BJP MP Tarun Vijay
BJP MP Tarun Vijay

Both Houses of Parliament were repeatedly adjourned on Monday after noisy disruptions by Opposition members who demanded strong action against former BJP Rajya Sabha MP Tarun Vijay for his apparently racist comments at south Indians.

Congress leader in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge condemned Vijay’s remarks and demanded an FIR, saying the party will step up demonstrations both inside and outside the House. “Are south Indians not citizens of India?” he asked, amid loud protests by Congress members.

Home minister Rajnath Singh responded, saying there was no need for further action against the BJP leader as he had apologised for the comments. He also pointed out that Vijay was at the forefront of several initiatives highlighting the Tamil cause.

The row began on Friday when Vijay made the controversial comment during a television discussion on racism, in the backdrop of recent attacks on African students in Greater Noida.

“If we were racist, why would we have all the entire south…Tamil, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra…why do we live with them? We have black people around us,” the politician was heard as saying in the video.

Vijay quickly apologised for the remarks and said he meant to highlight India’s composite culture that worshipped the darkskinned god, Krishna. “Feel bad ,really feel sorry, my apologies to those who feel I said different than what I meant.”

Congress leader P Chidambaram took a swipe at BJP leader Tarun Vijay for his remarks against south Indians, asking whether BJP-RSS members were the only Indians in the country. “When Tarun Vijay said ‘we live with blacks’, I ask him who is ‘we’? Was he referring to BJP/RSS members as the only Indians?,” he asked on Twitter.

Chidambaram hails from Tamil Nadu and has been a former Finance and Home Minister.

Facing an all-round backlash, especially on social media, the former editor of Panchjanya, a RSS-affiliated weekly, had later tendered an apology on Twitter.

BJP spokesperson Shaina N C had said that Vijay could have phrased his comments differently.

Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge had said the comments showed the saffron party’s tendency to discriminate among people of the country.

Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Wednesday said the attack on the four African men in Greater Noida last month should not be linked with racism before investigating the case. “Not right to connect with racism before probe ends. I said this in context of attacks in US too,” Swaraj said while speaking on the issue in Lok Sabha. She was referring to the incident where four Nigerian students were brutally assaulted after a protest over the death of a 17-year-old spilled over to Ansal Plaza mall in Greater Noida. The boy died of suspected overdose and his family alleged that their Nigerian neighbours had kidnapped and murdered him.

Addressing the concerns raised over the safety of foreigners in India, Swaraj said, “You can’t say our steps are inadequate. We are committed to ensuring security of all foreigners in India.” Chiefs of missions of 43 African countries had earlier criticised India’s reaction to the incident, claiming that it took no “known, sufficient and visible” deterrent action.  The envoys expressed deep concern and noted that these “reprehensible events, both outstanding and unresolved cases against Africans, were not sufficiently condemned by the Indian authorities”.

Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj
Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj

Swaraj had earlier assured the safety of foreign students after a student reached out to her on Twitter. The foreign minister said the Government of India was “seized of the matter”, and was “taking immediate action.” Saying that she had spoken to Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath, Swaraj tweeted, “I have spoken to Yogi Adityanath ji Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh about attack on African students in Greater Noida. He has assured that there will be a fair and impartial investigation into this unfortunate incident.”

The Indian foreign affairs minister has condemned “deplorable” race riots targeting African students near Delhi this week that put two men in hospital and led to seven arrests.

The victims included a Kenyan woman who alleges she was pulled from a rickshaw on Wednesday morning and beaten by a group of men.

Police say at least 600 people were involved in the mob violence on Monday in and around Noida, a satellite city to the east of Delhi.

Resentment towards Africans, thousands of whom study in Indian universities, has simmered in India in the past few years, fuelled partly by cultural differences and the involvement of a small proportion of people from the continent in the Delhi drug trade.

A number of opinion pieces in the Indian media have also attributed the attacks to racist attitudes towards foreigners from African countries.

Last Monday’s violence was triggered by the death of Manish Khari, 19, who reportedly died of a heart attack brought on by a drug overdose. Nigerians living in the neighbourhood were blamed by some locals, including Khari’s family, for selling the man the narcotics. Five Nigerian men were arrested but released the next day.

There were protests by African student groups on Sunday and counter-demonstrations by locals calling for justice in the case. One, a candlelight vigil calling for the prosecution of the five Nigerian men, turned violent on Monday night.

At least four Nigerian men were attacked by the crowd, some of whom carried sticks, including Amalcima Amarawa and his brother Endurance, who told the Indian Express they fled into a shopping centre to escape.

A group of at least 10 people found them inside the mall and savagely beat the pair in an attack that was recorded on a smartphone, broadcast and shared across India on Tuesday.

Sushma Swaraj, the Indian external affairs minister, called the violence “deplorable” and urged the new chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, to conduct a fair investigation.

African students were advised by police to stay indoors temporarily, while Indian foreign affairs officials said they were in contact with the Nigerian high commission over the incident.

“The government is committed to ensuring safety and security of all foreigners in India,” the minister of external affairs said. “People from Africa, including students and youth, remain our valued partners.”

There are about 50,000 Nigerians living in India, consular officials have said.

Violence against Africans living in Delhi had diplomatic implications last year after a 29-year-old Congolese man was stoned to death in south Delhi, reportedly after arguing with a group of locals over a rickshaw.

Three more attacks on African expats in the days that followed prompted envoys from the continent to threaten to boycott Africa Day ceremonies held each year by the Indian government.

They eventually agreed to attend but the ructions led Swaraj to announce a “sensitisation programme to reiterate that such incidents against foreign nationals embarrass the country”.

Last year in Bangalore, another hub for African students, a 21-year-old woman from Tanzania was stripped and assaulted by a mob in retaliation for a Sudanese student accidentally running over a local woman.