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Sharmila solidarity with Africans

- Rights crusader meets group campaigning against racial discrimination

Irom Sharmila (right) at the news conference on Monday. 
Picture by Pheroze L. Vincent

New Delhi, May 15: Human rights activist Irom Sharmila today met members of the Association of African Students in India, who are spearheading the struggle against racial attacks on Africans living in India.

In March and April, several Africans were attacked over false rumours of cannibalism in Greater Noida near here. Last year, one Congolese man was killed and several other Africans were injured in separate incidents of mob violence in south Delhi.

Speaking to reporters at the Press Club of India here today, Sharmila said, "We are all victims in one way or another... We all experience such discrimination."

The activist from Manipur ended a 16-year hunger strike against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which is in force in her state.

She unsuccessfully contested the Assembly elections in the state this year.

Sharmila clarified that the racism she was referring to was that faced by migrants from the Northeast. Violence against northeastern students, similar to the attacks on Africans, have routinely been reported from different parts of India, over the last few years.

In 2014, Nido Tania, a youth from Arunachal, was lynched when he protested racial slurs hurled at him.

"The racial discrimination which our African brothers and sisters studying here face, (is also faced by) people from the Northeast. The problem is the same. What we really need is humanity without a sense of identity - I am this or that. "

"I have been raising my voice against the army's inhuman actions in Manipur. Altogether 1,528 fake encounter deaths have already happened due to this draconian law... What I really stand against is the inhuman system. Now is the hour to stand together against this uncivilised value system based on caste and colour," she said .

The association is organising a series of awareness campaigns and plans to host and Indo-African youth festivals along with missions of African countries and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations in December.

It has also a called for a repeal of the army act.

The president of the association, Samuel Jack, said, " Racial discrimination is happening on India's streets, trains, while finding accommodation and in universities. Despite knowing fully well that caste discrimination and racial discrimination is related, India's Attorney-General (Mukul Rohatgi) told the Universal Periodic Review (of the United Nations Human Rights Council, earlier this month) that Indians cannot be racist and all crimes cannot be termed racism. It is horrible for him to say something like that."

He added that they were in touch with Dalit groups for more such solidarity meetings.

Sharmila was accompanied by her British partner, Desmond Coutinho, who has roots in Zanzibar, Tanzania. The couple are reportedly getting married soon. Responding to Nigerian student Yakaka Shethima Ali, who offered to share Nigerian food with them, Coutinho told the gathering that they would like to have their wedding party here with them.

Seilenmang, the general secretary of the Kuki Students Organisation here, also addressed the gathering. He said, "Research by a Hyderabad University scholar in Delhi found that most victims were targeted based on appearance or for not knowing Hindi... We are now able to take this up because there is a nodal police officer for northeasterners. If the police took a similar step for Africans, things could improve."


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