Hate crime committed against foreign students in Gujarat University

Foreign students attacked in GU, rooms and motorcycles vandalised over namaz row


The incident, which occurred on March 16 around 10:30 PM in the night when some foreign students from Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Sri Lanka, and African countries had gathered to offer Taraweeh (night prayer offered during Ramadan) close to their hostel in Block A of Gujarat University, which is located in Ahmedabad has caused an international uproar.

A serious and embarrassing incident of hate crime has emerged from Gujarat University where five students from overseas have been attacked for offering namaz and also found their rooms vandalised by the mob. Pertinently, Sri Lankan and Tajik student, one each, were badly injured in the attack, and had to be hospitalised. As bad as the violence on the person was the fact that the mob vandalised AC, phones, laptops, and motorcycles of the students and several videos of the incident has seen been doing rounds on X (formerly Twitter).

In one of the videos that emerged the mob can be seen pelting stones and other material from the ground while verbally abusing foreign national and shouting “Jai Shree Ram”. The nature of the hate crime in the present case suggests not only communal hatred but also xenophobia and racism, as apparent from the sloganeering and curses hurled at the foreign students, which is captured on record.

According to other students from overseas, who witnessed the episode, the incident happened when some foreign students were offering the Taraweeh in the open area near their hostel in Block A of Gujarat University around 10: 30 PM in night when few people started objecting to them and kept shouting “Jai Shree Ram”. Thereafter they left briefly following the argument before returning back with the huge mob of around 25 people, equipped with knifes and iron rods, which started vandalising the hostel rooms, motor cycles and also attacked some of the foreign students, in which the two students were hospitalised. The five students from African countries, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Sri Lanka were injured in total.

When the mob first arrived the security guard tried to stop them but soon found himself overpowered by the mob who went on the rampage, destroying the property and attacking the students. In another video, the student can be heard saying that though the police arrived later (around 5 minutes after it received the call at 10:51 PM, as per the Commissioner of Police G S Malik) on the scene they did not detain the members of the mob who could be seen running away at the time in the full presence of the police.

Following the incident, the Commissioner of Police G S Malik has given the statement in which he said that the incident involved around 20-25 people, who were outsiders, and it began after the argument ensued between the two groups. He informed that the FIR has been register against 25 people and the state government is cognizant of the matter. The Hindustan Times reported that the FIR has been registered under Indian Penal Code provisions for rioting, unlawful assembly, voluntarily causing hurt, damage to property and criminal trespass, among others.

On March 17, Ahmedabad Police tweeted that it has arrested two accused in the matter, namely, Hitesh Mevada and Bharat Patel. Ahmedabad City Police Commissioner, G S Malik is on record stating that nine teams have been formed to conduct a probe into the incident. Along with Hitesh Mevada and Bharat Patel, other accused arrested by the police include Shitij Pandey, Jitendra Patel and Sunil Dudhirua. Notably, the accused have not been identified with any political or socio-religious group as of now.

Shockingly, the GU VC Neerja Gupta instead of downrightly condemning the incident was quoted by NDTV suggesting that cultural sensitivity must be inculcated in foreign students! “These are foreign students and when you go abroad, you must learn cultural sensitivity. These students need an orientation. We will sit with them, provide cultural orientation and discuss how to strengthen their security” NDTV reported.

Response from the Authorities

The injured students reportedly came to study in India under the Indian Council for Cultural Research (ICCR) scholarship, which comes under the Ministry of External Affairs. The MEA in the statement has acknowledged the incident and noted that the “State government is taking strict action against the perpetrators.” It further informed that one of the students has been discharged from the hospital after receiving medical attention.

Gujarat University (GU) has informed that international students will be shifted to another hostel meant for NRIs in three days, and will strengthen its security arrangements for the hostels. Additionally, GU VC Neerja Gupta was reported saying that the university has replaced the coordinator of its study abroad programme and NRI hostel warden with immediate effect. She also suggested that “there was some tension between those in the mob and some overseas students, and yesterday’s events led to an escalation”. BBC quoted the Vice Chancellor as saying, “’As per the information available with me, this (prayers) is not the main issue’”. The VC seems to deny that the incident had anything to with player.

In the past similar incidents have occurred in the University was confirmed by one foreign student. Noman, a student from Afghanistan, told BBC Gujarati that similar incidents have happened before. “There is a lot of risk here for students from other countries,” he alleged.

Rising instances of intolerance in Gujarat

Earlier in December 2022, the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda’s Sanskrit Mahavidyalaya was in the news when two students had offered namaz on the premise. The university authorities suggested counselling of the students to make them understand that religious worship should not be conduct in the educational institutions. Right-wing group Vishwa Hindu Parishad had gone to the place and sprinkled Gangajal to purify the place and performed ram-dhun, alleging Islamic conspiracy behind offering the namaz.

Similarly, in June 2023, two men from Nagaland were attacked for selling ‘North Eastern’ food in Ahmedabad. Reportedly, 10 men attacked them saying how could they sell non-vegetarian food items and north-eastern food in a place like Gujarat which is dominated by Hindus, reported Times of India.

In October 2023, Kalorex school teacher was beaten by protestors for teaching students to offer namaz as part of religious activity. The school had even clarified that it did similar activities for different religions for all students.

Perhaps, today the extent of hate has reached such a threshold that simply exchanging different values and traditions itself has become intolerant. With its long history of communal violence, the state of Gujarat has presented one more instance of hate crime in its troubled relationship with establishing communal harmony.

(The author is part of the CJP’s Legal Research Team)


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