After an armed mob wreaked havoc in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University on January 5, a photograph went viral on social media of two masked men and a woman standing in the corridor of the Sabarmati hostel.
Newslaundry has already identified the woman as Komal Sharma, a member of the Delhi University chapter of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Sharma has since filed a complaint with the National Commission for Women, saying she was innocent. However, the Delhi police have confirmed that it’s her in that photograph and some videos of the violence on January 5.
Now, the JNU Students Union claims to have identified the man brandishing what looks like a sledgehammer in the picture as Jayant Kumar, a first-year student at JNU’s Centre of French and Francophone Studies. Kumar is from Bhagalpur, Bihar, and moved to Delhi about six months ago to study at the university.
The union tweeted out a video of the violence in the Sabarmati hostel, circling the faces of a few of the masked attackers. One was identified as Sharma, the other as Kumar.
“Masked man with the sledgehammer is Jayant Kumar. He’s a first-year BA student of the French centre,” the union’s general secretary, Satish Chandra Yadav, told Newslaundry. “The girl in the video has already been identified by the media as Komal Sharma. She is a student of Delhi university.”
How could he be so certain? “Jayant was roaming the campus on that day and was seen by many students,” Yadav replied. “He was identified from his body language and clothes. It may be difficult for outsiders to identify him but it isn’t hard for us. Students know each other.”
Newslaundry accessed another video which Kumar’s classmates allege shows him roaming the campus unmasked.
Kumar’s identity, and his role in the mob violence, was discussed at length in a WhatsApp group by students of the Centre of French and Francophone Studies. Newslaundry has accessed this WhatsApp conversation.
In the chat, one student posted a video purportedly of Kumar standing, unmasked, near the Godavari bus stand with a group of armed men. “This is you, Jayant, clearly visible,” the student wrote. Another added, “This is Jayant here.”
Subsequent messages from Kumar’s classmates also identified him, and demanded an explanation for what he was doing. One student posted, “Jayant, please address this.” Another asked Kumar to come forward and speak for himself.
Yet another student said, “As classmates, at least we can make him famous.”
The video of an “unmasked Kumar” near the Godavari bus stand is around 21 seconds long. Over two dozen students from CFFS identified the person in the video holding what looks like a sledgehammer as Kumar. Most of them spoke anonymously for fear of reprisals. Some, though, spoke on the record.
Prateek Pandey, a classmate of Kumar's, said it was indeed Kumar in the video. “Jayant has been very active in ABVP-sponsored violence on the campus. He has participated in scuffles between the ABVP and the ‘lockdowners’ during the fee hike protest," Pandey alleged, referring to students from leftist unions. "The guy with the hammer in the Sabarmati hostel video is Jayant. Many of our classmates have identified him. He’s also clearly identified in the Godavari video where he’s brandishing a sledgehammer and not wearing a mask.”
Arti Kumari, another classmate of Kumar's, said, “Person with the sledgehammer is Jayant. There is no doubt about it.”
Kumari claimed that sometime before entering Sabarmati hostel on the evening of January 5, Kumar had a “fight” at the administration block. “He was seen fighting with a belt in his hand,” she said. “Then in the evening, he was involved in the attack at the Sabarmati hostel. After coming back from Sabarmati, he hid in the Periyar hostel.”
Kumari said a sledgehammer was found outside her friend’s room in the Periyar hostel. She claimed it belonged to Kumar. “Everyone in the CFFS has identified him,” she continued. “We’re all questioning him in our class WhatsApp group but he isn’t responding properly. There are about 200 students in the group, and he’s been identified by them all.”
Shubham Kumar, a former student of the CFFS, identified Kumar in the video shot near the Godavari bus stop. “That is Jayant Kumar, a first-year student of CFFS,” he said after watching the video. “I am a former student and I follow the activities in JNU. It’s sad to know that a fellow student was part of the attack. It’s not the first time. Whenever there’s even minor violence by the ABVP, Jayant is there at the site, creating a ruckus.”
A professor at the Centre of French and Francophone Studies too identified Kumar in the Godavari bus stop video. “He resembles a student in my class named Jayant Kumar,” the professor told Newslaundry. “He often bunks my classes.”
On January 6, one of Kumar’s classmates from CFFS had a conversation with him on Instagram. Newslaundry has a screenshot of this conversation.
“I questioned him about the viral photos and videos of him holding the hammer,” the classmate claimed, speaking anonymously. “He said he was ‘hiding’ inside the Sabarmati hostel. On being asked what he was doing inside Sabarmati, he didn’t give an answer. I also told him people aren’t blind — he can be clearly identified and the video has his voice as well.”
The classmate took a screenshot of their conversation. The next day, though, she added, Kumar unsent the messages on Instagram and changed his username from @jayant_ku3382 to @d_kapoor3382.
Abhijit Bhardwaj, a student at JNU’s Centre of German Studies, identified Kumar in the videos and the photograph. He also alleged that Kumar had “assaulted” him on December 11, 2019.
“I didn’t even know him personally but he assaulted me along with a student from the German Centre,” Bhardwaj alleged. He had spoken out about a German Centre student’s violence in a WhatsApp group chat, Bhardwaj added, and that student turned out to be a friend of Kumar’s. That's why the two of them assaulted him, he claimed.
On January 4, Kumar was involved in a scuffle on the campus. Leftist students protesting against a steep hike in hostel charges tried to block the registration process for the winter semester, and reportedly shut down the wifi. They then clashed with ABVP's supporters.
Kumar can also be seen in another video shot on November 9, shouting slogans along with other ABVP members in support of Vandana Mishra, JNU’s associate dean, when she was gheraoed by leftwing students at the School of International Studies. Mishra had refused to withdraw the hostel manual that proposed, among other things, an increase in fees.
In December, Kumar participated in a rally organised by the ABVP and the JNU Teachers’ Federation in support of the Citizenship Amendment Act.
In August 2019, he had featured in a Facebook post by the ABVP’s JNU chapter, attending a programme with Nidhi Tripathi, the student group’s national general secretary. In WhatsApp conversations accessed by Newslaundry, Kumar frequently notes his inclination towards Hindu nationalist politics.
Kumar’s Instagram account was deactivated on January 6 and his Facebook two days later.
The video purportedly showing Kumar unmasked near the Godavari bus stand was shot by Rohit Raizada. Raizada is not a student of JNU; he was visiting a friend on the campus on January 5.
“I reached at about 6.30 pm,” Raizada said. “I saw some people coming from the Periyar hostel, some others were coming from the admin block road. They gathered near the Godavari bus stand. All of them were carrying sticks and weapons. One person was distributing sticks to them.”
Raizada shot the video at 6.37 pm. “I couldn’t continue, they were brandishing their sticks and threatening people to not take any videos.”
Soon after, Raizada said, the group headed towards the Sabarmati T Point, where representatives from the JNU Teachers’ Association and the JNUSU were holding a meeting. “They were asking bystanders to leave,” Raizada said. “They shouted ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ and ‘Jai Shri Ram’ in sync and marched towards the protest.”
According to Raizada, on the way to the meeting, the crowd “assaulted” someone cycling towards them. This person has been identified as Amit Thorat, an assistant professor at JNU’s Centre for the Study of Regional Development.
“On the evening of January 5, at 4.30 pm, I went to Sabarmati T Point to attend a protest programme,” Thorat told Newslaundry. “When the programme was about to end and I was preparing to leave, some students told me that a group of armed people had gathered near the Periyar hostel. Five or six of us faculty members decided to go there and reason with them. While we were on the way, one of us got a phone call saying we should not go — the group seemed to be dangerous.”
Thorat said he called the police’s helpline and informed them that an armed mob had gathered on the campus. He was on his bicycle, and decided to head towards the Periyar hostel to see what was happening. The hostel is about 100 metres from the Godavari bus stand.
“As soon as I got on the road towards Periyar, I saw 60-70 people with sticks in their hands,” he said. “I was shocked. Many of them had their faces covered with white handkerchiefs. I started to take a photo of them but they caught me. They started shouting and asked me to delete the photo. They surrounded me, forced me to delete it, and then assaulted me.”
Thorat said he abandoned his cycle and ran away. He met up with other teachers and told them what had happened. He claimed the crowd that attacked him then went to the Sabarmati T Point and attacked the teachers and students meeting there. “The protesters went inside the Sabarmati hostel,” he added. “The mob then entered the hostel and attacked students. They also ransacked the hostel.”
Newslaundry telephoned Jayant Kumar to ask if it was him in the viral photograph from the Sabarmati hostel as well as videos of violence on the campus. “This is all propaganda,” Kumar said.
Where was he on the evening of January 5? “I just want to say this is propaganda, let an enquiry happen,” Kumar said. “I don’t want to say anything more than this.” Asked if he was still attending classes at JNU, Kumar disconnected the phone.
Newslaundry also sent Kumar text messages mentioning he had been identified by many of his classmates in the video shot near the Godavari bus stand. He did not respond.
Newslaundry contacted MS Randhawa, the Delhi police’s public relations officer, asking if the police have identified Kumar as one of those who perpetrated the violence on January 5. Randhawa did not respond.