Attacks on Africans threaten to shadow India-Africa ties

African students protest

The attacks on African nationals in Delhi and other parts of India has come as a shock to the government which has made Africa an important priority in its foreign policy outreach. The stray incidents of criminality targeting Africans are hogging media headlines, and are threatening to cloud the much-vaunted development partnership between India and Africa.

In the latest incident, two women — one from Uganda and the other from South Africa — and two Nigerian men have registered complaints of physical assault and criminal intimidation. Given the high-voltage media attention and outrage from African envoys posted in Delhi, the government quickly sprang into action.

On May 28, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj spoke to Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who in, turn has directed Delhi police to take strict action against the attackers and intensify patrolling in the areas inhabited by Africans. The minister added that a sensitisation campaign will be carried out in the areas where African nationals live in large numbers.

Mrs Swaraj has asked Minister of State for External Affairs Gen (retd) V K Singh and Secretary (MER) Amar Sinha, the seniormost Indian diplomat handling Africa in the ministry, to meet the African students who have announced their programme to hold a demonstration in the heart of the Indian capital on May 30.

“Spoke to Commissioner of Police, Delhi regarding the incidents of physical assault against certain African nationals. Such incidents are condemnable,” Mr Rajnath Singh said in a statement on May 29.  Asking the Delhi Police to increase patrolling in areas inhabited by African nationals and ensure their security, he added: “Instructed CP Delhi to take strict action against the attackers and increase patrolling in these areas to ensure security of everyone.”

In the last few months the national capital has witnessed a series of attacks on Africans, including the killing of a Congolese youth. Envoys of African countries had expressed shock over the killing of the Congolese youth, following which India had assured them of safety and security of all African nationals.

The police have registered three cases of physical assault and criminal intimidation of African nationals in South Delhi. In another incident, a 23-year-old Nigerian student was assaulted in Hyderabad on May 25.

Backlash in Africa

Following the death of the Congolese student, Indian shops were attacked in Congo. “Shops of a few Indians living in Congo have been attacked — possibly in reaction to the murder of a Congolese student in New Delhi – resulting in injuries,” the External Affairs Ministry said. Issuing a statement on the growing attacks on Africans, the African Heads of Mission in New Delhi said: “Given the pervading climate of fear and insecurity in Delhi, the African Heads of Mission are left with little option than to consider recommending to their governments not to send new students to India, unless and until their safety can be guaranteed.”

India is one of top destinations for African students. Around 20,000 African students are studying in different institutions across the country. Education, capacity building and training are key pillars of India’s burgeoning engagement with Africa, which was showcased during the third India-Africa Forum Summit held in New Delhi in October 2015.

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