Hate rears its head on the campus : The Tribune India

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TRYSTS AND TURNS

Hate rears its head on the campus

Gujarat University incident underscores the need to reconcile cultural differences

Hate rears its head on the campus

Ruckus: Cops can discipline unruly students, but they are incapable of mending fences. PTI



Julio Ribeiro

SOME foreign students of Gujarat University were thrashed on the campus in Ahmedabad recently. They were offering namaz in an enclosed room allotted to them for the purpose before breaking their fast, as per the Islamic custom during the month of Ramzan.

I dare say that many of the young men among the attackers have planned to go to the US, Canada, Australia or the UK for higher studies.

The two students who had to be hospitalised were from Sri Lanka and Tajikistan. They had enrolled in the university in response to our government’s invitation to foreign students.

The Vice-Chancellor, Neerja Gupta, said the offering of namaz was not the only provocation for the attack. She felt that some foreign students were not familiar with the eating habits of the majority of the local students. According to reports, the authorities had earmarked a separate enclosure outside the hostel building for the Ramzan prayers since there was no mosque on the campus. A group of protesters entered the hostel and attacked the students. Their rooms were ransacked. The police arrived when informed about the mayhem. Some arrests were also made. That was the saving grace, but should the disturbance have happened at all? The police can only act after the disturbances. They have to. The law enjoins them to do so.

The communal atmosphere in our beloved land had been a cause for concern even before the BJP-led Central Government was installed in 2014; since then, polarisation has increased perceptibly, what with cattle traders being lynched, butchers losing their livelihood, Muslim traders being denied access to Hindu localities and a law to prevent Muslim boys from marrying Hindu girls being enacted by BJP-ruled states.

The divide between Hindus and Muslims, long in existence, has now been clearly defined and reinforced. The reaction to the presence of Muslim students on the campus, their communal prayers and dietary preferences was only to be expected, especially at a time when hate has become a living reality. When policymakers conceived the idea of encouraging foreigners to study in our universities, like developed countries have been doing for decades, and China is emulating them with much success, did they not think of acclimatising our teachers and students to what they would encounter?

An odd student from a developed country may enrol in our colleges, but the bulk of the foreign students will be from countries less developed than ours. Some will also be economically worse off than our students. Policymakers should have anticipated the happenings in Gujarat. They should have warned the university management about what to expect. They should have pre-conditioned the student body to the differences in cultures and choices, including eating habits, which would need to be addressed. We cannot invite guests to our ancient land and then treat them shabbily.

The students who were thrashed and went through a traumatic experience are not going to forget it in a hurry. Their parents and friends in their countries must have already spread the word. The VC has not helped diminish the fallout by offering excuses for the unacceptable behaviour.

The police have been deployed to discipline unruly students. However, the cops are incapable of mending fences. Their only role will be to arrest and prosecute the errant youth. That process has started. But what is essentially required is friendship and understanding between local and foreign students. If the latter are going to stay on in our country, their need for religious observances and our need for the guests to respect our dietary regimen should be reconciled at a joint meeting presided over by the VC herself.

Before that meeting is called, the government should arrange for a psychologist to brief the VC so that she goes into the meeting with local and foreign students with the required mindset. It appears that she may have washed her hands of the matter and left it to the police to solve it. That would be a mistake.

The bitterness of the experience will linger. The friction between the two warring parties will adversely affect the atmosphere on the campus. If the guests need an assurance that they will be safe, the VC should use her authority to convince the attackers to make the first move of reconciliation. They should be persuaded to approach the guests and extend the hand of friendship.

The VC will have her work cut out. The guests’ need to pray and break the fast at sunset should be explained to our boys. They will have to accept that. A place for prayer in an enclosed room should be officially notified. To begin with, the attackers should be asked to host Iftar, which marks the breaking of the fast.

The guests should be educated about our objection to eating beef. I am sure they will understand the need “to do as the Romans do” as long as they are guests in our country. This is perhaps the main point of disagreement. In fact, cow slaughter is a thing of the past in most states of India. There might be a few other points of difference, but those can be settled by mutual understanding. Cultural differences are bound to arise. Persons of Indian descent have settled in all parts of the globe. Over time, they have melded into those cultures. In many places, there has been cross-pollination, like in the Bali region of Indonesia. The principle of ‘live and let live’ now reigns in that Muslim-majority nation.

I dare say that many of the young men among the attackers have planned to go to the US, Canada, Australia or the UK for higher studies. The universities there welcome them. They should be reminded of this factor. By resorting to violence, they have let down not only themselves but also their country.

#Ahmedabad #Gujarat


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