A massive brawl broke out in the capital of Kazakhstan late on September 2, provoking a fleeting diplomatic scandal.
It all reportedly began when Indian laborers hired to build the high-rise Abu Dhabi Plaza went on a drinking spree, seizing the opportunity of a day off work on the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha.
Police representative Almas Sadubayev said that the first clash occurred when a group of the Indians, who live in housing units on the building site, attempted to leave the territory but were prevented from doing so by a security guard concerned at their inebriated state. The laborers ganged up on the guard in force and physically assaulted him. Local colleagues came to the defense of the guard, giving rise to the brawl.
There are wildly varying estimates about the size of the unrest.
Sadubayev played down the trouble, claiming that only 30 people were involved. But the New Times website, citing its own sources on the scene, reported that the fighting drew in as many as around 700 people, who pelted police with stones when reinforcements were called in.
Amateur video footage clearly supported the latter version of events. In one piece of footage, some kind of gunshots can even be heard, although it is uncertain whether or not they were live rounds.
The police response does appear to have been swift and full-blown. Ambulances and fire engines were also dispatched to the scene.
Despite the scale of the brawl, there were seemingly no serious injuries. According to city police, only two Indians needed hospitalization to treat wounds sustained during fighting.
The heavy presence of police was needed, more than anything, to prevent massive reprisals by local people, who turned up at the scene looking to settle scores. Some shouted “Alga, Kazakhstan” (“Forward, Kazakhstan” — a chant typically heard at sporting events), while others brought flags of Kazakhstan along.
The rowdier elements were picked up by riot police. The deputy head of the General Prosecutor’s Office, Andrei Lukin, said 41 people were detained, all of them Kazakhstani citizens.
Astana Mayor Aset Isekeshev, India’s ambassador to Kazakhstan, Harsh Kumar Jain, and leading representatives from the company building the Abu Dhabi Plaza went to the scene of the unrest to learn more.
Isekeshev said later on his Facebook account that there had been negotiations and that the tensions had been defused. The mayor also urged people to refrain from idle commentaries on the situation to avoid sowing further trouble.
Despite those appeals, social media users vented with abandon. The overwhelming sentiment went along the lines of “shameless foreigners are taking advantage of Kazakh hospitality.”
Aidos Sarym, a patriotically inclined political analyst, said the police were quite wrong to detain dozens of local citizens while not doing the same to any of the foreigners.
In a vaguely racist and distinctly noxious manner, he suggested two solutions: “(1) Arrest and try the Indians who started the brawl (they like Indian soap operas in our prisons). (2) Fine and deport Indians, depriving them of the option to return to Kazakhstan. Until then, if they have any care to preserve their physical appearance, they had better not walk around the capital.”
That particular insight generated hundreds of “likes” and “shares.”
A police spokesperson later confirmed that only eight people were actually facing administrative sanctions, and that all others had been released. As for the rumor-mongering, authorities were only able to chide and warn against future such instances, but such measures are unlikely to yield any effect.