A celebration of hope.
This was the focus of a press conference held on December 15 at the Press Club premises in Raisina Road, marking two years since the attack on the students of Jamia Millia Islamia University.
With writer and activist Arundhati Roy as chief guest, the event – titled “State Repression, With Hunt, and Resistance” – was attended by students and teachers of Jamia, among others.
On December 13, 2019, Jamia students had held a protest march against the Citizenship Amendment Act. They were stopped by the Delhi police a few hundred metres from the campus, beaten up, and teargassed. Two days later, the Delhi police and the paramilitary RAF stormed the campus, as well as the campus of the Aligarh Muslim University, brutalised the students, and wrecked university property.
Eyewitness accounts described it as a “” and an “”.
The first session, “Testimonies: Bearing Witness”, at the press conference was chaired by author Farah Naqvi and included two students, Akhtarista Ansari and Anugya Jha, who had been present during the attack, as well as Radhika Chitkara from the People’s Union for Democratic Rights and Fawaz Shaheen from the Quill Foundation.
Photos on display at the Press Club.
Farah said, “We are living in a time when the act of gathering facts is enough to brand you an anti-national. That night, and the days since then, the police tried to snatch the truth away from the students, who were at the forefront of the protest. They told them that what they saw was lies. Today, the students say that they will take back their truth and bear witness to Jamia’s truth.”
Radhika spoke on behalf of PUDR, which had acted as a fact-finding agency in the incident. She said it was clear that the police’s intention had been to inflict “maximum harm”, evidenced by the deployment of armed forces as well as the nature and indiscriminate use of weapons such as teargas, stun grenades, bullets, and lathis on students.
It should be noted that against the police or rapid action force for the “unauthorised and excessive force” employed that day.
Newslaundry spoke to both Akhtarista Ansari and Anugya Jha on their memories of the day, and the trauma that followed.
‘A life-altering experience’
Akhtarista was an undergraduate student in sociology at Jamia in December 2019. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
What country attacks its university students like criminals, she asked.
“On December 15, we decided to march towards Parliament Street because we were not allowed to do so on December 13,” she said, on what took place two years ago. “You might have seen a viral video of a few girls protecting a boy from being beaten by the police. I was one of them.”
Akhtarista Ansari in the centre, photographed in December 2019.
Akhtarista Ansari at the Press Club two years later.
The police chased them, she recalled, and they took refuge in a “random house” while the police stood outside, “hurling abuses at us and asking us to come out”. The police then “dragged” the male student, Shaheen, outside and “brutally attacked him with a lathi”.
“When we tried to save him,” she said, “they threatened us, saying they would beat us too.”
Akhtarista only found out what had happened on campus when she took the injured Shaheen to Holy Family Hospital.
“The hospital was filled with injured students from Jamia,” she said. “Some were hurt on their legs or their head was bleeding. A lot of my friends who were taken out of the reading hall from inside campus were at the hospital. That is how I knew that the police had entered campus. My friends told me how they were terrified and hid inside the washrooms, but the police had barged in and attacked them.”
She explained that the police had used religious slurs – like “Pakistani” and “jihadi” – while attacking the students, “which made their intentions very clear”. She also recalled seeing the bloodstains in the reading hall when she returned to campus the next day, and a teargas shell in the campus masjid.
Anugya had been a law student in her third semester in December 2019. She called the events of that day a “life-altering experience”. It wasn’t limited to what she personally went through, but was a constellation of “collective memories”.
“I carry everyone’s memories with me,” she said.
“When we started the march, it was a very hopeful afternoon,” Anugya said. “We thought this was going to be a new beginning after what had happened on December 13. We had anticipated that the state was in a mood to curb the protest and it may take some adverse action, but we never imagined it would be this bad.”
There was a “huge rush out of the blue”, Anugya recalled, and before she could make sense of what had happened, she found herself providing first aid to her peers who had been at the front lines of the protest. Once it grew dark, she decided to return to the safety of the Jamia campus.
“We were told that the police had entered the campus, which was unbelievable for us,” she said. “We were clearly instructed not to come back because the campus had become the most dangerous place at that time. We were stranded in the middle of nowhere and had to find places to stay.”
On what she saw when she finally returned to campus, Anugya said, “The campus, which was filled with flowers the day before, was gloomy and dead. It was deliberately killed.”
‘Yaad rakhkha jayega, sab kuch yaad rakhkha jayega’
Akhtarista pointed out that there had been total disregard for eyewitness accounts by students, and that students had been slapped with UAPA charges, intimidated, and interrogated for six hours during the pandemic.
Both she and Anugya also flagged how the Jamia administration had painted over the anti CAA and NRC graffiti on campus – pointing at their “complicity”.
Posters at the remembrance.
“They very smartly thought that since the students aren't here anymore, let's cover up the graffiti and no one will notice,” Anugya said. “However, that has certainly not been the case. We live in a time where everything is documented. The pictures cannot be erased. They cannot whitewash reality.”
On dealing with the trauma of the day, Akhtarista said she had nightmares about it for a very long time. Another student, Hammadur Rahman, said he sought help from a clinical psychologist to overcome what he went through.
Anugya said, “The world moves on and the world around us moves on very fast. But we are in a way still stuck in the same evening. As soon as December hits, none of us can function properly.”
However, Akhtarista believes that they are more than victims.
“Despite the fact that we were brutally beaten, one of the students was even shot, despite it all the protest continued, especially because of the solidarity shown by civil society and other students,” she said. “We have been able to regain the courage we lost.”
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