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Updated: July 15, 2012 03:35 IST

Yannick Nihangaza and the silence of good people

Sowmiya Ashok
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BROKEN DREAMS : Nestor Ntibateganya, stands besides his comatose son, 24-year old student Yannick Nihangaza at a private hospital in Patiala. Photo: Special Arrangement
BROKEN DREAMS : Nestor Ntibateganya, stands besides his comatose son, 24-year old student Yannick Nihangaza at a private hospital in Patiala. Photo: Special Arrangement

A culture of tolerance towards xenophobia is making many foreign students, especially Africans, feel insecure in India. Will the winds of change blow after the shocking attack on the Burundian student ?

It was in May 2011 that Nestor Ntibateganya first heard about Lovely Professional University (LPU) in Jalandhar on the radio in his hometown of Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital city.  

“Lovely University put up advertisements in Rwanda and Burundi on the radio and on television to promote the University,” says the 59-year-old economist, sitting in a restaurant in Patiala, completely unmindful that the colour of his skin was the object of curiosity among restaurant staffers and locals.  

Across the road in Columbia Asia Hospital, his 23-year-old son Yannick Nihangaza lies in a coma after he was assaulted on the night of April 21 in a locality in Jalandhar city. “His brain is so severely damaged that I don’t think he will ever be able to study again,” says Nestor. “I really do not know what is going to happen to him.”  

At LPU, Yannick was enrolled in a degree course in Computer Sciences, a decision that his father agreed with, going by India’s skills in the field. Attracted by the “international edge” advertised in LPU’s brochures and websites, Yannick and others from African countries enrolled in Computer Application and Business Administration courses.  

Yannick’s friends who came to the hospital on Thursday, however, spoke of a world quite different from the one promoted by LPU on its website. The university talks of an international environment that “fosters inter-cultural understanding” and promotes “respect and tolerance among people.”  

Edgard Niyomuhoza, a second year BBA student, also from Burundi, says that problems related to food have forced almost all African students to find private off-campus accommodation, essentially putting them in harm’s way.

Rough estimates suggest that 400 to 500 African students study at LPU from countries such as Congo, Nigeria, Tanzania, Sudan and Rwanda. “Despite complaints about the spice levels and of the unavailability of any other kind of food, the University refuses to change the menu. This means we have to stay off-campus and cook our own food,” he says.  

Naturally, as Edgard puts it, “the community of black people is close-knit” and socialises outside campus. It was during such an evening that Yannick fell prey to a mob made up of an “unspecified number” of people, as the First Information Report puts it. “Yannick was running late for the party and was attacked on his way there. There was no reason why,” says Yvan Butare from Rwanda. “We are all very angry. India is a peaceful country, so how can people be so hostile?”  

Lovely Professional University maintains that the incident happened almost 30 km outside campus and disclaims any responsibility. LPU’s Deputy Director Aman Mittal claims Yannick was beaten up in a group clash involving African students and Indians who had nothing to do with the University.  

“Yannick would never provoke anyone. If anyone tried to provoke him, he is the kind that usually walks away,” says Mr. Ntibateganya. “When I read in the paper that Yannick was part of a group fighting with Indians, I was shocked.”  

While Mr. Mittal calls the campus among the “safest in India” with reports of student clashes “never ever” having taken place, a former Indian student at LPU who completed his B.Tech in Computer Science last year said he witnessed gangs clashing in the heart of the campus, with security guards bearing witness.  

“Quarrels usually spark a full-blown fight. Each party would provoke the other asking ‘Why did you come to Punjab’ for instance,” says the student, who requested anonymity. “Once, I saw African students and Indians using iron rods to beat each other. The guards were just standing around.” 

In Yannick’s case, it has been tardy responses or no response from the authorities even after his father wrote twice for help with the medical treatment and to get him repatriated to Burundi. It was only last week, more than two months after the attack, that the Punjab government ordered a probe and provided financial aid of Rs. 5 lakh towards his medical expenses.  

Yet, no official from the State machinery or his University has visited the hospital. “I want my son to recover and then I want justice for what happened to him,” says Mr. Nestor, in a soft voice. “I am still finding it difficult to understand how this happened. Perhaps, more African students go to South India to study and not many come to Delhi or Punjab areas. Maybe, that is why…”  

There are lots of problems that happen between students but we cant say anything till we know the whole facts. A asian student was killed from lovely university but the people who killed him were just sent back to where they were from Africa i assume..and we indians shoudnt bad mouth our own country because of foreigners because they do alot of crime in our countries too..they shouldnt be out partying on the streets like that if they are NRIs..and foreign students should stay in the university halls not outside.

from:  Priya
Posted on: Jul 17, 2012 at 22:28 IST

Foreign students need to have a safe atmosphere to study and hopefully the student from
Burundi will make a full recovery and return to his homeland to fulfill his goals with the
benefit of his Indian education. Foreign students should also be aware before they select
their destinations for attaining an educational degree about the host country's culture,
dietary habits and social mores. Foreign students may feel more comfortable studying in a
culture that is not too alien to their native cultures and this will reduce unnecessary
tensions and problems.

from:  Bart Namboodhiri
Posted on: Jul 16, 2012 at 05:53 IST

If this had happened to an American student, the response would have been swift and hard. But Indian government authorities & politicians are is always know to discriminate poor & weak and hence discriminate poor nationals such as these ones which is not surprising !!!!

from:  Surya
Posted on: Jul 16, 2012 at 02:53 IST

this incident shows the narrowness vested in minds or our people.we condemn the attack on indian students outside but perform the same immoral act inside.change thyself and then wish to change the world

from:  swagat
Posted on: Jul 15, 2012 at 19:16 IST

What right do we have in calling Australians racists when these type of
attacks happen in India. The kid is from a poor African nation and as
such is sure not to get any help from the authorities. Really shameful.

from:  vivek
Posted on: Jul 15, 2012 at 15:21 IST

actually in punjab ,people are cordial and generous but being youngstar we need to adopt lot of understanding of cultural difference altitude and balance between both,i worked in hotel,i knew african are also very much addicted to drugs,love affair and prostitution, which is looked upon by villager,punjab is not so broadminded and cosmopolitan like big cities like madras,bangalore,,punjab is still tradition and expect those are in punjab follow their way of cultural ettiquette,but proper police intervention,better coordination with university,prompt help numbers of immidiate police,counsellor help,can mitigate lot of problems and minor dispute can be sorted out on onset becoming epidemic,youth always take irrational path,recently one himachali youth was killed in fights between naga and himachal students in hostel, we need senitize the youth and nab the culprit and fine guilty and imprison them,,otherwise it will become problems for rest of students

from:  bhupinder
Posted on: Jul 15, 2012 at 15:20 IST

Such incidents have brought to the fore that India is another African Country with better PR - such that we etch closer to Developed Countries in consumerism. But we have lost the moral attitude that Indian Culture has been built upon.

Sympathies apart - the pain and anguish the Father and Family is put through because of this incident will make outsiders (other than the people of the State) realize that India does not have any Educational Institution - worthy to accomodate International Students learn and stay safely.

from:  Saravanabavan. N
Posted on: Jul 15, 2012 at 15:19 IST

Such news is indeed very depressing. I studied and now live in USA, some of my close friends here are Africans. They are warm and peace loving people. Incidents like this tarnish our reputation of a welcoming, tolerant and 'racism free' country.

from:  Nandita
Posted on: Jul 15, 2012 at 12:37 IST

If there is any attack on an Indian student studying in Australia, we
call it racially motivated. What to say about this? This should be dealt
with stringent punishment to those held guilty.

from:  Rahul Kumar
Posted on: Jul 15, 2012 at 12:35 IST

Jagan, this university is owned by Arvinder Singh Lovely, who is also a
cabinet minister in Delhi government. No wonder that a 600 acre campus
of mediocre learning came up in no time. :)

from:  Vijender
Posted on: Jul 15, 2012 at 11:06 IST

Can we provide some financial help to the student, since he came under
such an attack in our soil? Will The Hindu be able to organize such a
drive, so we know that the money we send will indeed reach the student?

from:  Gayathri
Posted on: Jul 15, 2012 at 09:50 IST

If Punjab governments attitude is insulting and pathetic then Indian Government's response is indifference. Our Government talks in different tone when their citizen is attacked outside, but inside they just do not care. All the actors should involve and do the needful for Yannick's full recovery. This is not India's image sake, but on a humanitarian ground. Where is basic human values.? Giving 5 lakhs is an insult, instead, cover his full medical expense. I still believe some good people are in our governments and will act on it.
Thanks to the "The Hindu" and the author for giving exposure to tragic incident.

from:  nagarajan
Posted on: Jul 15, 2012 at 09:36 IST

When we heard that Indian students were targeted in Australia, how did we all ,as a nation Reacted with anger? How did the Governement of India also react under intense public pressure on those occasions? Is it not the responsibility of the authorities of the University bearing the name as Lovely Professional University to take care of the basic food needs of 400 to 500 African Students, by engaging african cooks/ chefs and charge the students some extra bucks which they would not mind to pay. We talk of racial discrimination when Indians are badly treated in a few foreign countries. What does this episode reveal? Having
enrolled such a big batch of african students in the university, is it not obligatory for the
university, the state and central governments to ensure their peaceful stay during their
academic tenure and if any one of them were to be found violating our laws in any
manner,why can't they be dealt with in accordance with the laws instead of such barbaric
acts?

from:  Shekar
Posted on: Jul 15, 2012 at 09:28 IST

A time when we are all worried about the racist treatment meted to
Indian students abroad, this is an example which shows we are equally a
racist nation. When we are incapable of providing respect and security
to foreign students studying in India, we expect all sorts of facilities
to our children abroad.

from:  Kancha Carl Varghese
Posted on: Jul 15, 2012 at 08:35 IST

Unfortunate incident. I sincerely pray for full recovery of the student. By the way, this lends full credibility to a recent article in "The Hindu" titled "Islands of Authority with out accountability". Let us not spoil our National Reputation on any count.

from:  S.R.Nagarajan
Posted on: Jul 15, 2012 at 06:39 IST

Very sad to see this kind of attacks happening in India. When Indians get attacked in Australia or other foreign countries we make a big deal of it and call it racial attack. Having lived outside of India and been in contact with the African people, I know that they are polite and nice people. It is sad that these people are looking up to India and come here for making a life only to end up like this. The culprits should be meted out severe punishment and should be held responsible to support the victim for rest of his life. India is considered an example of mutual respect and toleration given its diversity and history. Incidents like this tarnish the image.

from:  Suresh
Posted on: Jul 15, 2012 at 05:54 IST

It is very sad to hear the plight of the student. It is really even more sad that entities such as "Lovely Professional University" are allowed to be run. It is not even clear whether such universities are accredited by some agency. It is here that the government is sorely lacking. Over the last decade or so anyone with money to invest is allowed to open a "university" with profit as the sole motive and education and educational environment taking a back seat. The first set of tasks should be to introduce a uniform standard across India for accreditation of higher education.

from:  Jagan
Posted on: Jul 15, 2012 at 05:34 IST
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