June 3, 2012 brought much grief in the awareness of Nigerians about India. An Indian- owned aircraft carrying 153 passengers and crew fell from the sky, only eleven kilometres from the runway. About twenty minutes after it had hit a tree and a house and dove into the ground below, it burst into flames. All those inside the plane died from injuries and the fire. Although these deaths came after a series of bomb blasts by urban guerrilla units known as “Boko Haram” (or education has not ensured us employment), had killed over one thousand victims blown up in churches, mosques, markets, and along roads, across northern Nigeria, the vulnerability and speed of air travel gave it high visibility and immediacy. Profiles of passengers such as the family of nine who died on their way to a wedding; a top executive mother who died with a son she was accompanying to sit a university entry examination; a mother who died holding on to her baby, have fanned pain in the hearts and minds of the general public.
This tragic crash has come just as Nigeria’s media has moved away from reporting a war by the National Drug agency against a flood of fake pharmaceutical drugs coming into Nigeria from India, Pakistan and China. That association of India with a chemical invasion on the lives of Nigerians has competed with the massive arrival of three-wheeled scooter motor cycles with tarpaulin shelters from rain, sun and wind-which poor urban trekkers find most valuable as a cheap means for getting around. A torrent of angry accusations about the technical raggedness of the aircraft that crashed and wasted so many lives has echoes of India being a land of criminal pharmaceutical trade with Nigeria.
On 6 June, I went to commiserate with a man who has lost his wife and a teenage son. On entering the compound, I was met by a raucous group seated under a mango tree, bantering away. They were all men in their mid-forties; almost certainly members of what the Igbo people call an “age grade” to which the man belonged. Such groups spring into a mutual aid team to support one of their own emotionally and with financial support during moments of grief, marriages and business needs. The man himself sat in the middle of his sitting room surrounded by a brother-in-law, women who are close family relations. A Quantity Surveyor who had left government work to do personal business, he looked emotionally drained but not wrapped in a shawl of self-pity. His age-mates walked in a spirit of “life-must-go-on and we must all be strong and face the task of building the future”. An elderly man who sat to my left focused his look on the bereaved man’s face and seemed to be looking for signs of strength and possible bending. He had no time for showing grief. A clergyman who had left from an all-night prayer vigil over this family tragedy and travelled by road for over seven hours from Ekiti State in the southwest of the country, read from sections of the Bible to give guidance. I liked the part where he said that in times like this the best form of communication was sitting in silence.
The following day I went to sit with a friend whose unmarried daughter had died while rushing to attend a meeting of a company that had recently employed her after graduating as a Quantity Surveyor. She was a twin. Her grieving mother would say that they should have known that danger lay ahead when her twin sister would not drive her to the airport, pleading a fatigue. In despair the young lady had considered travelling by taxi. The Guardian newspaper would carry scores of faces of lively young career women like her. As I sat with other friends who had come to show solidarity and call up regular Muslim prayers, I came upon a reflection.
It went back to my attendance of a Rockefeller Foundation residence fellowship in Bellagio Castle above Lake Como in Italy. I had asked a military general from Pakistan why of three countries (India, Nigeria and Pakistan) who shared a common British colonial memory, a rich population diversity and a strong Muslim religious culture, Pakistan and Nigeria had known pandemics of military coups, while India had enjoyed uninterrupted democratically elected governments and generations of military officers proud to live, swagger and fight wars inside their uniforms. His answer was telling. India, he said, was benefitting from its ancient caste system which gives the military their historic honour as warriors for the state for whom assuming the role of “philosopher kings” would be a historic abomination. As he talked I recalled crowds of Baganda carrying away equipments from government offices after the fall of Milton Obote’s government. Like the times of Ancient Pharaohs in Egypt, prosperity by individuals comes from the power of the reining ruler. When he or she dies, that wealth must also be spread out to all. They were bringing their world view to modern governance. Pakistan and Nigeria had no equivalent native ideology to keep at bay colonial military conquest of power.
In section 2.8 (d) of a 2009 February Draft White Paper on a report by an electoral committee in Nigeria, there is a call to emulate India’s “requisite professionalism, decency, honesty and neutrality in the management of elections”. India seems to be working well. Yet in 1975 a series of 14 documentaries filmed by a French crew had also shown another India. With each episode lasting three hours, the series had, among other wonders of India, shown the vast numbers of black African Diaspora that may have either broken away from the African continent’s landmass or, like Chinese and Portuguese travellers, sailed with monsoon winds to the Indian sub-continent. For those familiar with East Africa, similarities of ethnic types was clear. As Charles Drekmeire suggests in his book on India’s civilization and polity, the Aryan minority group in northern India had, like later racist rulers of apartheid South Africa, invented a belief system which denigrated the black colour of the African majority in order to make them weak in mind and will to seize political power.
In 2008, a series of imaginative documentaries on India by the BBC followed the Aryan line. A glimpse of the African side of India showed people with severe psychotic problems apparently related to their poverty and intense subjection to racist contempt. That episode recalled a brutal lyricism in a novel by an Indian author on the untouchable individual whose mission in life is to clean public toilets. He is in perpetual risk of being physically beaten to death for an act that makes a higher caste person and location unclean. India’s film industry, Bollywood, totally excludes the black Indian –of whatever hue – from presence, let alone stardom from the horizons of camera lenses. It is a clear case of cinematographic cultural genocide.
As Nigerians grieved from a disaster brought upon them by an airline owned and managed by citizens of India, I came to wonder if their pain could be comprehensible to a people from a culture of political and economic power that rests on the non-humanity of black skinned people. During a post-Cold War moment when Brazil, China, Russia and India are perceived as alternative hands for shaking in global economic diplomacy, it is deeply incongruous that a vast festering wound at the heart of India’s population of one billion remains untreated. South Africa’s rulers are struggling to overcome the economic costs of impoverishing their black majority. Former President Lula of Brazil touched on the matter under his programme of taking income to the poor. The diplomacy of the African Union has been derailed by a terrorism invented and fed by the Republic Party under the two George Bush’s as anti-Islamism. Accordingly it has taken pressure off the drive against colonialism and racism. The fate of the African Diaspora in India, Australia, the United States, the Caribbean and South America remains untouched, and like history, waits. As Nigerians weep and curse Danna Airways, her foreign policy warriors and “human rights activists” should also lift their eyes and ears to see and hear groans of hundreds of millions of the wretched of India’s earth or Afro-Indians.
And as Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem would say, do not agonise overt it, take action about it.