As ABVP and Left organisations accuse each other of violence, Newslaundry went on the ground to piece together what happened.
With a bandage wrapped around his right arm, Abhishek, a JNU student and member of the RSS students’ wing ABVP, addressed the media outside the university’s entrance on Monday morning. Hours before, he had submitted a written complaint to Delhi’s Vasant Kunj North police station, saying that he was at the receiving end of a “deadly” attack the previous night, allegedly by students of Left organisations on campus.
Abhishek spoke to the media for nearly two hours, to later participate in an ABVP march against Left organisations, raising slogans such as “Naxali gunday campus chhodo”.
On the night of November 14, between 9.30 and 10.30 pm, an argument turned violent between members of the ABVP and Left student parties, inside the office of the JNU Students’ Union at the activity centre building on campus, commonly known as the Teflas building.
As both ABVP and Left organisations accused each other of violence, with people reportedly injured on both sides, Newslaundry went on the ground to piece together what happened.
Across hostel notice boards, walls of shops, restaurants and canteen premises, there is a poster about an event by a Marxist student group called The Hundred Flowers﹘a group of five to six students which does not participate in student union elections but regularly organises political discussions and movie screenings .
According to the poster, the group was going to organise a public study circle on a Karl Marx book, at 9pm on November 14, inside the Students' Union office at the Teflas building. This event and venue, would later that night, become the centre of the clashes.
ABVP activist Abhishek has accused Left outfits of a 'deadly' attack.
‘ABVP wants to instill fear’
Sarthak Nayak, a member of the Hundred Flowers and an M Phil student at the JNU School of International Studies, told Newslaundry, that around 8.30 pm on Sunday, he, along with another student, entered the venue to begin the event, by taking the key from the guard and making an entry into the log register.
“Immediately after, two ABVP members came to the union office, saying that they were going to occupy the venue for their unit meeting,” said Nayak, adding that one of them was Shivam Chaurasia, the president of ABVP’s JNU unit. “We told them that we have booked the room for our event using the due process, put up posters and circulated chits about it, but they said that they will do their meeting here.”
According to Nayak, Chaurasia and his aide said that they did not “care” for the booking process and didn't recognise the JNU Students’ Union. More ABVP members soon gathered inside the room, he said.
According to Aishe Ghosh, the president of the Students’ Union and member of the left organisation SFI, the Union office can only be booked through a fixed procedure, which means that any organisation wanting to occupy it for an event has to inform the office bearers of the union and book their slot by sending message on the WhatsApp group, called ‘JNU activities and Campaigns’.
Newslaundry saw the WhatsApp group message, in which the Hundred Flowers had booked its slot on November 11 for their event.
“The ABVP can also inform on the official JNUSU group, if not the activities group,” she said, “but we got no message or call about their unit meeting.”
Nayak, said that a month ago, the Union Office, having portraits of Bhagat Singh, Che Guevera, Rohith Vemula among others, had been vandalised by ABVP members, after which, a meeting of all organisations was called, where the booking process was made mandatory.
The altercation took place at the JNUSU office.
Around 9.30 pm, she said, the WhatsApp group started receiving messages that ABVP members were “heckling” the organisers of the event at the venue. Soon after, she said, other students and those associated with Left student parties, including Students’ Federation of India, All India Students’ Association, Democratic Students’ Federation and Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association, began gathering at the venue.
Nayak narrated that arguments continued between both sides till about 9.45 pm, with none deciding to leave the room.
“At one point, ABVP workers tried to upturn the office table where two female students were sitting,” he said, adding that a bunch of ABVP members then “climbed on the table to raise slogans”.
“They started blowing loud party horns and raised slogans like Naxali gunday campus chhodo, Bharat Mata ki jai and Vande Mataram,” Nayak said. “At one point, slogans such as “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maro saalon ko and cheen ke dalalon ko, goli maaro saalon ko, were also raised.”
On the Left side, he said, counter slogans like “ABVP gunday, campus chhodo, gundagardi nahi sahenge, campus hai chhatron ka, Sangh ki jagir nahi,” were raised.
Another student and member of the Left group DSF, Sarika Chaudhary, showed Newslaundry videos captured on her phone, in which some of these slogans from both sides can be heard. Individuals were also seen picking up furniture to throw at the crowd.
JNU ABVP president Shivam Chaurasia
According to the head of the Hundred Flowers and Ph D student Lata Kumari, who was present at the venue, a physical altercation ensued when ABVP members “ambushed” Vivek Pandey.
Pandey is a former masters student and former member of the Left group AISA, who entered the room between 10 and 10.30 pm. He is now a member of the SP students’ outfit, the Samajwadi Party Chatra Sabha, and currently not a registered student, as he has applied for a Phd and is awaiting the result.
According to Nayak and Kumari, anyone who then tried to save Vivek was also beaten up by the ABVP members, who she said, later picked up chairs and a “sofa” to throw at the other side. Vivek, according to them and other students Newslaundry spoke to, was taken to AIIMS, after sustaining injuries.
They said that Vivek has been beaten up by the ABVP in the past as well, referring to an alleged incident where he was beaten up inside his hostel room in October last year and also during campus violence in January 2020.
Vivek told Newslaundry that as a campus activist of the Samajwadi Party, he went to the venue at around 10.30 pm to “see what was going on”.
“The moment Shivam Chaurasia saw me, she pointed at me and told people to beat me up,” he said. “After beating me for 10 minutes, they sandwiched me between a metal almirah and a chair.”
He said he was targeted now and in the past, because “the ABVP wanted to single out known student activists from any organisation and beat them up, so that new activists are scared to come forward”.
Lata, of the Hundred Flowers, said there is an attempt being made to spoil JNU’s political culture, adding that since the 2016 campus violence and the almost two years of Covid that the campus remained shut, there are very few campus spaces left “for students to organise public events”. She said the hostel messes had been largely barred for hosting events and the pandemic compounded the closure of such places for political events.
“But the ABVP still gets permission to organise events in messes,” she said, adding that Tapti and Mahi Mandavi hostel messes were recently used by the ABVP for events.
She claimed that the ABVP “wants to instill fear in the mind of new students,” wanting to end the democratic and Left culture on campus, of holding debate and discussions. “If new BA and MA students see that people get beaten up even at a study circle, then they might stop coming for such events.”
According to Nayak, since 2016, the deployment of security guards from the company Cyclops, which only employs ex-servicemen as guards, also suggest an attempt at “militarisation” of the campus and an atmosphere of fear.
‘We were sitting peacefully’
Newslaundry met ABVP campus president Shivam Chaurasiya on campus on Monday, who said, “40 to 45 ABVP students were already sitting inside” the JNUSU office for their routine unit meeting, “when some students came and asked us to vacate the room as they wanted to do their event”.
“No one was inside when we came, otherwise we would not have entered in the first place,” he said, adding that ABVP members had recently agreed to vacate the room when another meeting was already going on. “I don’t know why it is called the JNUSU office, it is the student activity centre,” he said.
“First they were 50 people, who soon increased to 150, including outsiders who were not students,” said Chaurasia, adding that they then started raising slogans against ABVP and RSS and started passing “derogatory” remarks.
Chaurasia said that ABVP members only raised pro-India slogans, denying that the “goli maro” slogan was raised at all. “When ABVP students started to leave the event venue, Left groups such as SFI, AISA and outsiders started pushing and shoving and beating them, in which students got injured and a female student was harassed.”
Saying that he doesn’t recognise that activities and campaigns group as an official one, he said, “We showed them written permission from the chief security officer on Campus to organise our meeting, but they didn’t listen.” Newslaundry was shown the said permission letter, which was unsigned and undated.
Chaurasia said that “many students on the ABVP side were badly injured and taken to AIIMS that night”, adding that their written complaints had been submitted at the Vasant Kunj North police station.
At around 4 pm on Monday, at a protest March organised by ABVP against Left groups, Newslaundry spoke to the allegedly injured ABVP members, who were all present in the march.
ABVP worker and Phd student Srivdevi, 25, who , according to her written complaint has identified her attackers as “Umesh Yadav, Pulki and Vivek Pandey”, told Newslaundry that “she had no idea who attacked her”.
“We were sitting peacefully for our meeting when Left group students came one after another and started shouting at us,” she said, adding that the groups then “raised slogans” and had “heated arguments”, demanding that the ABVP vacate the room.
In the “chaos” she said that she got injured on her neck and was in a state of shock, which left her feeling dizzy. “I went to Safdarjung hospital and had to get a glucose drip.”
Two other students, Abhishek and Kanhaiya Kumar, who had filed written complaints about injuries, were walking in front of the protest march holding a banner. Abhishek, who was wearing a gauge on his arm and band aid around the neck, has mentioned in his written complaint that he was “beaten up” by two AISA students, who “launched a heavy blow on his head”, adding that he also has “a very serious injury on his hand”.
“They even hurled casteist abuses at me along with threats to kill me,” his complaint said.
Kanhaiya Kumar, ABVP worker and student, stated in his complaint that JNU student Lata and others, including Vivek Pandey, “attacked” him, which led to a “serious” injury on the “finger of his right hand”.
Contrary to his complaint, Kumar told Newslaundry that he could not recognise who caused the injury to his finger. He said Left groups used the “tactic” to deploy female students outside the venue, wanting to hinder ABVP students from leaving.
“If we tried to leave between the female students, they would slap a case of physical assault against us,” he said.
At an ABVP campus march on Monday. Three students who were allegedly injured also participated.
Later on Monday, JNUSU and Left student parties also organised a protest march against the ABVP and the events of Sunday.
Gaurav Sharma, DCP South West Delhi, said that the Vasant Kunj North police station had received information about sloganeering and apprehension of a quarrel, “but no quarrel was found taking place on the spot”.
“It was learnt that heated arguments took place between two groups of students on account of organising a seminar in the student union hall,” he said, adding that some ABVP students have submitted written complaints, as well as one student from a Left group.
“Both sides are levelling allegations against each other of disrupting their meeting and quarrel by the other side.”
The Times of India quoted a police official as saying that they had received four Medico Legal Certificates from the complainants, which suggested that no one was injured.
All photographs by Diksha Munjal.
A weekly guide to the best of our stories from our editors and reporters. Note: Skip if you're a subscriber. All subscribers get a weekly, subscriber-only newsletter by default.