External Affairs

African Envoys Slam GOI Inaction, Want UN to Probe Racial Violence in India

African heads of missions said they “reviewed the previous incidents and that have taken place in the past and concluded that no known, sufficient and deterring measures were taken by the government of India”.

The injured hand of 24-year-old Imran Uba, who was a victim of the violence in Greater Noida. Credit: Shome Basu

The injured hand of 24-year-old Imran Uba, who was a victim of the violence in Greater Noida. Credit: Shome Basu

New Delhi: The heads of African diplomatic missions in India have released a strong statement on the recent racial attacks against Africans in Greater Noida, saying that the Indian government has failed to protect Africans despite there being repeated racial attacks in different parts of the country.

The statement, the outcome of a meeting held on March 31, says that the heads of missions “reviewed the previous incidents and that have taken place in the past and concluded that no known, sufficient and deterring measures were taken by the government of India”. They have also said that the attacks in Greater Noida and elsewhere are “xenophobic and racial in nature”. However, these attacks have not been sufficiently condemned by Indian authorities, they said, despite their expectations.

The group has called for an expedited investigation into the recents cases of violence against Africans and an independent inquiry by the UN Human Rights Council and other human rights bodies.

Press release by the heads of African diplomatic missions in India

Press release by the heads of African diplomatic missions in India

The Association of African Students in India has supported the strong statement, and also called for withdrawal of all support for India in the international fora.

Spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs Gopal Baglay has said the attacks in Greater Noida were unacceptable, but added that they could not be termed ‘racist’ until a complete investigation was carried out.

In a statement issued on Monday night, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs has not only reiterated Baglay’s point and said that the attacks cannot be termed ‘xenophobic’, they have also said that ministry has been trying to ensure the well being of Africans in the area and that local authorities were acting fast to punish the culprits.

“It is unfortunate that a criminal act triggered following the untimely death of a young Indian student under suspicious circumstances has been termed as xenophobic and racial. Investigations on the death of Indian teenager and the subsequent incident by local authorities are ongoing,” the statement reads. “The Government had condemned and described as unacceptable the incident of attack on a few Nigerian nationals in Greater NOIDA. The significance attached to addressing the matter is reflected in the detailed statement by the External Affairs Minister (EAM) and the discussion in the Parliament.”

The ministry has also added that they do not see the need for an international investigation.”As stated earlier, the Government is committed to ensuring safety and security of all foreign nationals in India, including African nationals, who remain our valued partners. Strong Indian institutions are adequate to deal with aberrations that represent act of a few criminals,” the ministry statement says.

Ironically, New Delhi has not shied away from terming attacks against Indians abroad as “racist”. “I have been appalled by the senseless violence and crime [against Indians in Australia], some of which are racist in nature,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in Parliament in 2009. The then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi had also raised the matter of “racist attacks” on Indians in Australia during a meeting with the Australian high commissioner.

While the African envoys were concerned about a larger systemic racism and “accumulated attacks” that the Indian government had not properly addressed despite assurances to the contrary, the MEA statement talks only about the specific attacks in Greater Noida without addressing larger concerns.

Official sources claimed that the statement issued by the Eritrean ambassador was only only sent after consulting a “very small number of African HOMs”. “Some of the prominent African HoMs denied that they attended the reported meeting or were consulted,” claimed sources. However, the statement from the dean was issued nearly a week after the incident. When reporters had tried to speak to the dean in initial days after the attacks in Greater Noida, he had refused to comment, pointing out the need for wider consultation among his diplomatic colleagues.

Since the incidents in Greater Noida, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj has been the only minister to publicly talk about what happened, which she did on Twitter.

Last year, African envoys had been angry over the murder of a Congolese student in Delhi and had asked for the postponement of Africa Day celebrations by the Ministry of External Affairs. This had led to a frantic damage-control efforts from the government, which led the ambassadors to relent and attend the meeting.

Then, the external affairs minister had asked her junior colleague V.K. Singh to conduct an outreach programme with the African ambassadors.

President Pranab Mukherjee had last year spoken out against the incidents, saying that the public should not dilute “our long tradition of friendship with the people of Africa”.

The recent spate of attacks against Africans on the outskirts of Delhi began after a teenager in the area died of an alleged drug overdose. People in the neighbourhood concluded that the boy’s Nigerian neighbours were to blame for selling him the drugs. Neither they nor the police have provided any proof of this. The Nigerians were detained by the police and then let off in the absence of any evidence to sustain the wild allegations that had been made against them. While the teenager was missing, some residents of the housing complex in which they lived also accused the Nigerians of cannibalism and had insisted on the police searching their refrigerator. Since then, several different instances of racist violence against Africans have been reported in the area. Numerous Africans living in the area have talked about how they are now scared to go out, with physical threats added to the daily racism and aggression that they said were anyway a part of their lives in India.

Note: This article was updated to include the MEA’s response and that of the Association of African Students in India.