Mahatma Gandhi has quoted that "A nation's culture resides in the Hearts and Souls of its People." Rightly though as a country today is known by use of its soft power that means its ability to attract other countries and if we talk about our nation then India is a land which holds "strong cards in the arena of soft power" mainly due to its culture, political values & foreign policies. But if we take into account frequent incidents of encounters of our natives and foreign nationalists, we might agree that our soft power is on a regular decline.
Rampant pigment-based discrimination with students of Africa and cases of rapes, molestation, rude comments, voyeurism and grouping with foreigners have tarnished the image of this nation abroad both as a "biased island of education" and an "unsafe tourist destination". The question is how can we expect peaceful co-existence of African students with their Indian counterparts? If we racially target and mock about our own students from north-Indian states. (Nido Tania death case).
And as if Delhi gang-rape case wasn't enough to tag India as the "Rape capital of the world" that soaring cases of sexual assaults against foreigners across the nation made headlines like a Polish woman in Delhi, a Swiss cyclist in Madhya Pradesh, an Irish charity worker in Kolkata, a German teenager on a train, a Danish woman in Delhi and the list seems endless.
Although a larger chunk of people in India might not be responsible for such incidents because a lot of encounters carry roles of cab drivers, shopkeepers, local people and tourist guides, still being a citizen one can feel how this is proving to be a dent on image of India which boasts of initiatives like "atithi devo bhava", "Incredible India" & "Swachh Bharat".
African students and foreigners might already live in fear of being tricked, Over-charged, and Misguided due to a communication gap of language barriers. In such situation racial discrimination and rapes may be the "final nails in the coffin" to tag their stays in the nation as "worst experiences ever".
If we keep future aspirations of the nation on one fulcrum of a Balance and side effects of such issues on the other then we might see that unfortunately the latter outweighs the former, Thanks to the irreparable damage and loss that it has caused.
Now let's see them one-by-one.
# Boycotting of celebration of "Africa day" by heads of mission after the death of Oliver, a Congolese national in a hate crime.
# This can fade out India's bid for a permanent seat in UN Security Council as African Union is an important backer for this bid.
# Nations like US, UK, Australia, Canada, Germany & France advise their female tourists to observe stringent security precautions while they travel to country like India.
# Indian students and professionals also live in overseas countries including Africa, so such incidents in India should not cost their existence over there as a revenge targets. (For ex. - Indian citizen attacked in Congo recently) & (Violence against Indians in Australia)
# India is witnessing a sharp decline in foreign tourist arrivals and foreign exchange earnings i.e. a threat to tourism industry.
If such incidents further persist where foreigners are mostly found at receiving ends of hate crimes then India's road to become a superpower can never be a cakewalk.
Because our future goals include permanent UN Security Council seat, a double digit growth rate, outpace China to become global growth engine & Investment friendly environment for business set-ups.
So undoubtedly need of the hour is to generate a sense of belonging for visitors from other countries & break every barrier of language, race, gender and communication. Consequently encourage and widen the understanding of Inclusion and peaceful co-existence. Pledges of support for extensive work on terms of policy to ensure that ideas stated by govt. go beyond tokenism.
Only above steps can ensure foreigners and students from Africa a stay that would be worth being remembered when they head to their own countries.
- Shailendra Chauhan