External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj moved swiftly on Wednesday to reassure envoys of African countries of the safety of their nationals in India after they decided to boycott the Centre’s Africa Day celebrations. The boycott is in protest of the murder of a Congolese national in Delhi last week and incidents of racism against Africans across the country.
Swaraj deputed minister of state for external affairs, Gen VK Singh, to meet the heads of missions of the 54-nation continent to reiterate the Indian government’s commitment towards safety of African nationals, and also reassure students in metro cities of their security. The Centre plans on requesting states concerned to ask police commissioners to attend these meetings and interact with students.
Masonda Ketada Oliver, a 29-year-old from Congo, was beaten to death by three men around 11:30pm on May 20. He had got into an altercation over hiring an auto-rickshaw near Kishangarh village in south Delhi’s Vasant Kunj before being attacked.
In a series of tweets, Swaraj announced that she had spoken to Delhi lieutenant-governor Najeeb Jung about Oliver’s murder and asked for the case to be tried in a fast-track court.
Swaraj also said the government ordered stringent action against the culprits and assured of launching a sensitisation programme to stop such incidents.
In a statement late on Tuesday evening, envoys of the African countries had announced their decision to stay away from celebrations organised by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations on Wednesday.
The Group of African Heads of Mission also threatened to tell their governments to not send students to India in view of the climate of fear and insecurity “unless and until their safety can be granted”. “Several attacks and harassment of Africans have gone unnoticed without diligent prosecution and conviction of perpetrators,” a statement by Alem Tsehage Woldemariam, ambassador of Eritrea and the dean of the Group of African Heads of Mission, said.
Calling on the Indian government to take concrete steps, the statement further said, “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 problems of racism and Afro-phobia in India.”
According to Woldemariam’s statement, Oliver and his friend were on their way back home when they flagged an auto-rickshaw. But before he could board the vehicle, three men jumped on to it. When Oliver objected, an argument ensued.
“They pushed Oliver to the ground and kicked him in the face and abdomen repeatedly,” the statement said. “One of the Indians picked up a large stone from the roadside and hit Oliver on the head.” A passer-by who stopped to help the Congolese was also beaten up. Earlier this year in January, a mob in Bengaluru allegedly attacked and stripped a Tanzanian girl after dragging her out of a car. She was travelling with friends, who were also beaten up.