Under fire from African envoys over the recent spate of violence involving Africans in the country, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj Tuesday said that she, as a mother, understands the “pain of a mother who loses a son on foreign soil”. But she refused to characterise the death of Congolese national Masonda Kitanda Olivier as a racist attack, and invoked Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi to convey that India can “never have a racist mindset”.
Her remarks came after she, along with Minister of State V K Singh, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar and other senior officials, met a group of African envoys and students at her office. This was her first engagement after being discharged from AIIMS.
Describing the recent incidents of violence against members of the African community as “not only very unfortunate, but also very painful”, she said, “As a mother, I can understand the pain of a mother who loses a son on foreign soil. It would be a traumatic experience.”
Making her point that this was not a racist attack, she said, “All criminal acts should not be construed as racial attacks. 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 Mr Olivier. Delhi Police immediately swung into action after the unfortunate incident. Two of the perpetrators of the crime have already been apprehended, while a search is on for the third person.”
She added, “India is the land of Gandhi and Buddha. We have fought consistently against racial discrimination. Gandhi himself championed the cause of fighting against this evil. We can never have a racist mindset… it is incumbent upon us to prevent such attacks and we are determined to do so.” She also announced a series of measures, including a sensitisation campaign.
The African delegation — comprising the ambassador of Eritrea, who is also the dean of the African Diplomatic Corps, the acting high commissioner of Nigeria, who is the chair of the African Union’s Student Committee, and the head of the Association of African Students in India among others — raised concerns over the safety of the community.
On her part, Swaraj assured the team that the government was working on a “major strategy” under which an institutional mechanism will be put in place to address their concerns and that Singh and other MEA officials will hold meetings with the African community in all major metros where they reside.
She added that the government was committed to a fast-track trial and the “harshest possible punishment” for those responsible for Olivier’s murder.
Swaraj emphasised that the attacks were not “premeditated acts against a particular community” and were spontaneous attacks perpetrated by anti-social and criminal elements.
Swaraj said India will continue to remain a country where the African community will always “feel welcome”, assuring them that an institutional mechanism would be put in place in soon to ensure that such incidents don’t take place again.
“India’s historical relations with Africa rest on the foundation of brotherhood and solidarity and we should not allow such incidents to deflect from our historical friendship …,” she said.
Congress: PM’s silence unacceptable
In the wake of a spate of assaults against members of the African community, the Congress Tuesday questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence over the attacks. “It is unacceptable, it is shameful. The government ought to have intervened when the first attack took place, but the situation has been allowed to deteriorate to an extent where mob lynching is taking place,” said Congress leader Anand Sharma.