New Delhi: The Indian government went into damage control mode on Wednesday after African envoys here demanded concrete steps from New Delhi against "racism and Afro-phobia" and sought postponement of the celebrations of Africa Day by India.
The development came amid outrage over the recent killing of a Congolese national in the Indian capital.
Masonda Ketada Oliver was beaten to death last week in Vasant Kunj area following a brawl over hiring of an autorickshaw.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today assured African envoys of safety and security of their nationals.
The government has directed concerned authorities to take stringent action against the culprits involved in killing of Oliver, the minister said.
"When I came to know about the unfortunate killing of a Congo national in Delhi, we directed stringent action against the culprits. I would like to assure African students in India that this an unfortunate and painful incident involving local goons," she tweeted.
Minister of State in the Ministry VK Singh has been asked to meet the heads of missions of African countries to assure them India's commitment towards safety and security of the African nationals, she added.
The envoys, taking strong exception to killing of Oliver, said they will not attend the "Africa Day" celebrations scheduled for Thursday and 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 tomorrow 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”.
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.
"She (Swaraj) has asked Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh to meet the Heads of Missions of African countries and assure them of the government's support to safety and security of the African nationals.
"VK Singh will also hold meetings with African students in metro cities to assure them of their safety and security. We will request State Governments to depute Commissioner of Police in all such meetings," said the MEA statement.
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.
"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," it said.
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)