Home >opinion >A public apology to Africa

To my African friends:

For the manner in which the illegal midnight raid of 15 January was carried out and for the kind of disgusting language that has been used in public, I apologize unconditionally. I apologize for yet another instance when we failed to follow the rule of law in my country and in the process, endangered the security of people of African origin visiting or living in India. I also apologize for this entire episode that has in many ways reinforced unfair stereotypes and brought out the prejudices in our society.

One’s nationality is an odd thing. Does it give any citizen the right to apologize for the actions of the leaders of her country? On behalf of her country as whole? I don’t know. It is an ugly thing to feel embarrassed for one’s nationality because of the actions of its leaders—especially when those leaders are elected by the people to represent the views and morals of the people. It is hard to know what to do when the short-comings of your leaders and perhaps the broader populace—stereotypes, prejudices, outright racism—are revealed in full public glare. However, as a small start, I feel compelled to try to apologize on behalf of my nation to my friends of African origin, to those in Africa who feel they might find a welcoming home in the diverse country that is India.

I know this comes way too late, and from just one individual who is wholly irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. I am also just an aam aadmi, but not that one whose identity has been hijacked by the set of goons that came knocking at the doors of an unsuspecting Ugandan woman. I wish these newly elected politicians who now hold office in the government of Delhi would realise that corruption (that they promised to root out) is not financial alone, but also moral, where one wilfully ignores their moral responsibility to recognize the honour and dignity of everyone, irrespective of their nationality, colour or gender.

As a citizen of India, I am alarmed at the kind of vigilantism an elected state government displayed on that unfortunate night in the name of upholding the interests of the society. This illegal raid was led, shamefully, by the state government’s law minister, Somnath Bharti. This when he should have recognized that even if the complaints of the residents were valid, there is a time and a place to take action, especially when you are in the government. There have been other instances where non-Indian nationals have been apprehended for illegal activities. I am sure you will agree that everyone must obey the law of the land—be it people of any nationality, on any soil.

What is unforgivable is that the newly elected government of Delhi opportunistically targeted Africans living in those neighbourhoods to make their point about not having control over the Delhi Police. What was further proof was the blatant attempt at getting publicity by taking the media along, a move that seems to have (fortunately) wholly backfired on Bharti and his party. His leader and Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal showed little remorse and backed him blindly—but I assure you that we are not blind. Bharti seems to be under pressure now that he has been identified and the aggrieved woman has recorded a statement with the police. I hope this will turn out to be yet another instance where we will uphold the rule of law eventually by punishing the guilty.

I also apologize because I read recently that poet-turned-politician Kumar Vishwas, belonging to the same political party, apologized to Kerala and to its women in particular for some particularly crass comments made by him, back in 2009, tapes of which went viral last week. I am ashamed that while that apology seems to have been forced upon his party in the midst of trying to establish an electoral base in Kerala, no such regret has been expressed so far in your case, since you do not constitute the aam aadmi that his party claims and seeks to represent.

I am now even more embarrassed to recall the recent national outrage over the arrest of an Indian diplomat in the US and how we had made that out to be a case of diplomatic impropriety and racism, even. Within days of that incident, India has lost some of its moral ground with the international community with this deplorable incident.

Finally, I must thank you for providing us with a safe space in your countries, where many of my countrymen have relocated and prospered over two to three generations. I have spent some time living and working in Ghana and more recently in Kenya and I am ashamed now and will be ashamed the next time I land on your shores. I hope we never repeat an incident of this kind—and do forgive us, as we try to live up to your expectations once again.

Sincerely,

Suvojit Chattopadhyay

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