MUMBAI: What was meant to be a weekend getaway for three IIT students turned into an international nightmare when the Italian police detained the trio for 10 hours.
“After a day full of atrocities, we were mentally traumatised. All the other people held were Pakistanis and Africans, and so it clearly seemed to us an act of racial profiling,” said Akshit Goyal, a second-year computer science student at the Indian Institute of Technology - Delhi (IIT-D).
Goyal, with his friends Deepak Bhatt from IIT-D and Uday Kusupati from IIT-Bombay, is on a two-month internship in France at the Inria Sophia Antipolis, a European research body.
Three days ago, the friends decided to spend the weekend in Italy and were travelling between Venice and Antibes when the police detained them illegally for 10 hours for no reason.
The incident came to light on May 30, 10 hours after the students were pulled aside at the Ventimiglia railway station in Italy. “There were around 20-25 police officers who were checking passports, so we readily showed our passports and were let off. But soon after, another police officer caught us and asked us to stay back with a group of 10 people,” said Goyal.
Despite reiterating to the officers that they had all the necessary documents, the students were taken to another room where they were asked to submit all their belongings and were not allowed to use their mobile phones.
“We had a medical checkup done. Our fingerprints and photographs were taken and despite repeated requests to put us through someone who can speak in English, we were only told ‘no problem’, while things just got worse,” he said.
Authorities remained uncommunicative, and the three were suddenly packed onto a bus and driven to Genoa city, three hours away. To their surprise, they were taken directly to the airport and after thorough physical frisking put on a plane to Bari, a fact the students found out only afterwards. Once in Bari, while the other passengers were being questioned for lack of documents, the students got a chance to get in touch with their families back in India.
“We found out that the police were planning to keep us in camp for the night, so we immediately contacted Akshit’s sister and asked her to get in touch with the Indian Embassy in Italy and inform them about this incident,” said Kusupati.
In an hour, the police returned the passports, apologised for the ‘mistake’ and allowed them to continue with their trip.
Though unwilling to term the incident as racist, Goyal said it was “an attack on a person’s dignity and blatant disrespect towards self-identity”.
After being picked up at the Ventimiglia railway station at 8.30am on May 30, they returned to Rome at 7am on May 31 using their own money. The trio is back in France and plans on continuing to travel through Europe.