Ratcheting up efforts to contain the damage over attacks on African nationals, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today announced a slew of steps including a country-wide sensitisation campaign even as she asserted that the killing of a Congolese youth was not a "racial crime".
Swaraj, who along with her junior Minister V K Singh, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar and other senior officials, met a group of African envoys and students also asserted that
India, which is the land of Gandhi and Buddha and fought consistently against racial discrimination, can never have a racist mindset.
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 safety and security 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.
Terming the killing of Masonda Ketada Oliver as "barbaric", Swaraj, however, said, "it is not a case of racial crime."
The government was committed to a fast-track trial in the killing of Oliver and "harshest possible punishment" for the culprits, she assured the African delegation.
"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 Oliver. The Delhi police immediately swung into action after the unfortunate incident," she said.
She further emphasised that the attacks were not "premeditated acts against a particular community" and rather were spontaneous attacks perpetrated by anti-social and criminal elements.
"India is the land of Gandhi and Buddha. We have fought consistently against racial discrimination. Mahatma Gandhi himself championed the cause of fighting against this evil. We can never have a racist mindset," she said, adding, "Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon us to prevent such attacks and we are determined to do so."
Swaraj said India will continue to remain a country where African community will always "feel welcome", assuring them that an institutional mechanism would be put in place in the next 10-15 days to ensure that incidents of assaults do not recur in future.
She said the recent incidents were not only very unfortunate, but also "very painful".
"As a mother, I can understand the pain of a mother who loses a son on foreign soil. It would be a traumatic experience.
"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 and close development partnership with Africa," she said.
Swaraj said the MEA ministry will be carrying out a sensitisation campaign across the country as such incidents are bad for the image of the country.
"The MoS will hold meetings with the African community in all major metros where they reside. He will be accompanied by Secretary (Economic Relations) and police commissioners of these cities," Swaraj said.
The External Affairs minister further said an advisory will also be issued to the states to sensitise people in the areas where there is a "big number of African nationals".
"India will continue to remain a country where they will always feel welcome," she said.
Earlier, a group of African students called off a planned protest against attacks against the community following government's assurance. This was Swaraj's first official engagement in the ministry after being discharged from AIIMS on May 15 where she was admitted for three weeks due to pneumonia.
During the meeting she also thanked the African students for calling off their protest at Jantar Mantar today following assurances by the ministry. She also appreciated the participation of African envoys at the India-hosted Africa Day celebration last week.