Ten days after Congolese national Masonga Kitanda Olivier was beaten to death by three men in South Delhi’s Vasant Kunj, his uncle and cousin arrived in the capital on Monday morning to take his body back to Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Joint Secretary (West Africa) in the Ministry of External Affairs Birender Yadav, who met the family on their arrival at the airport, said India has assured them a speedy trial.
Olivier was involved in a brawl with three men, who got into an autorickshaw flagged down by him. The trio hurled racial slurs at Olivier and brutally assaulted him. Though he was rushed to a local hospital, he was declared brought dead, minutes before his 24th birthday.
On Monday, as his family shuttled between the Embassy of Congo in Safdarjung Enclave and the new office of the Ministry of External Affairs at Jawahar Bhawan, they could barely muster strength to speak to the media that trailed them throughout the day.
As Olivier’s maternal uncle, Tony Kanyinda, failed to converse in English, officials of the embassy helped translate as he met a number of government officials to discuss the procedure for taking Olivier’s body back home.
Olivier’s friends told The Indian Express that his family was in such a shock that they could not gather the strength to see his body, kept in a mortuary in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). Officials said the body has been embalmed and is ready to be handed over to the family, but no one has approached the institute yet.
Olivier was the oldest of five brothers and had come to Delhi in 2013 for higher studies. He had recently started teaching French at a private institute in South Extension. His father has a modest job in a private firm and, owing to the family’s strained financial condition, the embassy has offered to pay for all the formalities involved in taking Olivier’s body back to Kinshasa.
With the African community in the capital outraged over Olivier’s death and a spate of other racially motivated attacks, a protest rally was being planned for Tuesday morning. But by Monday evening, the plan was called off.
In an effort to pacify the community, Delhi Commissioner of Police Alok Kumar Verma met some African nationals on Monday afternoon to reassure them that their grievances will be addressed promptly. Verma also told the delegation that security for the community had been ramped up.
The Delhi Police has intensified patrolling in residential areas where a sizeable number of African nationals live and are holding meetings with local resident welfare associations to sensitise them on racial attacks.
Michel Kitanda, Olivier’s first cousin who also studies in Delhi, said, “Only a few people knew about it when the incident took place on May 20 evening. The next day was his 24th birthday. At the stroke of midnight, his Facebook page was flooded with birthday wishes but he was not there to read any of that. It was so painful for us. We grew up in the same house. His father is unwell, so my father raised him and sponsored his education.”
Police had found key evidence in the case from CCTV footage. The video clip is with the police, who also offered to show it to Michel when he met them during the course of the investigation. But he refused to see it. “I do not have the courage to see my brother being beaten to death. The incident is already haunting us and to see that CCTV footage will be very painful. Maybe one day I will be brave enough to go back and see it,” Michel said.
After a day-long flight from Kinshasa and endless hours of meetings with government officials, Tony retired to a hotel near Dhaula Kuan on Monday evening.
Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, meanwhile, assured that safety and security of the African community is an “article of faith” for the government. Jaishankar also met a group of African students, who raised concerns about visa issues, problems in finding accommodation and the need for sensitising the police in dealing with them.
“Foreign Secretary to students: Ensuring safety and security of foreign students is an article of faith for us,” MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup tweeted.
MoS (Home) Kiren Rijiju said, “We are taking the issue of attacks on African nationals very seriously. Action has been taken and some arrests have already been made. If there is any racial angle found, strictest possible action will be taken.”
Meanwhile, envoys of African countries are adopting a “wait and watch” policy regarding India’s assurance in ensuring safety of their citizens after they demanded concrete steps against “racism and Afro-phobia” last week.
Dean of African Group Head of Missions and Ambassador of Eritrea Alem Tsehage Woldemariam, who had issued a strongly worded statement seeking stringent action to guarantee safety of Africans in India, said it was up to the Indian government to take action on the concerns conveyed by the envoys.
“Whatever we had to convey, we conveyed on Africa Day. Now, it is up to the Indian government to take action on the assurances given to us,” he said when asked if they would again raise the issue of attacks against African nationals.