“We are not safe even inside the walls of a central university”

JMI students and Delhi Police clash on December 15 as the latter charged upon the protesters with tear gas and heavy lathi charge after public assets were damaged, write Pari Saikia and Shamshad Ali

What was a peaceful protest against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) unfolded into a war between the students of Jamia Milia Islamia University (JMI) and Delhi police on 15 December, 2019, when the latter charged upon the protesting students with tear gas and heavy lathi charge.

The spirit of the Jamia Milia students trembled on 15 December evening when Delhi police stormed into the university’s central library and hostels to attack unarmed students and staff members for exercising their democratic rights under Article 19, which is the freedom to hold peaceful protests. The police crackdown left over hundred people severely injured; 50 were detained. They were eventually released after sections of the public staged a massive protest outside the Delhi Police Headquarters at ITO.

The Deputy Commissioner of Police (Southeast), Chinmoy Biswal, said that the protest led to damage of public property — four buses were set ablaze, two police vehicles were torched; six policemen were injured. “About 4,000 people were protesting and police did what they did to disperse them when the crowd burned buses. If it had been a peaceful mob, it would have been dispersed peacefully,” says Biswal defending his police force.

Tehelka reporters visited Jamia Milia Islamia University and Holy Family Home hospital for three consecutive days to corroborate information on the protest, police brutality, and the people involved in setting the buses on fire. Many witnesses, both local residents and students, have come out to speak against the ordeals faced by the protesters since December 15 evening.

“We are in shock. Look at us (pointing towards his plastered broken toe on his right foot), we were just holding a peaceful protest and the price we paid is undeserving,” says a first year B.Com student of JMI. “My parents are fearful of my future now. We are not even safe inside the walls of a central university, how will we feel secure outside the campus,” says another student of JMI.

One important point to note here is that the students caught in the crackdown were not in the central library to protest but to prepare for their upcoming examinations. The students are left with no means to prove their innocence as the university has alleged that the CCTV footages available with them have been destroyed by Delhi police and CRPF.

“The police started chasing the protesters and forcefully entered into the campus which is around 1.5 kms distance from the main road. The police broke the door and windows of central library, washrooms and barged into the hostels of men and women in search of the students. They were beaten mercilessly, pulled out by their hair, one student was even hit on his eye. He was lying unconscious in the bathroom,” recalls a second year engineering student.

One of the viral videos from the Jamia incident is of a student lying unconscious while bleeding from his head in the hostel bathroom. The student is Minahjuddin (26), a final year LLM student, who was hit in the right eye by the police force. The doctors at Rajendra Prasad Eye Institute has said that there is a very less chance that visibility of his right eye will improve.

Investigation so far

Activist Harsh Mander and advocate Choudhary Ali Zia Kabir meet the students detained at Kalkaji police station on the same night. In a statement released by them, Mander and Ali quoted students as saying, “Students reported that the campus was “storned” by the CRPF, it was not the case that they were protesting on the roads outside the campus. They repeatedly impressed upon us that the entire CCTV footage of the whole campus including library be seized as evidence of their innocence.”

In a shocking revelation, reports of sexual assault has also come to the fore but the matter is being investigated. In the same statement, the duo has quoted students of revealing details on sexual abuses by the police force on women students.

“Some of them stated that female students were beaten up and even sexually harassed by the male police officers. To save themselves, they tried locking themselves into female washrooms but in vain,” reads the statement.

It further says, “Another tactic employed by the forces was to switch off the lights before they started assaulting students and sexually abusing girl students. Wherever lights were switched off sexual abuse was shocking. Lights were switched off to prevent any recording in the CCTV cameras, but we are confident that some cameras would still have recorded sexual abuse.”

Tehelka spoke with a member of fact-finding team from Jamia who is also looking into the matter of sexual assaults by Delhi police. “We are trying to verify the matter of sexual assaults and what happened that night when police raided the women hostel. Since many CCTV cameras have been damaged by the police force, we, the students of Jamia, have formed a data collecting team to gather every evidence and information related to the violence occurred on 15 December.

Vani Xaxa, a PhD student along with two former students of Jamia Millia Islamia — Syed Mujtaba Akhtar and M. Mobashshir Sarwar — has filed a plea seeking independent judicial inquiry by a retired judge of Supreme Court into the police brutality on the Jamia students protesting peacefully against CAA.

Speaking with Tehelka, Vani says, “If the Vice Chancellor didn’t give permission to the Delhi police how did they even enter? How can police forcefully enter into the premise and beat up students? This shows the criminal attitude of the police towards the society. We have demanded that there should be a fair judicial enquiry into this matter.

When asked about the next course of action by the students, Vani replies, “The next course of action will be decided accordingly whether we are going to the High Court or not. The Supreme Court has said that the petition should be filed at the High Court. We know from government to judiciary, everyone will support the police but the real picture of them is clear as the people have seen the videos and pictures where police have shown their criminal nature.

Besides, senior advocates Indira Jaisingh and Colin Gonsalves have come forward in support of the students. They have urged the Supreme Court to take take suo motu cognisance of the violence on students, especially in the case of Aligarh Muslim University.

What students think of it VC?

Following the police crackdown on Jamia students, Najma Akhtar, Vice-Chancellor of the varsity came out with a condemning video message. “I am hurt by the way my students were treated. I want to let my students know that they are not alone in this fight. I am with them. I will take this matter forward as long it’s possible.”

However, while speaking with Tehelka, many students expressed that they “feel dejected” by Vice Chancellor Najma Akhtar and staff members as well. “Don’t go by the video. She is not in support of the students,” replies Nikita when asked about the view of the administration against the CAA protest and police crackdown on its students.

Many students claimed that the VC is “hand in gloves with the Delhi police”, otherwise they
(police) would have never set their foot on the premise. “Look at the statements of our VC that keeps changing every time. She is majorly responsibly for the police atrocities on the Jamia students. Did she file a FIR? No, right?” says a third year engineering student.

Another student claims that the staff members were initially supporting the students in the protest but later “withdrawn it because of internal pressure.”

Tehelka reached out to the VC for her comments but didn’t receive any response until the time of filing this story.

Students are also of the opinion that since there is no formal student union in the university, this makes certain situations difficult for the students, says Akhtar referring to the police crackdown 15.

“The unfortunate is the university doesn’t have any student union. We are protesting on our own. Even if we form one, internal politics and vested interest of some students politically affiliated to any parties would damage the spirit of the student union,” adds Akhtar.

Some girl students claimed that they have been asked to vacate hostels as the university does not want to get involved in the ongoing protests. They also alleged that they haven’t been given food also.

A day to remember

Waseem Ahmed Khan, Chief Proctor, JMI University also confirmed that the police entered the campus without any permission from the administration. “No permission was given to police, they entered the campus without the administration’s permission,” he said in a statement issued to media.

According to the students, they were protesting at the gate no 7 of the campus and at the same time, some locals were protesting on the opposite side. As the protesters marched towards the police barricade, the latter began to lathi charged the women protestors. This agitated the crowd. Before the protestors could retaliate they were attacked with teargas and lathi charge by the police. Some of the protestors realised that some unidentified men started to vandalise four buses and later set the buses on fire.

“I was present there. Students and locals were marching peacefully when the police started lathi charge and asked us to move backwards. The police also resorted to pelting stones in order to chase away the protesters but, later on, the students picked up the stones too,” says a third year semester student.

He also alleged that the police pulled the girl students inside the library and thrashed them. Another witness who was present in the library says that the police thrashed the students badly including him and their bags and shoes are still lying at the floor of the library. “I was witnessing the whole horror when the police both from the gate no 7 and 8 entered the campus. The number of the policemen was around 400 with lathis and weapons.”

Another students shares, “One of my friends, Kaif was detained by the police and he was released later. Kaif has torture marks on his body which clearly indicates that he was also beaten up by the police inside the police station. The police even arrested the students from Holy Faith Hospital who had received injuries during the protest.”

A student of Mass Communication and Research Centre who was in the university when the violence broke out says, “The police manhandled the students mercilessly and also lobbed teargas and firing rounds when the students were trying to hide themselves under desks, inside washrooms. The police hit them with lathis even those who were not the part of the protest.

Kashmiri students are fearful

Tehelka spoke with a group of research scholars from Kashmir in Jamia who are of apprehensions that what if they are targeted unnecessarily for being Kashmiri. “We don’t understand why some nations media channels are targeting Kashmiris over this protest,” says a student from Kashmir. “Jamia students are protesting against the CAA and police brutality but why are we (Kashmiris) being targeted over again and again whereas, the Kashmiri students have not come out directly in any protests,” says another Jamia student from Kashmir.

“We stand in solidarity with Jamia students but to say that we are behind the protest across the country is not right. Media channels should avoid using jargons that give wrong impression about us. Our families are already worried, “ says Omar*, a PhD student in Jamia from Kashmiri. The flame of CAA protest, ignited by the people of north-east region, especially Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura has now proliferated to states like West Bengal, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka rest of the country. Educational institutes like IIT Bombay, Jadavpur University, Calcutta University, Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, Shibpur, the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Presidency University, to Harvard College in London and other colleges abroad have come forward in support of the Jamia protest and voice against the CAA.