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'Haven't Left Campus Out of Fear': Afghan Student Targeted at Gujarat University

Several foreign students at Gujarat University were assaulted allegedly for offering namaz on the university campus.

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"We have not been able to leave the campus since the incident. We fear that if we go out, they may catch hold of us and beat us," said Naveed Siddiqui, a student from Afghanistan pursuing BCom at Gujarat University, who was among several foreign students who were targeted by a mob on the university campus on Saturday, 16 March.

The mob, believed to be members of Hindutva organisations, had objected against the offering of namaz by foreign students in a designated place on campus.

When the students resisted, a skirmish broke out – leading to stone pelting, sloganeering, and vandalism.

The students who were attacked were from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Sri Lanka and African countries.

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'I Locked My Door When They Started Pelting Stones'

Siddiqui, who came to India to pursue further studies in 2021, told The Quint how the incident unfolded.

"I was fast asleep at night after Iftar. Suddenly I woke up to the sound of people chanting 'Jai Shri Ram'. In that instant, I knew that something terribly wrong is going to happen today," he said.

"I stay on the third floor. When the skirmish broke out, we got to know that the mob was objecting against people offering prayers on campus. We came out to see what was happening. But when the mob started pelting stones, I immediately hid inside my room and locked the door."
Naveed Siddiqui to The Quint

Several videos have been doing the rounds on social media showing the mob assaulting students, pelting stones, and vandalising bikes on the campus.

Several foreign students at Gujarat University were assaulted allegedly for offering namaz on the university campus.

A bike vandalised by a mob on the Gujarat University campus on Saturday, 16 March. 

(Photo: PTI)

While Siddique was among the lucky few who remained unhurt, several others were not so lucky.

"The mob entered the rooms of several students to beat them and vandalised the rooms completely. I am not hurt, but many of my friends sustained injuries," the Afghan national alleged to The Quint.

He further alleged that the police who responded to the incident gave the mob a "free pass".

"The police didn't do anything – we have video evidence of them letting the mob escape. We kept screaming, requesting them to take the accused into custody, but they did not."
Naveed Siddiqui
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Responding to the allegations, Ahmedabad Police Commissioner GS Malik said that prima facie it did not look like there was any negligence on the part of the police officials.

"The police got a call regarding the incident at 10:51 PM. They reached the university at 10:56 PM. Now if people are leaving the university premises, students expecting that the police will take them into custody without knowing what has happened is not correct. The police officials didn't know whether those who were leaving were victims or aggressors – they didn't even know what exactly had occurred," Malik told The Quint.

However, he added that CCTV footage will still be looked into to ascertain whether there is any truth in the students' allegations.

In one of the viral videos of the incident, a foreign student – believed to be from an African country – is heard alleging inaction by the police as well. In the video, several members of the mob are seen walking outside the university premises in the presence of the police to the surprise of the foreign students.

"They are running away, and the police isn't taking any action. They broke everything. This is a democratic country, this is a secular country," the student is purportedly heard saying.

In another video, one of the foreign students is heard saying that the mob is attacking them just because this is the holy month of Ramadan.

"We cannot survive like this. We had come here to study. Now we are being attacked because this is the time of Ramadan. Why do they target African students? Now they are breaking bikes and vandalising property. This is really unacceptable," he is heard saying.
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'25 Booked, 5 Arrested So Far': City Police Commissioner

Meanwhile, Malik said that five people have been arrested so far – and efforts are ongoing to nab the remaining accused.

"Two people had been arrested earlier. Now three more have been arrested – taking the total arrests to five so far. We have requested for their remand," he told The Quint.

A First Information Report (FIR) had been filed against around 25 people under Sections 143 (unlawful assembly), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 147 (rioting), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life), and 447 (trespassing), the police said, adding that nine teams have been formed to arrest all the accused persons.

Further, while five people have been arrested so far, the police have only identified two of them as Hitesh Mewada and Bharat Patel.

Malik also told The Quint that two students – one from Sri Lanka and the other from Tajikistan – have been admitted to the hospital. However, he refused to divulge the names of the foreign students.

He also said that the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) was in touch with the Gujarat Police to seek information regarding the violence against foreign students.

Hours after the incident came to light, MEA spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal took to X, saying, "An incidence of violence took place at Gujarat University in Ahmedabad yesterday. 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. MEA is in touch with Gujarat government."

While speaking to the press earlier, Malik had said that around 300 foreign students study at Gujarat University and 75 of them stay in Hostel Block A –where the incident took place.

"Yesterday, at around 10:30 PM a group of students were offering namaz. Around 20-25 people came and asked them why they were offering namaz here and whether they should instead read it in the masjid. An argument broke out between them, stones were pelted, and their rooms were vandalised by the people who came from outside," he had said.

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Foreign Students to Be Moved to New Hostel

Meanwhile, Gujarat University Vice-Chancellor (VC) Neerja Gupta said while speaking to The Quint that it is not clear how the mob entered the university campus.

"The police is trying to figure out how so many people entered our university," she said, adding that she was unable to recall the names of the students who were attacked.

A day after the incident Gupta had said that since the students are from abroad, they need to undergo training to inculcate "cultural sensitivity".

The university also put out a press release stating that the foreign students will be moved to a new hostel for their safety and a foreign student advisory committee will be formed to oversee their welfare. Further, the university authorities have taken a decision to deploy former Army personnel to ensure strict vigilance of the hostel blocks.

Siddique said that even though the foreign students had been assured by the V-C that they would be safe, he was taking the statement with a pinch of salt.

"The Vice-Chancellor made several promises to us regarding our safety, but we do not trust the university authorities at all."
Naveed Siddiqui, student from Afghanistan

'Problem Is Not With Namaz, But With the Place Chosen for it': VHP

On the other hand, the Ahmedabad units of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal alleged that their members who attacked the foreign students had no issues with them offering namaz as such, but with the fact that they were praying in a place on campus where Ganpati Puja is held every year.

"We have no problem with students offering namaz. However, demarcating a separate space on the university for offering namaz and writing in Urdu that Islamic prayers will be held there is what Hindu society is against. A few workers of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad went there to inform them that what they are doing is not correct," Dharmendra Bhavani, VHP's national joint secretary of the Dharma Prasar Department, said in a video on X.

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'Take Action Against Mob, Errant Cops': PUCL

Meanwhile, rights body People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) condemned the attack against foreign students, saying that it was a matter of "extreme concern and shame" for the country.

In a letter to the Ahmedabad Police Commissioner, the PUCL said: "We, the office bearers of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Gujarat, are writing this letter to share our deep concern regarding the recent attack on Muslim students in the Gujarat University Hostel. The attack on the foreign Muslim students in Gujarat University Hostel during night time on the 16th of March, 2024, is a matter of extreme concern and shame for Gujarat in particular and India in general."

The rights body further added that it was "unfortunate" that the Gujarat government was unable to prevent such incidents.

"These foreign students have come to secure higher education in Indian universities, reposting trust in the secular credentials and the rule of law in India," they said.

"The fact that these students were attacked for offering namaz (Taraweeh prayers) during the month of Ramadan, makes it even worse, an act of religious hatred which goes against the very secular foundation of our Constitution, and the freedom of religion and belief it enshrines."
PUCL's letter to the Ahmedabad Police Commissioner

While the PUCL demanded strict action against the accused persons, they also called for an investigation against the police personnel who were present when the perpetrators left after the attack and who "failed in taking action" against them.

On 17 March, Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi cited the incident on X to say that "anti-Muslim hatred" was destroying India's goodwill.

"What a shame. When your devotion & religious slogans only come out when Muslims peacefully practice their religion. When you become unexplainably angry at the mere sight of Muslims. What is this, if not mass radicalisation? This is the home state of @AmitShah & @narendramodi, will they intervene to send a strong message? I am not holding my breath," he said.

Earlier on Monday, 18 March, the Gujarat High Court refused to take sou motu cognisance of the incident at the university, saying that the court should not be turned into a "probe agency".

"Don't substitute this court with inspectors of police. Don't make us the inspector of police. We are not investigating officers," a bench comprising Chief Justice Sunita Agarwal and Justice Aniruddha P Mayee said, as per news agency PTI.

(This article has been updated with Ahmedabad Police Commissioner GS Malik's response to the allegations of police negligence. The Quint has reached out to the Ministry of External Affairs, Gujarat Home Minister Harsh Sanghavi, and the Embassies of Sri Lanka and Turkmenistan. This article will be updated as and when they respond.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Hate Crimes   Gujarat   Communal Clashes 

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