The assault on a Congolese national on May 21, which triggered a high-profile diplomatic response from African envoys in India, was not motivated by racism, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told the Rajya Sabha on Thursday. In response to a question, she said the incident was a violent attack by “criminal elements”.
A prominent African diplomat in India told The Hindu that the issue of safety of Africans remained of “great interest” to Africa and there was likely to be a detailed response to Ms. Swaraj’s statement.
“It’s true that there should not be racism [in India]. The footage of the incident involving Masonda Ketada Oliver was captured in CCTV camera. It shows he was attacked by some criminal elements, and other Indians present on the spot were trying to defend him. I want to assure the House that the recent incidents involving African nationals were not due to racist attitude,” Ms. Swaraj said.
Several participants of the discussion wanted to know the measures taken by the government to protect Africans. Ms. Swaraj said the police made substantial progress in the cases of violence against Africans.
“I have written regarding sensitisation programmes to the Chief Ministers of the seven States where a large number of African nationals reside and we have received good result from such initiatives. We have taken extraordinary steps because we do not want a repeat of such incidents,” she said.
The attack on the Congolese national drew a tough diplomatic response, with African diplomats in India calling an extraordinary meeting and nearly boycotting the Africa Day Celebrations on May 25.
The attack also triggered retaliatory action against Indian businessmen in Congo.
Rajya Sabha member K.T.S. Tulsi wanted to know the details of such retaliatory attacks from Ms.Swaraj. “I am informing you sincerely that no grave injury was caused in the attacks though some minor injuries were caused in the attacks in Kinshasa,” she said.
Following the attack on Mr. Oliver, India-Africa ties cooled temporarily when the African Group of Heads of Mission decided to recommend to their governments “not to send new students to India” owing to “stereotypes and racial prejudice against Africans.” However, after an assurance from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), a series of high-level outreach to Africa has been conducted since the first week of June. The MEA has said more high-level visits to Africa are likely in the coming months.