On Sunday evening, six students were injured as members of Left groups and the RSS students’ outfit ABVP clashed on the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus. While the latter alleged Ram Navami celebrations were obstructed, the former said it was the ABVP that initiated the violence over serving of non-vegetarian food inside Kaveri hostel.
Every Sunday, meat is supplied in all hostels of JNU. But ABVP members, according to sources in the mess and hostel committee, told the mess manager on Saturday evening to avoid meat this time in view of the Ram Navami – four poojas were held across the campus on the day.
As members of the hostel committee came to know about this on Sunday morning, several rounds of talks were held between morning and evening, said Arun Sukumaran, among the two hostel committee members present on campus on Sunday. In the afternoon, meanwhile, the meat supplier arrived to deliver the usual stock at 2 pm but was turned away, allegedly by the ABVP members.
However, the mess secretary made another call to the supplier, and called him back.
Around 4 pm, the meat supplier returned, but was heckled this time with ABVP members using slurs against two hostel committee members and other students present on the spot. “When the meat supplier came back, two ABVP men heckled him. We have identified the ABVP members,” said Arun Sukumaran.
Another eyewitness who works at a dhaba in the campus also said the meat vendor was heckled – Newslaundry saw a video where ABVP members were warning him outside the hostel.
There was a brief verbal exchange between the ABVP and Left groups, but the situation did not escalate. Around 5.30 pm, the Ram Navami pooja began, and went on till around 7, co-inciding with iftaar in the Muslim holy month of Ramzan.
Meanwhile, condemning the ABVP’s objections to the meat vendor, the hostel committee said no dinner will be served in the mess, JNUSU sources alleged, adding that this irked the ABVP. While the hostel committee members, along with other residents, held another round of talks with mess committee members at 7.30 pm to tackle the issue of dinner, at least 50 students, at least 30 of them belonging to ABVP, started raising slogans such as “Jai Shri Ram” in the mess. Around 40 students associated with the Left-controlled JNU Students’ Union and Left groups, including SFI, then reached the spot.
“Students belonging to Left groups were counter sloganeering. When they shouted Jai Bheem, ABVP students used foul language demeaning Dalits and women,” said one of the guards, seeking anonymity – at least 12 guards were present.
“That’s when the ABVP members threw bricks and pelted stones at us. They collected the scrap that was kept for recycling and hit us,” said Apeksha Priyadarshini, a JNUSU member.
However, JNU ABVP president Rohit Kumar blamed Left groups for targeting seven workers of his outfit. “The guards didn’t protect us from the Leftist attacks. It is not our culture to pelt stones.”
Two guards were injured in the violence.
Rohit Kumar also said there was tension in the hostel WhatsApp groups over the pooja and alleged that there were verbal threats against the event since Friday. “Anti-social elements belonging to left parties threatened to put bones in the prasad,” he said. “We defended ourselves, requested them to be peaceful and even tried to run away from the clash site. But the Left groups were so aggressive.”
“The Leftist groups couldn’t tolerate the fact that four religious events were celebrated on the campus yesterday to mark Ram Navmi…Vegetarian vs non-vegetarian food is just a cover-up. They wanted to disrupt the celebrations.”
Meanwhile, the JNU administration has backed the ABVP’s claims.
“It was the occasion of Rama Navami and ‘hawan’ was organised by the students in the Kaveri hostel and there were students who were objecting to this. The wardens and the Dean of Students tried to pacify and the hawan was concluded peacefully. Despite this, some group of students were not happy with this and soon after, at the time of dinner, a ruckus was created over there and heated arguments were followed by altercation between both the groups in the Kaveri hostel,” JNU Registrar Ravikesh said in a statement on Monday.
However, a resident of Kaveri hostel who also participated in the pooja, said that there were no disruptions to the religious event. “It was supposed to start at 3.30 pm, but started at 5 pm as the organisers were busy with not allowing meat inside the hostel,” said a resident, not wishing to be quoted.
In the ensuing violence, at least 60 students were injured, according to both sides, while police pegs the number at six. Two guards were injured while trying to control the situation.
A fact-finding committee is constituted to investigate the matter, said Sudheer Pratap Singh, Dean of Students. “There are seven student groups in JNU. A thorough investigation is being held to identify the groups and the members involved in the clash. We are going through multiple videos from the clash to arrive at a conclusion,” said Gopal Ram, one of the four wardens of Kaveri hostel.
JNU V-C Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit didn’t respond to calls made by this reporter. “The vice-chancellor who reached Kaveri hostel last night said that there should be no religious events conducted in the hostel premises,” said Arun Sukumaran.
On a video of SFI unit president Harendra Seshama pelting stones at the mob, Arun Sukumaran said, “He was just trying to scare them away because ABVP members were hitting Akhtarista Ansari, an AISA member, brutally.” Ansari’s images with blood on injury to her head were widely circulated on social media.
The Delhi Police had reached the spot after a call by a student but didn’t act swiftly to control the situation, according to eyewitnesses. “The police, after our repeated appeals, pacified the ABVP members. They later on went on a march,” said Apeksha.
Meanwhile, the DCP (south west) onn Monday said an FIR has been lodged against unknown ABVP students based on a complaint from Left student outfits under IPC sections 323, 341, 509, 506 and 34. “Further Investigation is on to collect factual/ scientific evidence and identify the culprits…students belonging to ABVP have also intimated that they will be giving the complaint today morning. On receipt of the same, necessary action will be taken.”
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