‘Our university isn’t safe. Where do we go?’ Jamia Millia VC’s assurances fail to assuage students’ anger, fear

‘What we saw yesterday on the campus, we just can’t forget.’

ByIsmat Ara
‘Our university isn’t safe. Where do we go?’ Jamia Millia VC’s assurances fail to assuage students’ anger, fear
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A day after the Delhi police violently cracked down on students agitating against the citizenship law at the Jamia Millia Islamia University, Vice Chancellor Najma Akhtar said an FIR will be filed over the violence and an investigation carried out. 

The police had stormed the campus Sunday evening, without the university administrations’s permission, beating up and teargassing the students, and vandalising property. At least 50 students were injured, many of them seriously enough to be admitted in hospital. Around 35 students were detained at Kalkaji and New Friends Colony police stations. It was only after hundreds of students, teachers and ordinary citizens from across the capital held a midnight demonstration outside the Delhi police headquarters that the students were released early in the morning. 

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Akhtar said, “Our students have been protesting peacefully since Friday. What happened yesterday was unfortunate. We don’t care about buses being burnt, that’s the failure of the police. Our concern is only that our students stay safe. Police coming inside without any notice, damaging our property and the barbaric treatment towards students is not acceptable. A lot of damage has been done inside our buildings, we are not concerned about the material loss but about the emotional turmoil that our students had to go through.” 

The vice chancellor’s words, though, didn’t seem to assuage the anger and concerns of the students. 

“I don’t trust the Jamia administration at all,” declared Nadim Ali, a student who would not disclose which department he was in for fear of reprisal. “We have been protesting for three days but the vice chancellor didn’t come out to support us once. She could at least have condemned what happened. What we saw yesterday on the campus, we just can’t forget. Teargas inside the library and study halls, the arrest of our imam from the mosque and the panic situation that was created is something we will never forgive them for.” 

Students protest outside the university on Monday.

According to a guard at the campus mosque who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, the imam had been urging the students to maintain peace when the police arrested him. The students said they had to negotiate with the police to release him. 

Anvita Goel, a law student, recounted, “I was near the hostel canteen at around 5.15 pm when I saw clouds of black smoke engulfing the area. Suddenly, I started getting calls that the situation outside had deteriorated, then the explosions started. We were asked to run upstairs, to our rooms. The screaming started and there was an influx of students from the main gate. Now the students who were allowed into the hostel’s ground floor were those who were inside the university and not at the protest. I saw my teachers and proctors being helpless, and the students. Security guards of the university were overpowered by the police as well as the outsiders, and beaten up mercilessly.” 

Students said they were so scared they locked themselves in their rooms, blocking the doors with beds and turning off the lights. “We spent an entire night in terror and in anticipation of something worse,” said Saniya, a resident of the womens’ hostel who wouldn’t give her second name. 

Hashmat Naiyareen was in the library when the police stormed the campus. “My entire family was worried sick at that point. I don’t know how many calls I got from relatives and friends, and I’m still getting the calls. My parents were worried but they said ‘meri beti sherni hai’ after listening to me narrate what had happened last night. They are showing immense courage.” 

Srijan Chawla, a student of Mass Communication, said, “They talk about women’s safety in our country but yesterday my female friends were stuck in the hostel when the police entered. They could not even run out. At that time, they felt that even the streets were safer than the hostels.”

Mohommad Faisal, who is studying for a postgraduation in architecture, said, “Yesterday was a dark day in the history of our country. I saw with my own eyes students being thrashed and beaten up like criminals on the campus. If they showed this much aggression in other places, there would be no criminals in India. Men and women have been assaulted on the campus. We are scared. We didn’t even go out to get food last night. We don’t know where to go. Even the campus isn’t safe anymore.”

Faisal said his parents were scared and urging him not to join the protests. “My father told me, ‘Beta, mat jao protest me, ladkon ko utha rahe hain, wo wahi terror wapis laa rahe hain jo L-18 ke time pe hua tha,” he added, referring to the infamous 2008 Batla House encounter in which a Jamia student was gunned down by the police in House No L-18. Afterwards, the police had detained several young men for interrogation.

Terrified after last night’s “terror”, many students, especially women, are leaving their hostels to return home. 

“Yesterday, they vandalised our entire university, beat up teachers and students. I have no words. Jamia is like home to us. But this brutality has shaken us. It was a really hard night,” Rida, a resident of J&K Hostel, said shortly before leaving for her home in Uttar Pradesh. “We don’t feel safe on the campus anymore. Police are firing at anybody and everybody. They’ve gone mad. It’s a collective decision of most of the students to leave the campus now. The police have been successful in dispersing the students. Delhi isn’t safe, our university isn’t safe…where do we go?”

Many of the students who are still at the university, meanwhile, have been protesting on the roads outside since morning.

Photographs by Ismat Ara.

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