Auwal Aliyu was headed out to buy some food near his home in Greater Noida at around 5 pm on Monday when a group of men called out to him, ordering the 27-year-old Nigerian student to join them on the other side of the road. The biotechnology major smelt trouble. He ran into the food shop to seek safety, but the men followed him in. They caught up with him in the basement and began to beat him.
“They thrashed me with mops and whatever they had within their reach,” said Aliyu, who has since locked himself away in his hostel room. When he managed to escape, he ran to a nearby apartment block where some other Nigerians live. They called the police and Aliyu was rushed to a hospital. He suffered a swollen chest and a bruised ankle.
Aliyu is one of several Nigerians who was injured in Greater Noida, around 40 km from New Delhi, as Africans were attacked in several incidents on Monday. At least four Nigerian students have been admitted to hospital. So many others were treated for minor injuries that the police have lost count.
Greater Noida is home to hundreds of students from several parts of Africa, who are enrolled at the clutch of private universities located in the area’s Knowledge Park sector. Many of these international students live in university hostels and in rented apartments in the vicinity.
The first attacks to come to attention occurred at the Pari Chowk intersection at around 6 pm on Monday, when a mob attacked four Nigerians driving by. The assailants were part of a demonstration that was demanding that all Africans living in Greater Noida should be asked to vacate their homes. The protest was sparked by the death on Saturday of a Class 12 student in Greater Noida’s NSG Black Cats Enclave. Though the authorities believe that he died of a drug overdose, five Nigerian students in the neighbourhood were booked for murder.
Around 7 pm, another Nigerian student named Precious Amalawa and his brother Endurance were heading back home when they too were chased by a mob near Pari Chowk. The terrified brothers ran inside a shopping mall named Ansal Plaza, with the crowd in pursuit.
“We went inside an apparel outlet for protection but it did not help,” said Precious Amalawa, who has been admitted at a private hospital with severe injuries on his arms, back and left shoulder. “I am considering dropping out from the university and leaving India once I fully recover.”
Endurance Amalawa’s injuries are more severe. He was on a wheelchair, with injuries on his arms, shoulders and legs.
Like Precious Amalawa, Aliyu, the biotechnology student, is having second thoughts about staying in India for further studies after he finishes his course in May.
The attack on the Amalawas were captured in a video clip circulated by other African students on Monday night. The brutal images show them being chased and beaten up by a mob of at least 40 persons. The mob thrashed them in full public view inside Ansal Plaza. “The mob armed themselves with snooker cue sticks, metal chairs, dustbins and whatever they could lay hands on,” said a security guard who witnessed the incident.
One of the employees of the apparel outlet where the two had tried to take shelter said that he and his collagues suddenly saw the students run inside and trying to block the entrance with a desk. “By the time the employees could react, the mob dragged the brothers out and started thrashing them,” the store manager said.
According to Chhotelal Saroj, additional mall manager at Ansal Plaza, the shopping complex has 70 trained security personnel, but they were helpless in the face of the mob. Saroj said the mall authorities called the police around 7.30 pm.
The Amalawa brothers were eventually rescued by the police.
“One of the security guards also sustained injury while trying to control the mob,” said Saroj, the additional mall manager. “We are mulling over getting a police complaint registered at the earliest for it is a case of indulging in violence inside a private property and causing damage to assets, other than criminal assault which the police is already investigating.”
Though the multiple attacks seem unconnected, the police are mainly focussing on one incident – the violence reported at the protest site.
“We have registered a case of attempt to murder in connection with the incident,” said Senior Superintendent of Noida Police Dharmendra Yadav. “We have named nine suspects in the First Information Report, of which five have been arrested and the police are looking out for the others. Police teams are also trying to ascertain identities of around 300 more suspects who were spotted as part of the mobs.”
All the suspects named in the FIR are adults and residents of villages near the Pari Chowk area, police said.
According to Samuel Abiye Jack, president of the Association of African Students in India, who received distress calls from Nigerian students throughout the day, at least ten incidents of violence occurred around Pari Chowk, Mitra Society, Beta I and Beta II. “At least 30 Nigerian students were attacked, of which 10 received injuries,” said Jack. “Six of them received severe injuries and are admitted in different hospitals.”
Fear of more attacks
On Tuesday, some African students in Greater Noida left their hostels. Many of those who live in rented accommodation moved in with their friends in other parts of Delhi. The lanes of residential colonies like Beta I, Beta II and those near Pari Chowk were guarded by police personnel.
It still isn’t clear what sparked these attacks. “Monday’s protest was a peaceful one until the police lathi-charged on us,” claimed a protester from NSG Black Cats enclave. “The protest, led by residents of the enclave, was open for all to join and over 2,000 persons had participated. Suddenly a group of protesters entered into an altercation with a group of Nigerians who were in a car. When the altercation heated up, the police lathi-charged on the group, which then turned into a mob and attacked the Nigerians.”
According to another protester who did not wish to be identified, within an hour, several violent groups emerged out of the otherwise peaceful protest and they spread out, targeting Nigerians in several locations.
Later on Monday, a group of African students, led by Samuel Jack, organised a media briefing at a public park in South Delhi’s Vasant Vihar area, at which they urged the Indian government to take adequate steps to ensure security of Africans, compensate the victims of the recent violence and ensure a fair investigation into the matter.
The Association of African Students in India is also consulting lawyers to file a case against the residents of NSG Black Cats Enclave, who raided the house of the five Nigerian students searching for the 19-year-old boy on Friday night. Failing to find the teenager, the mob accused the Nigerians of cannibalism. Though the boy returned home the next morning, the cannibalism rumour spread throughout Greater Noida.
“We have been trying to file a counter FIR since Saturday but we did not know that if you are a black person living in India, you do not have that privilege,” said Plesidoe Okuguni, a member of the Association of African Students in India.