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Delhi e-rickshaw driver killed: Rising mob rage incidents at DU's North campus are a worrying trend

Gareeb bhi gandagi se nafrat karta hai, (The poor too hate filth and dirt) ’ were the words of Rajesh Kumar, brother of the e-rickshaw driver who was beaten to death by more than 20 men, when he stopped two of them from urinating on the walls of a public toilet outside GTB Nagar metro station, near Delhi University’s North Campus.

Ravinder, the 31-year-old victim, had no personal enmity with anyone but was killed because he evoked the spirit of Swachh Bharat and offered Rs 2 to the men so they step inside the public toilet instead.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while on a four-nation-tour, reacted to the incident and sanctioned an ex gratia payment of Rs 1 lakh from the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund (PMNRF) to Ravinder's family. Firstpost spoke to Ravinder's family and investigated the matter further to learn the cause of increasing incidents of student altercations and mob rage in the North Campus.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Outside Gate number 4 of the metro station is a huge traffic square, where CCTV cameras don’t work and PCR vans aren’t visible amid heavy traffic flow. This is where Ravinder was beaten to death after a group of around 20 men stuffed their gamchaas with bricks and hit him ruthlessly. Other rickshaw drivers spoke up about increasing instances of anti-social elements urinating on the walls that are invariably pasted with pictures of politicians or slogans from student political groups.

Pramod, an e-rickshaw driver who knew Ravinder well, said that this isn’t the first time a drunken mob has been on the loose in the area. He revealed one of his own experiences, when drunk students took his rickshaw to pick up liquor from a near by shop and later started beating each other up. Pramod says such episodes are not abnormal.

Inside a small slum cluster just five minutes away from where Ravinder was killed, is his small, low-roofed shanty. His older brother Rajesh, who also raised him up, said the safety of those who live in university areas is a pressing issue. He pointed to Ravinder’s pregnant wife, who only got married to him last year, and asked why CCTV cameras that have been displayed on signals weren't functional. He urged Indians to keep the flame of the Swachh Bharat Mission alive in them but not at the cost of their lives. The admit card of the student and CCTV footage from the liquor shop has helped the police trace the suspects but the vulnerability of other locals who can become a victim of mob lynching and attacks by anti-social elements remains a concern.

North Campus is home to the oldest Delhi University colleges like Kirori Mal College, Daulat Ram College, Hansraj College, Hindu College, Indraprastha College for Women, Miranda House, SGTB Khalsa College. Ramjas College, St. Stephen's College and Shri Ram College of Commerce, which have over one lakh students coming in the area on an average.

For those who have spent some years of their life at the North Campus, it's not a place but a time that refuses to change in its entirety. Brick walls with writings on them stand on either side of roads where rickshaws and special buses for students carry students from one college to another. Momos and maggi stalls lend fragrance and chai stalls and lemon soda carts dot the entire area. Photocopy shops in Patel Chest have a distinct scent of paper and anxiety, and the Kamala Nagar Market is where pocket money is spent on spicy chinese food at roadside shacks.

But North Campus isn’t as peaceful as it used to be. There is an increasing restlessness in students, according to Anil Kumar Chauhan, SHO, Mukherjee Nagar Police Station. “For instance, Mukherjee Nagar (another colony adjoining North Campus) which was earlier the hub of civil service aspirants is now also home to IIT-JEE and police forces aspirants. People come here to prepare for competitive exams and many end up distracted and frustrated. We have started outreach programs for students from the North East who face cultural discrimination and we also keep the surveillance in the area tighter,” says Chauhan.

Last year, a block of 376 flats in the area shut its doors on outstation students. A circular put up by the residents’ welfare association last July stated: “There are many problems because of student tenants like visits by uncountable and unwanted people, which have raised security concerns... Social norms are being violated, which is leaving a bad influence on children.” Ankit Agarwal, who runs Your Choice PG in Mukherjee Nagar shares that the problem is the voluminous rise in the influx of students. “Since 2010-11, the number of students landing up, mostly from other states in North and central India, has increased by five times,” he says. While PG and hostel authorities impose a strict ban on the consumption of liquor inside the rooms, the rising number of students makes policing harder.

On New Year eve, outside Batra Cinemas, CCTV footage showed a mob pelting stones at some policemen who prevented them from allegedly harassing a woman. Last year, bike-borne assailants shot dead a 25-year-old native of Jhajjar, Haryana, near his rented room in the area.

However, the increasing number of incidents of student rage and violence in such tenements can't solely be attributed to the frustration arising out of a sense of failure, mounting academic pressure, and lack of money. Students in North Campus consider themselves a part of an ongoing ideological war, in which taking a side reaffirms and strengthens their identity. And both sides sound equally insecure.

“I don’t feel safe in my home. When violence erupted in Ramjas College over the presence of Umar Khalid (JNU Student who was briefly arrested on charges of sedition in February), I had voiced my opinion on Facebook. Not only was I forced to delete my tweet, I also received threatening phone calls from people whose identity I am not sure of,” says Sanjay Kumar, student of MA Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics (DSE). “The university is a safe place till the time we don’t disagree with the other side on a political issue. We can remain neutral but to contest another’s political ideology is riskier than before,” adds Nikita, another student at DSE.

In the lawns of the DSE campus, Hegelian dialectics and Kant’s transcendental idealism reverberate in a rhythm only audible to those well versed with them. In jargon and concept, critical thinking lives on in codes. Only few days ago, a graffiti supporting the Islamic State was scribbled on the walls of DSE. After Ankit Singh Sangwan, Secretary, Delhi University Students Union, filed a complaint, the campus was sealed with police barricades. Some of the students present at the college said they had no idea about the signage that read ‘I AM SYN ISIS’ and dismissed it as a right-wing conspiracy to malign and weaken the integrity of a fine liberal arts institution. “Students are still not indoctrinated per say, whatever political inclinations they bring along with themselves are part of their own identity and an institution like DSE has maintained its neutrality. This new idea of nationalism is a shallow and hollow reading into the concept; policies cannot be equated with national jingoism in political rhetoric,” says Soumodip Sinha, who is completing his Phd in Middle Class Youth and the Field(s) of Political Assertion: A Sociological Study of Urban India.

Members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), who also arrived at the green campus on a rainy day, uttered the slogan ‘Gyaan sheel ekta! Gyaan sheel ekta! Gyaan sheel ekta!’ between a tirade on how the left-wing is merely provoking students so a climate of conflict lingers. They pointed to pictures of Prashant Mukherjee (President, Student Federation of India) beating up their student party workers during the Ramjas violence.

‘What example are professors like GN Saibaba and Nandini Sundar setting for the students, if they are in conflict with the law? If you want to put your point across, do it peacefully and not through messages that disturb the peace of the campus,’ said the members of the ABVP, most of whom are pursuing degrees in law.

However, Kawal Preet Kaur, an All India Students Union (left wing) representative from the Delhi University, counter argues that ABVP is backed by the administration and has a free hand to do what it wants to. A woman leader rising up to a student body that managed to get together the support of over 1.5 lakh people isn’t a cakewalk, she says, adding that such unprecedented power leads to a sense of impunity.

To the thousands of alumnus, Delhi University’s north campus may seem exactly the same. But the students who live here, as well as those who provide these students with food, accommodation and transport, are no longer safe. There is fear, there is fury and there’s also the possibility of the two clashing violently at anytime.

Updated Date: Jun 04, 2017 10:24 AM

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