"I left the JNU campus a month after the violence… out of fear," says Surya Prakash, a visually-challenged student of Jawaharlal Nehru University enrolled in a PhD course. The reason? "Some people had entered my room and brutally beaten me up with iron rods." He refers to the violence that took place inside JNU campus on 5 January. Even though it has been over four months since the incident took place, it is still crystal clear in his memory.
"I was sitting inside my room in the Sabarmati Hostel, studying, when I heard loud noises coming from the outside. I didn't know who those people were, but they broke open the door of my room and entered. They beat me ruthlessly, and for no reason. I am a neutral, common student who has no links with any political parties on the campus," he recalls, "After I told them that I was blind, one girl among them said, 'Andha hai toh kya hua? Maaro saale ko (So what if he is blind? Beat him up)!'."
He is now in Uttar Pradesh's Deoria, his hometown. "Soon after the incident, I packed my bags and came home out of fear. After the incident, nobody slept alone in my hostel. Nobody went to the washroom alone. They would relieve themselves in buckets in their rooms instead of venturing out."
But it's not just the incident that's on his mind these days. It's also the "inaction" of the police. "I complained about the incident, the police came to my room, the crime branch came, the media came — all of them said I would get justice. But to date, nothing has been done. My offenders have gone unpunished," he laments.
Surya believes that the police was involved in the violence that evening. "Unidentified people entered the campus in hundreds that day, with lathis, iron rods and hammers. How did they manage to do that when the police were present on campus? They themselves were involved in the violence by giving those people a freehand."
Around 30 people, including teachers and students, were injured in the violence unleashed on them by "masked men and women" with lathis and iron rods. The violent episode lasted for nearly two hours, during which university property was also damaged.
What happened on 5 January?
Sucheta Talukdar, counsellor at the School of Social Sciences recalls, "As soon as we learned that some goons had entered the campus, all the campus lights went out. A mob of more than 50 people came and started hurling stones at us. There was chaos." According to her, she could recognise some of the members of the mob as JNU students who are part of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP).
"We got really scared because we had never witnessed such a thing on campus before. One student held my hand and said, 'Sucheta bhaag, ye log maar daalenge tujhe (Sucheta run! Otherwise these people will kill you)'. And looking at the lathis and rods in their hands, I got scared and hid at a dhaba. I narrowly escaped getting hurt, but many others actually were badly injured," she says.
At the time of the attack, Talukdar was at Sabarmati Tea Point, responding to a Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers' Association (JNUTA) call for a peace march held in response to the violence that took place the previous day.
The day before the violence
Apeksha Priyadarshi, a PhD student at the School and Arts and Aesthetics Department in JNU, recalls the day before the major violence took place, "We had been striking on campus for months due to the fee hike. On 1 January, the administration opened up registration without resolving the main issue of the fee hike — a roughly 900 percent increase."
After registration began, the Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union (JNUSU) called for non-compliance with the registration process, demanding that the new hostel manual be rolled back. "There was a group of almost 15 people moving around the campus, beating people. They attacked the areas surrounding the School of Languages, School of International Studies and the School of Biotechnology," she says.
According to her, in an attempt to stop the attackers from beating up her friend, she was attacked. "They started beating me with their bare hands. On that day, most of the violence was with bare hands and not with objects such as lathis and rods as we saw the next day — that day, they were all prepared."
She says that the reason for the violence on 5 January was what happened a day earlier. "The student body had refused to give in to the administration's demands and register for the examinations. The group that beat up students was acting at the behest of the administration. That's why it stepped in to stop us from resisting the administration's move to increase the fee," she claims.
"The collusion between the security personnel, the administration and the [group allegedly comprising] ABVP members was very clear that day. Even the police never converted our complaints into FIRs, because it knew that it would have to take action on an FIR," she adds.
What led to the violence?
Before the major violence took place, JNU had been the site for an anti-fee hike protest for around three months. Students were protesting what the JNUSU dubbed the "privatisation" and "commodification" of education. The protests involved multiple negotiations with the Ministry of Human Resource Development focussed on reducing fees. On 1 January, registration for the new semester had already begun, which led to the JNUSU calling for a boycott of the registration process — with which many students complied.
"If places like JNU don't raise their voice against the increase of fees in central universities, the impact will fall on thousands of other universities and poor students. At JNU, we have the privilege of being heard, so we made sure to protest the privatisation of education. Initially, they wanted to increase the fees by 900 percent, then it was reduced after negotiation. If the students are unable to pay the fees, what's the point in filling registration forms?" asks Aishe Ghosh, JNUSU president.
However, Ritwik Raj, a member of ABVP and counsellor at the School of International Studies at JNU, believes that this was a wrong step. Raj claims that the Left is trying to defame the ABVP by creating propaganda against the RSS-affiliate. "People who have indulged in violence have done so over their own disagreements. Some have beaten up students who had demanded Kashmir's aazadi [freedom] a day earlier. But ABVP had nothing to do with it. We do not support violence, and there was nobody from ABVP involved in this," he says. According to him, the ABVP was attacked by the Left and that the former didn't resort to any violence.
He explains, "We had a rational approach towards the protests. We supported the fight against the fee hike, but the students who didn't want to be part of the protest and wanted to study instead should not have been expected to do join in. They should have been allowed to sit in the library and fill the registration forms. Over 150 people in my department alone filled registration forms within a day. The Left felt threatened."
In response, Ghosh says, "We didn't force students to boycott the registration process, we convinced them."
In a reply to an RTI filed by Saurav Das, a member of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI), under the 'life and liberty' clause, the university said that the main server of JNU at the Centre for Information System (CIS) was shut down on 3 January and was down the next day 'due to power supply disruption'.
Ghosh was also among those who were severely hurt during the violence on campus. "As a student representative, I chose to be at the forefront. I saw teachers and other students getting hurt as stones were hurled at us. Around 15 to 20 men gheraoed me and started beating me up. I tried to ask them what they wanted, but by then I was already bleeding. They had sledgehammers, lathis and rods," says Ghosh, who sustained injuries to her head and arms. "It was like they had a grudge against me and wanted to finish me off," she continues, adding, "I used to get rape and death threats for standing up to the administration."
"The fact that no action has been taken against the perpetrators of the violence on campus proves that we aren't safe anymore and anybody can indulge in violence and get away with it," says Ghosh, opining, "Obviously, the police is very biased. Its press conference clearly shows that." A special investigation team headed by Joy Tirkey, DCP Crime was formed to investigate the violence.
Five days after the incident, the Delhi Police's Crime Branch held a press conference saying that "nine suspects" had been identified. The police, accused of inaction when the masked mob managed to escape unhurt from the campus on the night of the violence after the attack, had not made a single arrest till then.
In the press conference, the police had held responsible four Left organisations for the violence — the Students' Federation of India (SFI), the All India Students' Association (AISA), All India Students' Federation (AISF) and Democratic Students' Federation (DSF), but the ABVP was not named, even though many students claimed to have video evidence against ABVP members indulging in violence. No mention of outsiders having entered the campus was made.
Ghosh, however, calls the list of suspects "unsubstantiated", saying, "The police commissioner came up with my name as a suspect in the press conference held in January. But to date, why haven't charges been filed against me? It is because they don't have evidence."
An NDTV investigation on the matter a day later hinted at the role of ABVP members in the violence, but no action has yet been taken against any members of the ABVP. Among the FIRs filed against students by the administration, no member of the ABVP has been named.
Sucharita Sen, a JNU professor who suffered a severe head injury during the violence recently filed a plea seeking the filing of an FIR against the 'wanton acts of violence' she suffered. In her case, as in many others, no FIR has been filed.
She recalls, "I was among the first people to get hurt. When this mob entered the Sabarmati Tea Point, the JNUTA holding a peace march. I came forward because I felt they would not hurt women professors, and we also didn't want the students to come forward. But we were wrong, they started pelting stones at us, and some of those hit me in the head. I started bleeding profusely." Seeking an early hearing on the matter, considering that the case had been dormant for over four months, Sen had had moved an early hearing application before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Patiala House Court.
In response to Sen's plea, the Delhi court on Tuesday directed the Delhi Police's Crime Branch to file a status report in the JNU violence case. "Let a status report be called from the Crime Branch, New Delhi within seven days from today mentioning the details of the FIR and the action taken pursuant to it," the two-page order said, posting the matter for 18 May. The status report on the matter has already been postponed twice, once listing the matter for hearing on 25 April, and then to 18 June on the account of extension of the lockdown.
Delhi Police PRO, MS Randhawa said, "The investigation is ongoing. We are hoping we'll have a breakthrough soon."
Updated Date: May 07, 2020 16:19:54 IST