Even as the tense situation with the Africans in this country requires to be defused, the ambassadors from that continent have only hardened their stand. Their reason — Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not condemned the attack on one of their students.
New Delhi believes this is definitely not a racial slur though African students insist they are increasingly feeling uncomfortable and scared to leave their home. It is a law and order problem and the government needs to put systems in place whereby African students are not singled out for attacks.
External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj had been double quick in intervening in the matter following the attack on a student on March 27 in Greater Noida in the National Capital Region. She urged the new Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath for prompt investigations and bringing to book the offenders.
Subsequently, the 43 African ambassadors hardened their stand that the Modi government’s response and subsequent reaction had been found wanting. Ms Swaraj felt the 43 African Ambassadors were overreacting to the attacks on Nigerian citizens. India’s relations with Africa are age old be it in their fight against apartheid in South Africa or the movements for independence finding an echo in this country.
Fault lines appear to be developing in Indo-African relationship at a time when New Delhi is trying to reach out to African nations for stronger political, economic and trade ties.
China has taken a lead over India by enlarging ties in Africa with its liberal funding along with getting involved in promoting development.
The harsh statement by the African ambassadors complained that the Modi government took “no known, sufficient and visible deterrent action” against the miscreants. It categorised the attack as “xenophobic and racial in nature”.
In the past African students have been blamed in many countries for peddling drugs and having a corrupting influence on the local youth. It is incumbent on the police to protect the students or anyone else from mob assault. The inquiry ordered must be completed speedily and action taken against the mobsters.
Simultaneously, the African students should be made aware of the stringent laws in this country against drug related offences. At the same time the office of the Dean of the African Group Head of Missions said all diplomatic options were on the table to serve justice to the victims of the attack.
They resorted to unprecedented action proposing giving a call for an independent investigation by the National Human Rights Commission as well other human rights bodies, and to comprehensively report the matter to the African Union Commission.
On her part, Ms Swaraj told the Lok Sabha “What the Dean of the African diplomats has said about the silence or inaction of our political leadership is completely contrary to facts. “And every criminal act is not racist in nature,” she added.
African diplomats are concerned about India’s reluctance to acknowledge racism as a motive behind many of the attacks. India insists that the attacks be treated as individual law and order incidents. “Such acts represent the action of an uninformed misguided few” the spokesperson of the MEA stressed. “India would continue to welcome African people including students and youth as partners,” he added.
An African diplomat emphasised New Delhi needs to ensure that “such assaults don’t trigger an African exodus from this country”.
It is believed that immediate proactive steps by local administrators could have nipped the evil in the bud. There have been many incidents in this country where people from the African continent have been targetted. An unambiguous message has become necessary that any discrimination against foreigners at any level will not be tolerated.
Most importantly, this country must rectify its image that foreigners are not safe in this country. It has become imperative to remove the apprehension of Africans about their safety in this country.
(T R Ramachandran is senior journalist and commentator. The views are personal.)