Foreign students attacked in India over Ramadan prayers

Source: BBC 

Police in India have arrested five people after some international students were assaulted in a university hostel while offering Ramadan prayers.

Officials say a heated argument about the location of the prayers led to the physical attack in Gujarat University in western India on Saturday.

Police sources said five students were treated for injuries.

India’s foreign ministry said that the Gujarat government was taking “strict action” against the perpetrators.

GS Malik, the police commissioner of Ahmedabad city, told reporters that around two dozen people entered the hostel on Saturday night and objected to the students offering prayers, asking them to do so in a mosque. “They argued over the issue, assaulting them and hurling stones. They also vandalised their rooms,” he said, adding that a team had been formed to investigate the case. 

Another senior police official, Tarun Duggal, told BBC Gujarati that the names of the five arrested men are Hitesh Mewada, Bharat Patel, Shitij Pandey, Jitendra Patel and Sunil Dudhirua. They have not made any public statement while in police custody. He added that more people may be arrested soon.

Police have not confirmed whether the men are connected to any political or religious organisations.

Reporters from BBC Gujarati who visited the spot on Saturday said that they saw stones and broken vehicles at the scene. Videos circulating online showed a mob raising Hindu religious slogans as they attacked the students, vandalised vehicles and pelted stones.

Three of the injured students have been discharged from hospital while two others are in a stable condition.

Navid Siddique, a student from Afghanistan who was injured in the attack, told the Times of India newspaper that he and other students were offering Taraweeh, a special nightly prayer occurring during Ramadan, when three people entered the hostel and began questioning them. 

“An argument ensued and they returned with a larger mob armed with stones, iron pipes and attacked us. They went on a rampage in the hostel assaulting students in their rooms and damaging property and vehicles,” he told the newspaper. 

Noman, another student from Afghanistan, told BBC Gujarati that similar incidents had happened before. “There is a lot of risk here for students from other countries,” he alleged.

Police say around 300 foreign students – many from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and African countries – study at the university. Reports say the injured students were in India with scholarships from the federal government-backed Indian Council for Cultural Relations.The BBC has emailed university officials for comment.

Dr Neerja A Gupta, vice-chancellor of Gujarat University, told reporters over the weekend that there had been tensions between the foreign students and the attackers for some time. 

“As per the information available with me, this (prayers) is not the main issue,” she told reporters.

Dr Gupta said the foreign students would be shifted to new hostels with better security and facilities. 

This is not the first time that tensions have played out over Muslims offering prayers in India. In 2021, Muslims offering namaz in public places in Gurgaon faced regular interruptions and protests from members of Hindu hard-line groups. Earlier this month, a policeman in Delhi was suspended after he was caught on camera kicking Muslim men offering namaz on the side of a road.

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