“They pulled my hair, they punched me in the face. I was basically thrashed.” This is from journalist Tarini Kumar’s Facebook live session, which she put up around 3pm this afternoon. She was talking about what had happened to her when she was on assignment for The Quint. From the violence that she describes — aside from the injuries she has sustained, Kumar’s phone camera, selfie stick and microphone were smashed — you might think she was in a conflict zone. Actually, Kumar was at Ramjas College, in Delhi University (DU), covering a set of student protests.
Kumar is not the only one. Sauradeep Roy of Newsclick and Aditya Menon from Catch News were also roughed up.
“Somehow, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) students had surrounded the students led by All India Students’ Association (AISA) and Delhi Police positioned themselves between the groups,” Menon told Newslaundry. At the time, he’d been taking a statement from former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) vice president Shehla Rashid. She was part of a protest march that had reached near Daulat Ram College in Delhi University’s North Campus. “Two girls and three boys from ABVP attacked Rashid and started pulling her by hair,” said Menon. “She tried to hand over her phone to me. This was when four other members of ABVP attacked me from behind.” Menon was punched, slapped and his glasses were crushed by those who attacked.
Menon had suspected he’d been attacked by ABVP members and his suspicions were confirmed a little later. “A group of members from ABVP later came to me to apologise saying, ‘We didn’t realise that you were a journalist’.”
It’s been an eventful week for Ramjas College, which is one of the few colleges in DU that is a Left stronghold. AISA enjoys popularity among Ramjas students and has cadre presence in the college. Yesterday, the college’s literary society made news when ABVP supporters violently protested against a seminar it had organised. The literary society of Ramjas College had invited Umar Khalid, Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader, to be part of a two-day seminar titled, “Cultures of Protest”. As it turned out, the event lived up to its name.
Khalid, a distinguished PhD student, was to present a paper on Bastar, but ABVP members and supporters of Ramjas College were having none of that. There was stone pelting, sloganeering and the police had to escort students and those participating in the seminar. Khalid ultimately did not attend the seminar because the police who were stationed at Ramjas College advised him to stay away. His absence didn’t calm the situation down. ABVP supporters allegedly threw bricks into the seminar room. Later in the day, the college administration cancelled the entire seminar. (Former JNUSU vice president Shehla Rashid was supposed to speak at the event today.) Although there was a lathicharge, no First Information Reports were filed against any of those who caused damage and roughed up students.
To register a peaceful protest against this, AISA announced that its members would march from Ramjas College to Maurice Nagar Police Station. It was supposed to start at 1pm. In anticipation, a crowd of 150 students from other colleges gathered outside Ramjas College, to show their support for the AISA-led protest.
Students alleged that ABVP members closed off entry to the college and went from class to class, threatening students if they joined the protest. “As our members were mobilising students through classroom addresses, ABVP members asked students to not join the protest, as it would mean that they are supporting anti-national students on the campus. Then followed a series of threats,” Aman Nawaz from AISA told Newslaundry. There are allegations that ABVP members told members of the college’s literary society that they would be beaten up for inviting “anti-nationals” to Ramjas College.
When the gates were opened to allow AISA’s march to begin, violence erupted. “We were standing outside the college gate and ABVP members started beating students,” said Professor Abha Dev Habib. “This is for the first time that ABVP members kept attacking students and teachers and the police didn’t take any strong action to stop them.”
The police tried to form a line and keep AISA and ABVP supporters apart. They also tried to intervene when students were being manhandled and at one point, there was a lathicharge. However, Habib maintained that the police would have controlled the situation if it had actively stopped ABVP members by detaining those who were attacking protestors. “When teachers join a protest led by students, it gets legitimacy and that is why this time even teachers were identified and beaten up,” said Habib. “My own student from Miranda House, Mahamedha, an ABVP member, was attacking teachers. She pulled me by [my] hair.”
This mayhem continued for hours. While several students led by AISA have received injures, Prof Prashanto Chakrabarty of Delhi University’s English Department was allegedly attacked by ABVP members and was admitted at Hindu Rao Hospital.
News spread quickly and as the media gathered, protesters and journalists became part of the violent mob. According to Menon, at least one media outlet was welcome by the ABVP.
While TV news journalists haven’t reported any damage, reporters from some websites did take a beating. It’s possible that, with their phones and selfie sticks, they didn’t stand out noticeably as members of the press.
AISA has released this press statement:
“The impunity ABVP enjoys in Delhi University and the silent, covert support they enjoy from Delhi Police was very much evident today too, when students and teachers who participated today were roughed up and physically assaulted by the ABVP. More than 20 teachers and students have been badly injured and receiving treatment at hospitals including Hindu Rao. Yet police refuses to file FIR or take any action.”
AISA and teachers, who participated in today’s protest, have requested that the not downplay what happened in Ramjas College today as a clash between two student bodies. Kawalpreet Kaur of AISA described it as a “riot” that was carried out allegedly by ABVP and continued uninterrupted for hours.
Later, these students were picked by Delhi Police and were being carried to an unknown location in a bus.
ABVP’s response has been defensive. “We will not allow students from JNU to enter Delhi University and create an anti-national atmosphere like they did in JNU,” Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU) President, Amit Tanwar told Newslaundry. He said that ABVP and DUSU’s official stand is that no JNU student should be allowed to enter DU. He also alleged that students led by AISA had abused and provoked ABVP members. When asked what the provocation was, he said, “These students were raising anti-national slogans.” Tanwar denied allegations of ABVP members manhandling journalists who were covering the protest.
DUSU President Tanwar confirmed that no one from his party was injured during the protest, that the police hasn’t taken any action against any ABVP member and no ABVP member is on the bus that’s picked up protestors. However, Satender Awana of ABVP, and a former DUSU president, said that about nine ABVP members had been injured today. He said things got “out of hand” when “all the Communists ganged up against ABVP”.
Although Left-inclined parties have never won a seat in the DUSU panel, AISA has seen a spike in terms of both cadre and support amongst DU students over the last four years. AISA’s cadre has grown and has regularly organised activities on issues that are close to students, like rent control, gender equality, hostel and the prominence of money-muscle power in DU. Perhaps ABVP sees AISA’s renewed resurgence as a threat to their dominance in DU politics. The violence reflects this changing DUSU dynamics, students say.
The situation continues to be tense in North Campus. There are reports of Ramjas College professors giving refuge to students because they fear ABVP supporters may target them. A group of approximately 100 students had stationed itself outside Maurice Nagar Thana, demanding the police file FIRs against those who caused the violence. They’ve since been picked up by the police and are on the bus that was circling around Delhi at the time of publication. Those demanding ABVP be held accountable for today’s incidents include 20-odd professors from various colleges of DU.
There are unconfirmed reports that ABVP members were searching hostels and paying guest accommodation “to single out protesting students”.
Updated at 9.27pm: The 100-odd students who were picked up by Delhi Police have been released near Hauz Khas.