Brutal attack on foreign students offering Taraweeh Namaz reveals extreme hatred built up against Muslims in Gujarat

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One of the injured foreign Muslim students in Gujarat University hostel. Picture: X.Com

By Our Correspondent

AHMEDABAD – A group of foreign Muslim students studying at Gujarat University in Ahmedabad have become the latest victims of extreme hatred built up against Muslims in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. A mob of Hindu youths, armed with sticks and knives, stormed into the foreign students’ hostel on March 16 night and assaulted them when they were offering Taraweeh Namaz during the holy month of Ramzan.

The students hailed from the countries such as Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Sri Lanka as well as some African countries. They were in the middle of Taraweeh Namaz on the hostel campus when about 25 saffron-clad hoodlums stormed into the hostel and raised objection to their religious activity, while asking them to go to a mosque if they wanted to offer Namaz. They argued over the issue, attacked the students, hurled abuses with the slogan ‘Jai Shri Ram’, pelted stones and vandalised their rooms.

At least five international students suffered injuries in the late-night brawl on the campus of boys’ hostel’s A-block and were rushed to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Hospital in Ahmedabad for treatment. Two students, Azat from Tajikistan and another one, Mario Fernando of Christian faith from Sri Lanka, were admitted to hospital and one of them is still hospitalised in a serious condition.

There are about 300 international students enrolled at the Gujarat University and nearly 75 of them stay in the A-block hostel of the university where the incident occurred. There is a deep sense of fear and dismay among the students, who have alleged that the policemen present outside the hostel at the time of the attack gave a safe passage to the rioters and did not make any attempt to stop them.

A student from Afghanistan said people in the mob raised slogans and asked them who had allowed them to offer Namaz in the hostel. “They attacked us inside the rooms too. They broke laptops and phones and damaged bikes,” he said. Visuals shared on social media showed damaged motorcycles, broken laptops and ravaged rooms. In some of the visuals, people are seen throwing stones at the hostel and hurling abuses at the foreign students.

One of the videos shows the people armed with sticks and knives leaving the campus in the presence of PCR vans and police personnel in front of the A block of boys’ hostel in Navrangpura. A student was heard commenting that the cops were allowing the rioters to go after they had attacked them. The security guard of the hostel reportedly tried to stop the mob, but failed.

Navid Siddique, a student from Kunar province of Afghanistan, said that initially, three men got into a heated argument over offering Namaz in the hostel premises. The argument turned into a scuffle following which 15 more men came into the hostel. He said three police vans had reached the spot but the cops just saw the rioters leaving the place. “We shouted out to the police to nab them, but they were given a clear passage.”

According to the students, they had gathered inside the hostel for the Taraweeh Namaz, which is offered at night during Ramzan, as there is no mosque on the campus. After the incident, no Taraweeh Namaz was offered on March 17 night.

The Ahmedabad Police have arrested two persons, identified as Hitesh Mewada and Bharat Patel, in connection with the violence and intensified efforts to nab the others accused. Deputy Commissioner of Police Tarun Duggal said an investigation is underway using technical surveillance and other methods to nab the remaining accused persons. An FIR was registered against 20-25 unidentified assailants under Indian Penal Code provisions for rioting, unlawful assembly, voluntarily causing hurt, damage to property and criminal trespass, among others.

Gujarat University’s Vice-Chancellor Neeraja Arun Gupta said in a statement: “Last night [on March 16 night], around 10.30 p.m., an incident took place in the hostel where the foreign students stay. Around 300 students study here out of whom 75 stay in the A Block dedicated to foreign students. There was a clash between two groups after which the issue escalated. Some foreign students were injured. An FIR has been registered. The police and the government have taken this issue seriously. The investigation is underway. Some videos are viral and the police are trying to investigate the trigger points.”

The university authorities have replaced the coordinator of its Study Abroad Programme and NRI hostel warden with immediate effect. The university has also decided to shift international students to a different hostel meant for NRI students within three days and has directed the security agencies to deploy ex-Army personnel to strengthen the security of its hostel blocks.

The Gujarat University has also set up a foreign student advisory committee, with the coordinator of the Study Abroad Programme, Assistant Registrar of the legal cell and the university Lokpal as its members, according to Vice-Chancellor Gupta. Directions have also been issued to strengthen the university’s security, she said.

Nine teams have been formed to conduct a probe into the incident, Police Commissioner G.S. Malik said, while Minister of State for Home Harsh Sanghavi held a meeting with police officers and instructed them to take strict action in the matter. Congress legislator Imran Khedawala and former MLA Gayasuddin Sheikh visited the hospital to meet the injured students. Both the leaders demanded strict action against those who resorted to violence.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has also stepped in as part of a damage control exercise in view of the students from several countries having been targeted in the violence. The MEA said the Gujarat Police had taken strict measures in the incident. “An incident of violence took place at Gujarat University in Ahmedabad. The state government is taking strict action against the perpetrators.  Two foreign students were injured in the clash. One of them has been discharged from hospital after receiving medical attention. The MEA is in touch with the Gujarat government,” MEA spokesman Randhir Jaiswal in a post on social media platform X.

The Jamaat-e-Islami Hind has taken a very serious view of the incident and condemned the attack on foreign students. While JIH national vice-president Prof. Salim Engineer has called upon the Gujarat Police to ensure the safety and security of all students, regardless of their nationality or religion, JIH Gujarat unit president Mohammed Saleem Pattiwala has shot off letters to Gujarat University’s Vice-Chancellor, Director-General of Police and Gujarat Home Minister with the demand for stern punishment to the perpetrators of violence, so that such an incident is not repeated in future.

Prof. Salim Engineer pointed out in a statement that the incident was an outcome of the general climate of hate and polarisation that has developed over the years against the Muslim community in India. “Targeted violence against Muslims has been normalised.  Unless this climate of hate is confronted, we will not be able to address the root cause of such communal incidents,” Prof. Salim said.

Prof. Salim said it was surprising that the police did not act on time and allowed the perpetrators to commit arson within the university campus. “Inaction of the police also should be investigated and the responsible officers should be punished. The inaction of the police present at the campus points out why hatemongers and anti-social elements do not fear the law,” he said, while underlining the need for educational institutions to uphold the values of inclusivity and tolerance and take proactive measures to prevent such incidents from recurring in the future.

The Gujarat unit of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has also called upon the Gujarat Police to pursue and apprehend the remaining people of the mob that unleashed the dastardly attack without any further delay and set the process of investigation and prosecution in motion in a time-bound manner. PUCL-Gujarat president Govind Parmar said since the videos had revealed that the police were present when the perpetrators left after the attack, the officials who failed in taking action should be investigated into and appropriate punitive action taken for this serious failure to uphold the rule of law.

“The injured students should be given the best of medical treatment and immediate compensation for any personal loss and damage to their belongings. The Gujarat University authorities should call a meeting with all foreign students immediately to reassure them about their safety and security and ensure the deployment of adequate police force on campus to prevent any further hate crimes against students,” Parmar said in a statement.

The PUCL-Gujarat in particular demanded that the university authorities designate professors and students’ representatives to reach out to the international students, particularly Muslim students, to reassure them and assist them in making arrangements for spaces for Namaz and breaking of the fast during the holy month of Ramzan, in a manner that is convenient to them as well as the other inmates of the hostel. Besides, the Gujarat government through the DGP needs to assess the safety and security of foreign students, particularly Muslim students, from such hate mobs from both within and without the campus and take urgent action for their protection.

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