The Delhi Police on Saturday registered a case against approximately 200 unidentified people for joining a mob that threatened six African people in at least two different locations at Dwarka in southwest Delhi on Thursday, accusing them of abducting a teenager in the neighbourhood and eating him up.

The six were rescued by police teams and moved to undisclosed locations to ensure their security. Four of the people hounded by the mob were from Tanzania and two from Nigeria.

The police claimed that the six were not physically assaulted and registered a case of wrongful restraint against the mob, Delhi Police deputy PRO Anil Kumar Mittal said on Saturday. Curiously, the police maintain that these were not instances of “racial hatred”.

In one video clip of the incident shot by residents, one of Tanzanian women can be seen crying and pleading for help. In another video, some people in the mob can be heard repeatedly asking the women to face the mobile camera. Others screamed, “Maaro, maaro” – hit them, hit them. While police officers can be seen trying to protect the two women, several men and women in can be heard yelling that the Tanzanians had abducted a boy and eaten him up.

According to Sheela, a neighbour of the two Tanzanian women, a crowd gathered outside her home in Harsh Vihar in Dwarka Sector 15 after a group of unidentified men came to the area with an African man.

Overpowered in a lane

They had chased the African man through a park in the neighbourhood, accusing him of abducting a boy, and managed to overpower him in a lane nearby, said Pankaj Gupta, another resident of Hari Vihar. By the time the mob arrived at the home of the Tanzanian women, they had already stormed another a house with African residents in neighbouring Old Palam Road.

In Hari Vihar, the crowd stood outside the two-storey house and started banging on the door. When other residents came out to see what the commotion was about, the men repeated the rumour. Around a dozen men barged into the home of the Tanzanian women.

The police control room received five calls about the incident – one from the trapped women.

The house in Hari Vihar in which the Tanzanian women live. Credit: Abhishek Dey

Both Gupta and Sheela said that they had spotted many familiar faces from the neighbourhood in the crowd but declined to identify any of them in the video clip. But Sheela, Gupta and other residents of the area could not explain how the residents fell for the rumour without being certain either about the identity of the boy who was suspected to be abducted or the identity of the men who they say started the commotion.

On Saturday, most African residents of the neighbourhood had either locked them inside their houses or, their neighbours and landlords said, had not returned home since Friday evening. The few who were still there refused to talk to reporters.

Hari Vihar and many other neighbourhoods in Dwarka Sector 15 such as Kakrola, Shivlok Nagar and Old Palam Road are dominated by people from the Jat and Yadav communities. Many residents own dairy farms in the area. The area is also home to a few African tenants. Many of them are students. Some work at business process outsourcing companies. In some of the colonies, such as Vipin Park, the Africans live amid a large number of Afghan refugees, who the locals often misidentify as Kashmiris.

Residents say they have often complained about disputes with Africans over loud music, public drinking and suspected drug sales, though police records do not corroborate this. However, such instance of accusing someone of cannibalism in the area is unprecedented, they said.

2017 attacks

The Dwarka has striking parallels with the racial attacks on Africans that occured in Greater Noida, less than 40 kms from Delhi, in March 2017. That incident too was triggered by a similar rumour. A teenager in a gated colony had gone missing and residents reacted by storming a house inhabited by five Nigerian students. They accused them of abducting the boy, killing him and eating him up.

The situation took a turn for the worse when the boy returned mysteriously the next day but died soon after, because of a suspected drug overdose. The police arrested the five Nigerian students for murder but not before local residents went on a rampage, attacking Africans in both their homes and on the streets.