Many of Delhi’s Africans, Afghans, and other foreigners who feel discriminated against and alienated have shifted to Noida and Greater Noida
There are localities in Delhi that have become ghettos for people of certain ethnicity and community—Afghani, Nigerian, Koreans, people from the North-Eastern states of India, not to forget Muslim ghettos.
There’s a general tendency to cling together when people who feel they are on the fringes of society and find it hard to integrate into the mainstream. They prefer to live in neighbourhoods with people of their own kind—that’s how ghettos are formed in various cities of the world, and Delhi is no exception. They feel secure living in isolated clusters as the mainstream, in this case, Delhi, is discriminatory against them, to put it mildly. Delhi has been accused of being racial, particularly when it comes to people of darker skin, especially Nigerians.
Lately, however, there’s a discernible trend. More and more of such people, who don’t feel integrated into city life, have moved out to satellite cities like Gurgram, Noida and Greater Noida. And they realise, to their delight, not only is it cheaper, the locals are far more accepting than the older localities of Delhi.
Mohammad is a stout 27-year-old Nigerian student who lives in a housing society in Sector 137, Noida with three of his friends. All are students of the same age group. They go out for long walks in the evening when fellow residents are outdoors enjoying the weather. They are not stared at and to their great comfort, are mostly ignored. “It’s so nice to be left on your own when you are used to (getting) so much attention. I can always feel people are judging me in a negative way despite them not knowing anything about me.”
This in itself is a great improvement for Mohammad from Delhi’s Mehrauli area he lived earlier. He has made many Indian friends in the neighbourhood, and he keeps a set of keys with neighbours because all three of them have different timings. “I like my Indian neighbours who are curious in a nice way—they want to know more about me and my culture. Also, they feed me my favourite Indian curry—butter chicken.”
The 27-year-old general secretary of the Association of African Students in India (AASI), Chidozie Agumadu, is more circumspect, he doesn’t want to jump to conclusions. He has been living in Greater Noida for five years now and currently has a flatmate from his native country Nigeria pursuing an M Tech degree at Sharda University. “I expected people of Delhi—the seat of the Central Government of the largest democracy—to be more enlightened,” he starts by saying, “They are supposed to be exposed and aware of various cultures of the world.” He has high hopes for Indians as a people of a great nation.
He feels it’s better in Greater Noida, but doesn’t give credit to the people as much as to the way in which this newly developed city is organised. “It’s wide and open and streets are not narrow, and houses are fairly independent,” he says, explaining that he can go about doing his business without attracting much attention as is not the case in Delhi—especially the urban village clusters—where people live in a very integrated manner.
Over the years, Chidozie has learned to ignore people staring at him, sometimes he stares back—that’s when they walk away. He says the situation is as bad here as in Delhi when it comes to finding a house, or when there’s a road accident. If a black is involved, despite police intervention, the argument can go on for an hour or more. And the settlement amount is much larger compared to if two locals are involved.” Having said that, he agrees, there is less staring in Greater Noida and he has had no brawl with the shopkeepers—which is commendable given the situation some of his countrymen in Delhi face.
Chidozie asserts that he has many Indian friends and he wants to be able to exist in a peaceful way and pursue positive things in life. “You can do what you want to do—but it can be better,” he adds as an afterthought.
Roa Narender Yadav, the editor of Indiafrica Today, agrees that Delhi’s satellite cities are relatively less racist, and the reason for it is “that they have evolved in a different way than the older localities of Delhi.” He points towards the “entrenched belief systems” prevalent in some of the localities, especially in South Delhi. And the reason for it is Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs), which more often than not are “controlled by older people of the age group 60-80 years.” They have a fixed idea of the world and are not open to new ideas. They do not seem to understand how societies have evolved and integrated in great measure post-globalisation.
“They are also not open to the cultural influences, racial heterogeneity,” Roa Narender Yadav puts it succinctly. Many of the well-off in Delhi, though may stay in mansions, have a parochial outlook and are the antithesis of cosmopolitanism.
These biases and lack of openness to diversity is reflected in cultural policing they invariably indulge in—landlords insisting on controlling what they eat or cook at home, try to control their timings, discourage hosting of guests—especially from their own country. “That leads to a restricted living and I felt I was being constantly monitored,” says Mohammad about his stay in Mehrauli area. Roa Narender Yadav points out, “Most of the actions that lead to police intervention are started by the RWAs and the landlords.”
Also, Noida and Greater Noida are newly developed, in a planned way, and people from varied backgrounds and parts of the country have come and settled down here. They are mostly specialists, or businessmen, or students, and the RWAs are manned by people with varied backgrounds and from a younger lot. That makes all the difference.
Even the bureaucrats who have purchased houses here for investment purposes or to settle down post-retirement have rented out their houses to Nigerians, Afghans and people of varied ethnicity. A senior railways official who has a house in a society in Greater Noida specifically developed for civil servants has rented it out to Nigerian students. “I know for sure that they will leave the house. They cause less damage to the property compared to the natives. And some of them are polite enough to find their replacement when they leave,” she says on the condition of anonymity. And adds, “The thumb rule that if you’re nice to people they will be nice to you is best applicable here.”
As more landlords get comfortable renting out their properties to foreigners, they are likely to shift from Delhi in large numbers to the far more liberal, cheaper and convenient settings of Noida and Greater Noida.