GREATER NOIDA, India – The Amalawa brothers were wandering through a mall in a New Delhi suburb when the phone rang with warnings from a friend: Hurry home, mobs of Indians are attacking Africans across the area.
The brothers, Nigerians who came to India to seek better education and work opportunities, rushed out and tried to hail an autorickshaw, just as a mob of Indian men saw them and ran toward them. The Amalawas ran back inside the mall but dozens of screaming men followed them. Precious Amalawa hid inside a changing room but Endurance got dragged out.
“They attacked him with bricks, sticks, belts,” 23-year-old Precious said Friday as he sat, still stiff with shock and fear, in their apartment. Endurance’s body was dotted with medical staples — on his temple, his cheek and both arms. Precious’ arms were covered in cuts and bruises from when the mob chased him from his hiding place by shoving sharp objects through the changing room’s thin walls.
The violence started March 24 when a teenage boy disappeared in Greater Noida, outside New Delhi, and angry relatives claimed he’d been killed by his Nigerian neighbors. 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 of what police said was a drug overdose.
Five men who had been charged with kidnapping and murder were let go within hours because police could find no evidence.
But rumors about cannibalism swirled and mobs began to attack Africans across the suburb. The last attacks were reported Wednesday. There were reports of mobs pulling Africans out of taxi cabs and autorickshaws and assaulting them.
In shaky cellphone videos of the attack on the Amalawa brothers last Monday afternoon, more than a dozen men can be seen brutally beating Endurance with whatever they could lay their hands on — one man smashed a large metal trash can repeatedly on his torso and head. Another man used a collapsible metal chair to hit the cowering man as he lay on the ground. The snap of leather belts can be heard. One man even attempts a selfie with the violence in the background.
Endurance, 21, wouldn’t talk about the attack at all as he sat, still tense with fear, in the sparsely furnished apartment.
The African Students’ Association in India 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,” the statement said.
The association has been arranging food and water for African students in Greater Noida as most of them hide at home.
Police say they have arrested five men for attacking the brothers and are searching for others. Police patrols in the area have been increased after India’s foreign minister asked that the local government ensure the safety of Greater Noida’s African population.
Tens of thousands of Africans in live and study in India, and newly built suburbs like Greater Noida especially draw students because they are home to several sprawling private universities.
But prejudice and racism are near-constants. Skin color and appearances are used to place people in India’s strict social order, and stereotyping of all African men as drug dealers and women as prostitutes is prevalent. Landlords shun Africans in all but the poorest neighborhoods and charge them unusually high rent. And gang assaults are not uncommon.
“We face street aggression, abuses. We also face difficulty in getting accommodation, we face difficulty in naturally integrating with the local community,” said Samuel Jack, the president of the African Students’ Association of India.
“I just give you an example. I have Indian friends in my school, I have never visited their house and they have never ever decided to ask me: Where do you live? Can I come and see you?”
The sufferings Africans experience daily go largely unnoticed, and Africans, most of whom are young students, also hesitate to complain and draw attention to themselves.
That changed when a Congolese student was killed in a dispute over hiring an autorickshaw in New Delhi last year. 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 asked the government to address “racism and Afro-phobia” in the country.
Other examples of anti-African prejudice in India have occurred.
Early last year a Tanzanian woman was beaten and stripped naked by a mob in Bangalore after a Sudanese student’s car hit an Indian woman. In 2014, a video of three African men being beaten inside a security booth at a New Delhi Metro station went viral. For several minutes a large mob beat the men with bare hands and sticks and shoes as they climbed up the walls of the glass booth in terror. The police were absent.
These incidents made it to the local newspapers. Hundreds more do not.
For Precious and Endurance Amalawa the memory of their suffering will be impossible to forget. Their fear is palpable even inside their home.
When Endurance stepped out on the balcony to make a phone call, his brother’s eyes darted toward him.
“Come back inside Eddy. Come inside,” he said calling him by his nickname.