After initial reluctance in the wake of killing of a Congolese youth, African envoys today attended a government-hosted Africa Day event here even as some of them talked about "barbaric attacks" and "racism" against their nationals.
At the event, Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh denied that the attack on the Congolese Masonda Ketada Oliver was a racial one and hoped that such incidents will not recur.
The envoys, who had earlier threatened to keep away from the event organised by Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), were persuaded yesterday by Singh as he assured safety and security of African nationals in India.
Meanwhile, there was a backlash against Indians in Congo's capital Kinshasa where their establishments and shops were attacked. MEA Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said a Note Verbale was issued to Congo's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Speaking at the event, Sola Enikanolaiye, acting High Commissioner of Nigeria, said, "Racism against black Africans in India is a major concern. Ugly incidents like what we consider barbaric attacks on Africans, murder in cold blood have met with outrage.
"Recent incidents in Bangalore, Hyderabad and in Delhi last week and several such incidents in last three years, counting Goa, has given cause for a very serious concern." He said ideas of brotherhood and friendship will remain "hollow" if Africans don't feel safe in India.
Earlier, speaking to reporters, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said the incident had an impact on ties.
"Certainly, I will not deny.... The fact that African HoMs (Heads of Missions) were forced to issue a statement shows that there was depth of concern on their part," he said.
At the same time, he said, the government had proved its credentials by taking steps immediately.
He said government will continuously monitor the situation besides putting in place a regular interaction mechanism for African HoMs with the Indian Foreign Ministry leadership so that any issue that may come up in future can be nipped in the bud.
Oliver was beaten to death last week in Vasant Kunj area of South Delhi following a brawl over hiring of an autorickshaw.
Outraged over the killing, the African envoys had issued a statement yesterday, demanding concrete steps against "racism and Afro-phobia".
The Africa Day celebration was attended by envoys and representatives of around 30 African countries.
Swarup said it would be unfortunate that a few isolated cases are generalised to portray a climate of insecurity for African students.
"It is also not right to characterise criminal acts as being racially motivated. As is clear from the CCTV footage of the attack on Oliver by some goons, some Indian bystanders tried to protect Oliver but they in turn were also thrashed by the same goons.
"I would like to reiterate that India remains open to our brothers and sisters from Africa and there should no cause for concern," he said adding, "the relationship must be preserved and we should not be deterred by any such unfortunate incident."
Speaking at the event, Singh said Government of India condemned the heinous crime adding it "was not racial and premeditated" .
"Immediate action was taken. Two people were nabbed, one is on the run and the police has assured us that he will be nabbed soon. The Lt Governor has assured us that he is going to press for daily hearings so that we can pursue the case as fast as possible.
"We do not look at these incidents as something which can be forgotten. We want to look at it as an incident that sternly needs to be taken note of and acted upon," said Singh.
Enikanolaiye said, "The authorities need to take a more proactive step for speedy justice and take concrete action to prosecute and ensure that those responsible are punished."
"The police also needs to respond in more timely manner because in all the reports we get that when police is called after some of these incidents, they respond very often after the damage has been done," he said.
He also pitched for relaxing visa norms for African students. "There is a need to grant visas of long duration to African students. Currently even the visas for four-year programme are limited for six months. As a result they keep going to the FRO office, which takes so much of their time and energy," he said.