Multiple attacks on Africans in India have been reported this week
Photographer Mahesh Shantaram is documenting the lives of Africans living in India
In February 2016, a Tanzanian student was ‘beaten and stripped’ by a violent mob in Bangalore.
The incident quickly became national and international news, sparking a fierce debate about the number of racist attacks against Africans in India.
Photographer Mahesh Shantaram who lives in Bangalore, says the event sparked a moral compulsion to do something.
“I had been disturbed by news of racism and discrimination, but when it’s so close to home then it hits harder,” Shantaram told CNN.
“It was so shocking and horrific. The first reaction was ‘how could this happen in my city?’ and then after thinking about it for a while you realize it’s not about the city but it’s something more deep-seated.”
Shantaram decided he wanted to meet Africans living in Bangalore to try to understand their experiences living in India.
“Being a photographer, the only response I know how to have is to make photos,” he said. “I met them and spoke to them at length to try and understand the gravity of the situation, the everyday racism that they face.”
His photo series ‘Racism: Africans in India’ provides an insight into the lives of Africans, mainly students, living in the country. After capturing Africans in Bangalore he traveled across the country to meet more people, after five months he had dozens of portraits and even more stories.
“By hearing them out I’ve heard so much about my own country, he explained, “It’s not about Africans anymore, it’s about India and something that’s deeply wrong with our society.”
Through the images Shantaram says he is keen to start a conversation about racism in India, in light of an increasing number of attacks against Africans in the country.
The photo series is currently being exhibited in five cities across India and Shantaram hopes to expand the project into a documentary. Shantaram says he has been overwhelmed by response to the project.
“My African friends see this work as giving them a voice,” he said.
“What these portraits do is put a human in front of you, we can all read a dry newspaper report and read about how do and so did such and such. You look at a human being in front of you and they become real.”