NEW DELHI – India’s foreign ministry said Sunday it has reassured ambassadors of some 20 African nations that authorities are not targeting their nationals, after an incident over a suspected prostitution ring.
A senior ministry official met the ambassadors Saturday night over the incident in which a Delhi state minister and his supporters reportedly confronted four Ugandan women in the capital on suspicion they were engaged in prostitution.
The official conveyed the government of India’s view “that the incident was utterly condemnable and cannot be condoned”, the ministry said in a statement.
“He also assured the African envoys that there was no deliberate targeting of the nationals of any country and the incident should remain an aberration.”
The incident happened on Wednesday evening when newly-elected state law minister Somnath Bharti and his supporters surrounded the four women who were in a taxi, a lawyer acting for the women told the Press Trust of India.
The mob threatened and intimidated the women and refused them permission to visit a toilet, forcing one to relieve herself in public, lawyer Harish Salve told the news agency.
Media reports said a row also erupted between the minister and his followers and the police, who refused to search a nearby house for evidence of a suspected drugs and prostitution racket because they did not have a warrant.
African residents told Sunday’s The Hindu newspaper that members of the mob then forced their way into their homes in south Delhi, making racist remarks, in an apparent search for evidence of the racket.
Delhi’s new chief minister was unapologetic on Sunday, saying police should have acted on the minister’s suspicions of criminal behaviour in the area. He denied any element of racism or vigilantism.
“Don’t make it a diplomatic issue. We are not against any race or country. We are against anti-social elements,” chief minister Arvind Kejriwal told the Hindustan Times.
Nigeria last November demanded that India ensure the safety of its nationals following the killing of a Nigerian in the tourist state of Goa and subsequent protests over the death.
The protests prompted Goa’s chief minister to ask police to track down Nigerians living illegally in the state so they could be deported. One of his ministers stirred more controversy by saying: “Nigerians are like cancer.”
Police at the time blamed the killing on rivalry between local and Nigerian drug traffickers.