Co-authored by Amrita Singh & Aakanksha Jadhav
Another day, another session of rigorous frisking and mockery in an unknown language. Frederick*, well equipped to enter Sharda University’s campus with his identification card in place, was used to this daily charade. The guards at gate number three mocked him in Hindi as they proceeded to frisk him ‘like a suspect’. “Don’t do that. I’ll show it [pocket] to you myself,” he said, as the guards began putting their hands in his pockets to make sure he wasn’t carrying cigarettes or narcotic substances.
Frederick, a first-year Kenyan student pursuing a BBA degree, was manhandled almost a month ago. The following is a video of him being dragged by guards across campus.
Frederick argued that he had no cigarettes with him, while the university says he did indeed have a packet on his person. But does this even matter? Does the possibility of a student carrying cigarettes and substances warrant such treatment and manhandling?
An engineering student from Saudi Arabia currently studying at Sharda, lodged an FIR against the administration and guards after seeing this video. News of this ill-treatment spread like wildfire, sparking student protests across the campus. As a result, a letter of demand (LOD), drafted by Africa Union of Sharda (AUS) and International Sharda community was presented to the Chancellor of the university. Given below is the list of demands made by the international students.
According to Jack*, a student at Sharda, international students on campus do not feel welcome as they are not treated in an unbiased manner. Their letter explicitly states staff personnel working in cafeterias, hostels and security gates have been prejudiced against them, which has made their adjustment to India’s new culture, language and people all the more difficult.
The letter also raises a few key issues that indicate the lack of seriousness in managing educational institutions, which claim to provide facilities that will attract foreign students. From the issue of language barriers to problems of partisan behavior, international students at Sharda University have dealt with almost too many cases of mistreatment; according to the letter, an international student named Emran, a student from Afghanistan, was beaten by the guards deployed in front of one of the student hostels, which forced him to leave the university.
“It is the administrative office who shall be acclaimed or condemned”
In an interview with The Bastion, Jack* raised concerns over the functioning of the global division at Sharda University, which is responsible for taking care of international students on campus. According to him, they did nothing to solve Frederick’s case. “Who do we trust? Who do we report cases to?”, he asked.
The AUS wants justice, to ensure that no student on campus is made to suffer such ill-treatment. While the university did issue a statement saying it has suspended the guards, the AUS does not believe it has done enough to support the student; one of the ‘suspended’ guards was seen walking around campus a few days later. The only change was that his guard station had been shifted to gate number 1, from gate number 3.
According to Jack, Frederick was already unhappy with the ‘suspended’ guard’s presence on campus when he had to deal with other steps being taken by the university to keep matters under control. Allegedly, the administration got in touch with his parents, who told him to drop the case and made him sign a letter which stated that he was satisfied with the action taken by the university, despite being unsatisfied. He was purportedly threatened with expulsion if he pushed an investigation of the incident.
Atithi Devo Bhava?
The AUS says that such treatment is a human rights violation, and it’s easy to understand why. The letter of demand repeatedly mentions phrases such as “unfair treatment”, “bias” and “prejudice” to highlight the sheer neglect of cultural and national diversity by the personnel employed in this international university; all this when the Modi government plans to launch a 300-crore project called Study in India to increase the number of foreign students studying in India to one lakh students, which at present stands at 30,000.
This is hardly the first case of violence against foreign students; in 2017, five Nigerian students were attacked in Greater Noida because they were linked to the death of an Indian student and accused of cannibalism in March this year. In early 2016, a Tanzanian student was assaulted and partially stripped by a mob in Bangalore. In October 2014, African students were attacked by a mob at a metro station in Delhi. India doesn’t seem to be treating its foreign students any better than how our own students have been treated abroad; the entire country raised its voice when several cases of violence against Indian students in Australia were reported between 2009 and 2013.
There is still a long way to go for programmes like Study in India to be successful. Universities must do more to make their international community feel at home; things like sensitization programmes for university staff should be made compulsory, in order to familiarise them with other cultures and nationalities. Basic English should be a feature of these programmes, so that the staff can interact with foreign students better, and avoid miscommunication.
For a country that takes pride in its cultural diversity, instances of violence against foreign nationals, especially students, is shameful. University campuses are meant to be safe spaces for students, irrespective of their nationality. When placed against the national discourse of growing cultural and religious intolerance, these instances of violence become even more concerning. Attracting high-quality foreign students to make India a global educational hub is a distant dream, especially if we cannot guarantee them a safe space to learn, grow and prosper.
Featured image for representational purpose only