Sushma meets African students, assures security

New Delhi: Describing a series of incidents involving members of the African community as unfortunate and painful, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday assured a delegation of African students of full security and support in India.

“I assure our African friends that institutional mechanisms would be put in place to ensure that such incidents do not recur in future. India will continue to remain a country where they will always feel welcome,” Sushma Swaraj said after meeting a delegation of African students and some envoys.

“The recent incidents relating to members of the African community are not only very unfortunate, but also very painful,” said Sushma, who has been personally monitoring the outreach to the African community.

“As a mother, I can understand the pain of a mother who loses a son on foreign soil. It would be a traumatic experience,” she said.

Sushma Swaraj, who met the African delegation at the external affairs ministry at Jawahar Bhavan here, also condemned the killing of Congolese national M.K. Olivier on May 20 in New Delhi, but said it was not a racial attack.

“All criminal acts should not be construed as racial attacks,” she stated.

“As the CCTV footage of the incident in question showed, this was an act committed by goons who also thrashed the Indian bystanders who had attempted to intervene to save Olivier.”

She said Delhi Police immediately swung into action after the incident and two of the perpetrators of the crime have already been apprehended, while a search was on for the third person.

She said that her ministry, on hearing about the incidents involving members of the African community, proactively reached out to the African diplomatic community and the African student community.

The killing of the Congolese national and a string of other attacks on Africans staying in New Delhi, and a case of assault in Hyderabad has caused widespread anger among the community. A group of African students held a protest at Jantar Mantar on Monday.

“I personally monitored the situation and spoke to Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Najeeb Jung and requested him to have the case investigated on a fast track basis,” Sushma Swaraj told the delegation at the meeting.

“I also spoke to Home Minister Rajnath Singh and he has given instructions for police patrolling to be increased in areas where a sizeable African community resides,” she said.

She also stated that Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh has also met members of the African diplomatic community and has assured them of the government’s full support on this issue.

“The minister of state will hold meetings with the African community in all major metros where they reside,” Sushma Swaraj said, adding that Singh would be accompanied by Amar Sinha, Secretary (Economic Relations) in the Ministry of External Affairs, and police commissioners of these cities.

“We will also carry out a sensitisation campaign.”

She said India’s historical relations with Africa rested “on the foundation of brotherhood and solidarity and we should not allow such incidents to deflect from our historical friendship and close development partnership with Africa”.

“India is the land of Gandhi and Buddha. We have fought consistently against racial discrimination. Mahatma Gandhi himself championed the cause of fighting against this evil,” she said.

At the same time, she said that it was “incumbent upon us to prevent such attacks and we are determined to do so”.

Earlier, the Association of African Students in India (AASI) and of Association for Community Reserach and Action (ACRA), which had called a protest on Tuesday at Jantar Mantar, decided to call it off after a meeting with the officials of the Ministry of External Affairs and assurance of security and safety.

“The government officials (had) also requested us not to go ahead with our planned protest at Jantar Mantar,” Shahid Siddiqui, president of Association for Community Reserach and Action (ACRA) said.

African envoys last week threatened to boycott the Africa Day event organised by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) over the killing of the Congolese national, but agreed to attend the May 26 event after the government intervened to assuage their concerns.