The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) prodded Karnataka authorities on Friday to act against the attackers who last week allegedly stripped and paraded naked a young Tanzanian woman in suburban Bengaluru, spurring widespread debate on racism in India.
The panel sought a report within two weeks from the state chief secretary and director general of police on steps initiated after taking note of media accounts of the assault that is threatening to cast a shadow over India’s growing engagement with Africa.
“If the contents of the report are true, the incident would amount to a serious violation of human rights, including racism,” said the NHRC.
The commission’s response came on a day authorities suspended two policemen for failing to stop the mob and not registering a complaint while the number of suspects arrested went up to nine.
Battered by a wave of criticism, the state’s Congress-led government has rejected claims that this was a racial attack while maintaining that the mob violence was a case of “mistaken identity” after a local woman was mowed down by a car driven by a Sudanese man.
The 21-year-old victim and her three male friends, all Tanzanians, were assaulted when they were passing by the accident site minutes later, officials said.
While the BJP has hit out at the Karnataka government and demanded chief minister Siddaramaiah’s resignation, the Centre has sent a high-level inquiry team to Bengaluru including the Tanzanian high commissioner and offered assurances of safety to 5,000 African students in India.
The envoy, John WH Kijazi, swivelled round from his Thursday’s remarks that this was a racial attack, while he praised the local administration for the action taken so far.
“I don’t want to dwell too much on racism. You people from the media are too interested in that,” he said after a meeting with state officials. “We are not here to discuss the issue of racism.”
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi promised that the state government would take strict action in the matter while he condemned the attack that has triggered nationwide outrage.
Union law minister Sadananda Gowda asked Karnataka authorities to form a special squad to keep a watch on foreign students and also criticised the administration for not acting on complaints by locals regarding the “wrong” behaviour of some students from overseas.
The political storm intensified after reports emerged that one of the men arrested was a member of the BJP, though the party distanced itself from the suspect, Lokesh Bangari, saying political allegiances of panchayat members are not permanent as polls are not fought on party symbols.
Local police are facing flak for allegedly failing to stop the attack after the student said she pleaded with some cops at the spot for help, while one of the male victims told HT that officers had threatened them and asked them not to speak to anyone, particularly the media.