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“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 at the Columbia Asia Hospital in Patiala, where his son lies virtually motionless in the ICU. “I sometimes feel as if he can see me with those vacant eyes. I have told the court, I want justice for my son.”
Yannick was among the 1500-odd foreign students at Lovely Professional University (LPU) in Jalandhar which in the last decade of its existence has been instrumental in bringing foreign students mainly from Third World countries to the Punjab hinterland. Around 40% of its foreign students are from Africa and it is common knowledge that the foreigners live and party in rented ghettoes in the town, often creating resentment among the local residents with their drinking and partying. “No Punjabi girl or boy is invited to their parties”, said an investigating official.
The Jalandhar police as well as LPU insist that it would be incorrect to call this a racist attack, because it took place near liquor vend where there was an altercation between the two. At one stage during the investigations, the police also followed a line that Yannick was the victim of a mistaken identity and that the attackers were actually looking for another African boy. But when the media wanted to know the identity of the other African, the theory was abandoned.
Of the nine accused, two are still absconding and have been declared proclaimed offenders by the trial court in Jalandhar. One of them, Jaskaran Singh, flew to Australia on a student visa, and the police are now trying to get him extradited with the help of the Ministry of External Affairs. Two of the seven who were arrested have been granted bail in the last few days. One of them is Romi Uppal, the son of a senior Punjab police officer, who was suspended last year, for threatening the witnesses. All have been booked for attempt to murder.
Nestor’s other worry is whether the Punjab Government will honour its promise to pay the hospital bills that have accumulated to Rs 30 lakhs. Following a media furore and intervention by the Burundi Embassy, the government announced that it would foot the bill for Yannick’s treatment and gave Rs 5 lakhs to the hospital. Nestor says that Burundi nationals in Delhi and elsewhere gave him some financial help, but without his regular job with a NGO in Burundi, which he was forced to leave, it is a tough haul. Students and staff of Lovely Professional University also collected Rs 6 lakhs and gave it to the Punjab Government for Yannick’s treatment.