- NL Sena
Eyewitnesses dispute the claim that violence was started by protesting students.
Students at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University started protesting against the citizenship law on December 13. For two days, the protests passed off peacefully. Then, on December 15, the students had to make a decision: should they continue demonstrating on the campus or take their protest outside? That morning, residents of Jamia Nagar, where the university is located, planned to march along the Mathura Road. The march started at around 10:30 am, but the students had still not made up their mind.
It was only at around 1 pm that they called for a march of their own. They would start from the university’s main gate and head to Mathura Road. It didn’t go to plan: the students had barely walked a kilometre when they were stopped by the police at Surya Hotel, New Friends Colony. Some of them took an alternative route via Mandir Marg but were again blocked. The students said they tried to convince the police to let them pass but there was a scuffle and the police started beating them up. The crowd dispersed and most of the students returned to the university. This was at around 3.30 pm.
“When people started running, I ran towards New Friends Colony. That is when I saw the bus burning,” recounted Noman Nasir, a student of history who was among those leading the protest.
It was initially claimed that the students had vandalised a bus and burned two more, and that’s why they were brutally beaten up and teargassed by the Delhi police. But the police have since held at least 10 people in judicial custody for allegedly setting the buses on fire, but none of them is a Jamia student. However, according to PTI, three Jamia students have been named, along with former Congress legislator Asif Khan and three local politicians, in an FIR registered in connection with the violence on Sunday. None of them have been arrested yet.
Several eyewitnesses, including residents and shopkeepers, whom Newslaundry spoke with gave the lie to the story of the students having started the violence. Most likely, they said, it was some people marching with the residents who indulged in violence.
A video provided by a shopkeeper which shows some people blocking traffic.
Some of the witnesses recounted seeing some people whom they believed were part of the local residents’ march vandalise and burn motorcycles; smash the windshield of an orange bus; and frighten two policemen deployed at the spot to take refuge in a police box nearby. A video circulated on social media shows policemen putting out smoke rising from the bus. Manish Sisodia, Delhi’s deputy chief minister, had told Newslaundry this video showed the policemen pouring fuel oil inside the bus in order to set it on fire. That, it turns out, wasn’t true. This particular bus was not burned.
A video showing the protestors smashing the windshield of the orange bus.
The same group of protesters, the eyewitnesses said, then marched to New Friends Colony, where they allegedly burnt two buses, a red bus inside the colony and a green one on the main road outside. The protesters dispersed after the police arrived and lathicharged them, a shopkeeper in the area said.
The burnt green bus.
“The students came earlier but the bus was burnt by people who seemed like locals,” said the owner of a sanitaryware store near where the green bus was set afire. “They came after the students left.”
The students asserted as much. “Students of Jamia Millia Islamia disassociate themselves from the violence that has erupted today,” they said in a statement released by the Jamia Alumni Association. “We have time and again maintained that our protests are peaceful and nonviolent, we stand by this approach and condemn any party involved in the violence. We have maintained calm even when students have been lathicharged, and some women protestors badly beaten up. Media personnel are witness to these events. Violence by certain elements is an attempt to vilify and discredit genuine protests. We appeal to everyone to share this message.”
Having been beaten back by the police, the students regrouped outside Jamia Millia’s main gate and continued to demonstrate peacefully. Soon, the police charged at the protesters, driving them to seek refuge on the campus. The police followed them in – without taking the university’ permission as they are required to – releasing teargas and beating up whoever came in their way. Students who were not even part of the protest but idling around on the campus ran towards the library when they saw the police storming in. The police chased them. The students said they tried to prevent the police from entering the library by blocking the door with tables. But that didn’t work. The police barged in and started beating them up. Some of the students trying to hide under tables were found and dragged out.
“I was sitting in the central canteen when I heard that the police had invaded the campus,” recalled Aman Singh, a student of BA Programme. “I ran into the library and hid under a table. The police, however, barged in, started beating up the students and firing teargas shells. One of my friends fell unconscious after inhaling the gas.”
Some of the students escaped to the campus mosque but the police followed them even there and beat them up.
This correspondent visited Holy Family Hospital, where the injured students were admitted. Two of them spoke to Newslaundry.
Many female students alleged that they were told by their wardens to lock themselves in their hostel rooms. Scared, they did. “I am a resident of Begum Hazrat Mahal Girls Hostel. On the night of December 15, we were asked by our warden and caretakers to go to our rooms and switch off the lights,” said a female student who asked not to be named. “They told us the police were coming, so we should hide in our rooms.”
She added, “The next morning, I was asked by the warden and a staff member to sign a blank piece of paper. She said they were making a report saying that the police never entered the hostel.”
Another female student, who too spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, “All the girls in the hostel were crying. We saw the police coming, and our caretakers rushed to lock the gates. Non-resident female students came to our hostel to seek help as they were beaten up by the police. One of the girls who was beaten up was crying. How can they expect us to sign that statement?”
“The whole night was spent in fear and terror,” added another female student, who wouldn’t agree to be identified either, for fear of reprisals.
A university staffer tasked with locking the campus gates at night said, “Students were inside when the police broke the locks on Gate No 8 and began beating up people. I can show you the broken locks.”
Sometime later that night, many students stranded on the campus were evacuated with the help of the proctor. “We don’t even know which student is where,” said a student who was among those evacuated that night, asking not to be named. “I am unable to connect with many of my friends. I don’t know where they are. People were detained for no reason. We were protesting peacefully on our campus. Why did the police beat us up?”