25/05/2016 4:43 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST

Sushma Swaraj Does Damage Control As Official African Boycott Snowballs

Kommersant Photo via Getty Images
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - APRIL 18: Foreign Minister of India Sushma Swaraj during the 14th Russia-India-China (RIC) meeting of foreign ministers on April, 18, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Pyotr Kassin/Kommersant Photo via Getty Images)

NEW DELHI -- The Indian government went into damage-control mode today after African diplomats said they would discourage students from African nations to visit India because of “stereotypes and racial prejudice against Africans in India”.

"I have asked my colleague Gen V.K.Singh to meet the heads of missions of African countries in Delhi and assure them of Indian Government's commitment to the safety and security of African nationals in India," external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said in a tweet. "General V.K.Singh will also hold meetings with African students in metro cities to assure them of their safety and security."

India's diplomatic ties with Africa took a beating on Tuesday after envoys of several African nations announced that they would not take part in the 'Africa Day' celebrations that were to be held today. The African Group of Heads of Mission made this announcement in the backdrop of the gruesome murder of a 23-year-old Congolese national Masonda Ketada Oliver in south Delhi a few days ago.

'Racism And Afro Phobia'

African countries have demanded concrete steps against "racism and Afro-phobia". The envoys of the African nations said that India must take "concrete steps" to guarantee the safety and security of its African nationals.

Dean of African Group Head of Missions and Ambassador of Eritrea Alem Tsehage Woldemariam said the envoys of 42 African countries met and deliberated extensively on recent attacks against its nationals.

"The Indian government is strongly enjoined to take urgent steps to guarantee the safety of Africans in India including appropriate programmes of public awareness that will address the problem of racism and Afro-phobia in India," he said in a statement.

He also said that the African envoys have asked for a postponement of the ICCR-organised event to mark Africa Day because the African Community in India, including students, are in a "state of mourning in memory of the slain African students in the last few years, including Oliver".

While Oliver was murdered because of a brawl over hiring an autorickshaw, a Tanzanian woman was recently stripped and paraded naked in Bengaluru in a case of "mistaken identity".

Damage Control

Responding to the concerns of the African envoys, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said government has directed concerned authorities to take stringent action against the culprits involved in killing of the Congolese national.

"When I came to know about the unfortunate killing of a Congo national in Delhi, we directed stringent action against the culprits," she tweeted. "I would like to assure African students in India that this an unfortunate and painful incident involving local goons."

Swaraj said she has also asked Lt Governor of Delhi Najeeb Jung to take necessary steps and ensure that the case of murder of Oliver is tried by a fast track court.

The External Affairs Ministry, in a statement, said Swaraj was personally monitoring the matter and assured the African envoys that safety and security of their nationals will be ensured.

The MEA said Secretary (Economic Relations) Amar Sinha who handles relations with Africa, met a group of African heads of missions yesterday, including the Dean of the African Diplomatic Corps, the Ambassador of Eritrea and assured them that stringent punishment will be given to those found guilty.

"Secretary (ER) also pointed out that all criminal acts should not be seen as racially-motivated. Thousands of African students continue to pursue their education in India without any issues," according to the statement from the MEA.

"Government of India deeply values its relations with foreign students, particularly those from Africa with which India has had a historically close relationship. We will ensure that African students continue to find a welcome home in India and such unfortunate incidents do not recur."

Punishing Oliver's Killers

Sinha explained to them that immediately on receipt of information on the last week's incident, the MEA got in touch with Delhi Police, which acted "promptly".

"Two suspects have already been arrested while one is on the run. We will ensure that justice is done and stringent punishment given to those involved in the attack," said the MEA.

Woldermariam said the envoys have expressed deep concerns that several attacks and harassment of African students in India "have gone unresolved without diligent prosecution and conviction of perpetrators."

"They strongly condemn the brutal killing of the African and calls on the Indian government to take concrete steps to guarantee the safety and security of Africans in India," he said.

He further said, "They have also decided not to participate in the celebrations, except the cultural troupe from the Kingdom Lesotho. This is because the African Community in India, including the students, are in a state of mourning in memory of the slain African students in the last few years including Mr Oliver."

(with PTI inputs)

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