Expressing outrage at the alleged stripping of a Tanzanian student in Bengaluru, Tanzania’s High Commissioner to India John Kijazi on Thursday said she was attacked because “she was black”, and that the incident had “an element of racism”.
The Tanzanian envoy will visit Bengaluru on Friday, along with a team of officials from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), to reach out to African students in Bengaluru and “assuage their concerns”.
According to police, the 21-year-old student was targeted by a mob in north Bengaluru on the night of January 31 following a road accident in which another foreign student, from Sudan, ran over a 35-year-old housewife from the locality.
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Speaking to The Indian Express, Kijazi said, “According to my view, she was attacked because she was black just like the person who was driving the vehicle and caused the accident. There is an element of mob justice to this, but there is also an element of racism.”
The envoy, who is dean of the African diplomatic corps in Delhi, said, “She was attacked because of her skin colour…the accident happened at a spot, and the woman was not there at that spot and was some distance away..she was not involved at all.”
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Following the incident, Kijazi said, the student “was getting threatening messages for two days”, along with other friends. “She is traumatised. We are in touch with her and other students. She said she felt like in hell. Right now, she is stable, but shocked along with the others,” the envoy said.
Kijazi also sought a “thorough and fair investigation” into the incident. “We want to ensure the security and safety of all African students. If they are scared, they cannot study. Right now, they are not 100 per cent comfortable,” he said.
The Centre, meanwhile, has sought a “detailed report” from the Karnataka government on the alleged stripping. The Congress government in the state, however, sought to play down the incident with Home Minister G Parameshwara denying that the student was not stripped and paraded naked as alleged.
“I met the victim personally to boost her self-confidence. I assured her that she would get justice,” he said, adding that the probe has been handed over to the Central Crime Branch (CCB).
Police said that five people, including a BJP worker, have been arrested for targeting the student. They identified the BJP worker as Lokesh Bangari, a member of the Chikkabanavara Gram Panchayat in North Bengaluru.
The Union Home Ministry, meanwhile, has asked the state government to send a detailed report “at the earliest” on the circumstances and events leading up to the incident, and the action taken against culprits and to protect the victim.
Terming the incident as “a matter of shame for the entire nation”, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju said, “We will not allow racial discrimination to take place in the country. For 200 years, India was enslaved by foreigners. We have been fighting racial discrimination. But in India itself, if there is racial discrimination, the government will take it very seriously.”
In Bengaluru, Parameshwara said, “We have submitted a report… to the Minister of External Affairs. An investigation team has been formed that will be assisted by 11 senior police officers. I have also directed Additional Commissioner of Police Charan Reddy to investigate the allegations. He will submit a detailed report.”
Describing what happened “on 31st January… around 7.30 pm”, the student stated in her police complaint that she and four friends were looking for something to eat “as the mob of Indians started chasing and throwing stones to us in the car, just because they saw we were Africans”.
She said that after two of her friends managed to escape, another friend reached the spot to help her. “As we were leaving, the Indians started beating my friend and me and started pulling our clothes and torn (sic) them leaving me with not (sic) on top and left me like that,” she stated.
“We went into a bus but the driver did not want (to) move and the people in the bus started to beat us and pushed us outside… I fell on the stairs of the bus and the Indians outside pulled me and my friend and continued beating us. Then we ran to one of the shops and sat there but still they followed us until one Iranian came and helped us… we went to a friend’s house where we stayed without going out for two days,” she stated.
Reacting to the remarks of the Tanzanian High Commissioner, MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup said there was a road accident following which there was a “chain reaction” leading to this “shameful and regrettable” incident. Terming the incident as “isolated”, he said the incident should not be “generalised”.
“We have assured our African friends that necessary legal action will be taken and stringent punishment will be given to those involved in the attack and that we will take all steps to ensure the safety and security of African students in India,” said Swarup, adding that there were about 5,000 African students in the country.
The decision to send a team to Bengaluru was taken after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj met with Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, MEA secretary (economic relations) Amar Sinha and other senior officials.
(With inputs from ENS Delhi/Bengaluru)