunger strike in Dispur to protest against the "merciless killings of innocent and defenceless Hindi-speaking people." Overall, 98 non-locals were killed in Assam during 2007.
In March and April 2008, a banned Meitei outfit killed 16 non-locals in Manipur. PHS alleged that anti-social groups in Assam were carrying out a continuous hate campaign against the Hindi speakers in the region.
In May 2009, nine Hindi speakers were killed in Assam and Manipur, after the attackers set around 70 houses on fire.
During 8–10 November 2010, 21 Hindi, Bengali, and Nepali speakers were killed by a faction of the NDFB in Assam.
In Meghalaya, the non-indigenous people (who are collectively called Dkhars) are often targets of militant groups.
India has emerged as a growing destination for higher education among students from various African countries owing to a shortage of universities in many African countries, the English medium education provided by many Indian universities and the relative affordability of higher education in India as compared to developed countries of the West. In addition the Indian government has launched programmes such as "Study in India" to promote more African International students to study in India, and announced 50,000 scholarships for African students over a period of 5 years in 2016. In 2014 there were over 10,000 African students in India, mostly of Sudanese, Nigerian, and Kenyan origin. These African students face widespread discrimination from their Indian peers, threat of violence, workplace discrimination with them getting a lower pay and struggling to find part-time jobs despite the rules making internships mandatory, and many face difficulty finding housing and have to pay far higher for it than native residents.
Incidents of violence against African students in India are widespread with some being widely covered by local, national and international media. These include the murder of a 29 year old Congolese national, Masonda Ketada Olivier, in May 2016, who was beaten to death by 3 men in South Delhi over an argument about hiring an auto rickshaw. This incident triggered widespread condemnation from African students in India, the African Heads of Mission in New Delhi, along with local backlash against Indian minorities in the Congo. In March 2015, 4 men from the Ivory Coast were assaulted by a mob in the city of Bangalore. In 2020, in Uttarakhand's Roorkee Institute of Technology, 2 African students, Ibrahim a Nigerian-Guinean and Benjamin a Ghanaian were attacked by a group of security guards, with Ibrahim being dragged from the second to the ground floor and Benjamin being hit by bamboo sticks. This incident led to the arrest of the Director of the institution along with 7 other individuals.
Following incidents of violence, the Delhi police in 2017 created a special helpline for Africans residing in the National Capital Region as part of their outreach program to assure them of their safety and security.
African students in India are stereotyped as drug dealers, prostitutes, or even cannibals. In one incident in Greater Noida in 2017, the African students in the city faced violence and hostility following the death of Manish Khari, a class 12 student. The locals suspected the students of cannibalism and blamed them for his death, police arrested 5 students following local pressure, however released them subsequently as no evidence was found against them. The police had to request the students to stay indoors until their safety could be guaranteed and made arrests for the racial violence, however the local unit of the BJP and Hindu Yuva Vahini petitioned the police to stop making any further arrests among those booked for the incidents.
The racist attitude of many Indians towards Africans has been attributed to the widespread ignorance about the continent in the country, with many Indians being unaware of the existence of many African countries and the true extent of the diversity across the continent. Cultural attitudes and differences in clothing and language along with widespread skin colour-based discrimination have also contributed to xenophobic attitudes among many in the country.
African students are routine targets of deportation by various police forces due to overstaying their visas. In July 2016, the Banglore Police prepared a list of 1500 African students who were overstaying in the country and had no valid visas, and intended to deport them by the month's end. The students however contended that they are forced to overstay owing to bureaucratic hurdles in extending their visas or getting bona fide certificates from their colleges. The Banglore Police sent 14 Africans to a detention center in December 2022 due to them overstaying their visas. The police also further spread the stereotype of African students being drug dealers by conducting routine narcotic searches and handling their deportation through their anti-drugs departments. In January 2023, in Delhi a mob of 150-200 nationals of African countries surrounded and managed to free 2 out of the 3 Nigerian nationals who were going to be deported by the anti-narcotics cell for overstaying their visas.
In 2020, the DGP of Punjab Police issued a circular prohibiting the use of racial terms in official records, after the Punjab and Haryana High Court took objection to the use of the term "negro" in the records and ordered the DGP to sensitize police officers about racial issues to prevent the use of such terms in official records.
In 2014, the then Law Minister of the Delhi government, Somnath Bharati conducted a midnight raid on the homes of African nationals living in Khirki Extension in South Delhi. The raids were conducted over alleged drug and sex trafficking, following the raids 100 out of the 300 students residing there left the locality.
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