For nine long months, as a Burundi father watched helplessly over his 24-year-old comatose son, Yannick Ntibateganya, reduced to that state by a vicious attack on him by nine Punjabi young men in April last year, he believed it was a hate crime. That his son was mauled almost to death because of his colour, his foreignness, his social mores. So it came as a surprise to the 60-year-old soft-spoken Nestor, that the attack is sought to be projected as the outcome of a drunken brawl — a commonly accepted feature of Punjabi society.

“A 100-page police report that was shown to me said very clearly that the attackers wanted to ‘punish the black.’ They stopped beating him with stones and bricks only when they thought he was dead,” said a bewildered Nestor, when told by The Hindu that the Jalandhar police, where the attack took place, did not see it as racist attack. “If it was one or two attackers I could understand that it was a drunken brawl, but there were nine of them, all very determined to kill him. I can’t figure this out,” he says despondently.

But Nestor, who is at the mercy of an insensitive official machinery which reluctantly offered to pay for Yannick’s medical expenses following a media furore, has also learnt not to tread on powerful toes. Even as he grapples with the information, he is quick to say, “There are good people in India and the country is not racist. But I read in the report….”

Yannick, a first year student of computer science at Lovely Professional University (LPU) in Jalandhar, was attacked on April 21 by nine boys following an altercation.

Negotiating his way through the maze of caste and money driven power strata of Punjab, that is working the influence chain to go soft on the accused, though, is just one of Nestor’s worries. A few days ago, when Yannick opened his eyes, doctors told Nestor that the boy may never speak or be able to move his limbs, because his brain has been severely damaged in the attack.

“I am lost. Have no idea what to do next, even though it is the wish of my family and friends back in Burundi to shift him to a hospital there,” he told The Hindu

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