This past weekend Jamia Milia Islamia University in New Delhi was engulfed in protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that ended up in violence. While the issue of protest was one significant aspect of it, the other – the most photographed and circulated on social media where women students who were seen helming it and even seen confronting the police.
What caused the protests to go violent?
Students of the university claim that those involved in protests were staging a peaceful demonstration against what the CAA stands for and then they were joined by the local residents surrounding the university from Jamia Nagar who escalated the protests further. In a matter of a few hours on Sunday, a large number of policemen and Rapid Action Force personnel surrounded and entered the university shelling tear gas for almost two hours, cracking down on students and breaking into the university without permission from the administration, says a female student, who wants to remain unnamed for the fear of witch-hunting, to SheThePeople.TV.
“Buses were burnt down in the New Friends Colony area by civilians which did not include the students of Jamia that instigated the police but why did they clamp down on the university is unknown,” she says.
“A lot of things have changed in a matter of a few hours. I used to tell my mother that we are inside the university and it was safe. Now we aren’t even safe there. Anybody can come from anywhere”
Another student, Farheen Fatima, a masters student of journalism from Jamia tells us the sequence of protest as she recounts from December 12 night, women students marched to protest against the CAA and she was also a part of it. “We got a call that at 7 pm that all the girls had to assemble at the main gate which is gate No. 7. We blocked the road for some time after which it started to rain and the crowd dispersed. Then on Friday, the University’s Teachers’ Association sent out a call for a protest inside the campus and simultaneously another protest was happening where police lathi-charged the students and attacked them with water cannons and stun guns. This continued till Saturday as there was hundreds of police personnel deployed in the area and while they were throwing tear gas shells from outside the campus, they did not come inside.”
“On Sunday, protests weren’t called by the students but the people of Jamia Nagar who organised demonstrations in various localities like Batla House, Shaheebagh and they were moving towards Julena area. Police started to lathi charge against the protestors and then the angry mob set the bus on fire. We aren’t sure who these people were who set the bus ablaze but they weren’t students of Jamia as they weren’t carrying any explosive material that could be used to light a fire,” Fatima adds.
She recalls that in just a matter of a few minutes, they got to know that the police has barged into their campus. “I was at gate No. 8 when they entered. I saw them attacking whoever came in their way whether it was men or women. They vandalised Jamia’s property by shelling tear gas. People were offering Namaz in the mosque and they went and attacked them as well. It was very scary and it continued for four hours from 5 pm to 9 pm.”
Stories of trauma and survival
Farheen has been a part of many protests before this one but she says that the attacks in Jamia on Sunday have traumatised her to the point of insomnia. “Every time I close my eyes, I get reminded that anything could happen and that I must be aware of my surroundings,” she says adding that she did her Bachelors’ degree from Aligarh Muslim University where she participated in protests including the protests against Jinnah’s portrait in AMU.
“When the attacks started to happen in Jamia, I felt like that was something no one should experience in their lives. We felt that we should tell our parents that ‘it was all over and we could die any moment’. There were so many injured students all around me and since the police had barricaded the campus, they couldn’t even get medical care for a significant amount of time. We felt helpless because we didn’t know whom to call. In such moments of despair, we call the police. But here we were being bombarded by the police itself,” Farheen remembers.
There were exams going on in the university which the administration had to call off due to the protest and the attacks. Priyanka Grewal, another student from Jamia, says that she wasn’t actively part of the protest on Sunday but the attacks petrified her so much that she fled from the campus. “When I left the place to go to the Jamia metro station, I saw that some people set a van ablaze and I could hear firing clamour from all sides like Sukhdev Vihar, Okhla and NFC and because they had closed down the metro stations, there was no way out of it.”
When the police entered the campus, Grewal had already left the university. “Jamia has been very apolitical like we don’t have a students’ association in the way other universities have it. Since the university is comprised of people from so many different communities that we accept dissent and diversity of thoughts,” Grewal adds.
“I haven’t come out of the trauma yet and I feel scared going anywhere particularly in the campus. It was our safe space”
Another student who doesn’t want to be named due to fear of being labelled questions, “How could the police enter the campus? I am from a place where the situation is already very sensitive and tickets are very costly so I can’t even think of going back. I am in my hostel right now and our warden has warned us that anything could happen so we have to take our responsibility in our own hands. I have also got to know that she has fled too. The faculty is telling us to stay indoors.”
Sadia Zareen, one of the basketball players of the university, had nothing to do with the protests when the police crackdown happened. After college hours, she was headed towards the basketball court for a practice session like usual and more so these days because of All India tournaments which are slated to be held in early January. “I had gone for team practice to the basketball court and the boys’ team was also there because they had their qualifier match on December 16. Suddenly, we heard sounds of firing and I started to feel suffocated because of a weird gas (tear gas) that I could smell. We were asked to move indoors and for four hours we were trapped inside the sports complex before we were allowed to leave.”
“One of the policemen asked us if we were leaving from the sports complex and when we said yes, they asked us to leave quickly,” she says adding that she lives in a hostel inside the campus and that she originally belongs to Bihar. “Everybody is telling us wherever we are, just be there and don’t come near the hostel because the girls were trapped there and policemen had entered the girls’ hostels as well. That day inside the sports complex, I thought it was my last day. My friends were stuck inside the library and they also thought that they would die. I haven’t come out of the trauma yet and I feel scared going anywhere particularly in the campus. It was our safe space,” Sadia shares her experience.
“A lot of things have changed in a matter of a few hours. I used to tell my mother that we are inside the university and it was safe. Now we aren’t even safe there. Anybody can come from anywhere plus it is the police that led the crackdown if we feel unsafe in their presence then who do we go to? I don’t know why they entered the girls’ hostel and why they wouldn’t let injured students seek medical treatment?”
On the other hand, a police statement read, “They (Jamia protestors) broke barricades and indulged in stone-pelting at police personnel which also caused damage to parked vehicles. Police had to lob tear gas shells with the use of limited force to disperse the protesters. Forty-two protesters were detained and subsequently released. In this incident, 12 police personnel were injured and two of them with relatively serious injuries are under observation in ICU.”
Jamia administration speaks
Jamia’s Vice-Chancellor, Najma Akhtar, also demanded “a high-level inquiry” into the police crackdown on university students saying police did not have permission to enter the campus.
“Police entered the campus without permission. We will not tolerate police presence on campus. They scared our students with police brutality. There has been huge damage to university property,” said Najma Akhtar, adding, “We will file an FIR on the damage of property and police action on students.”
Waseem Kham, the Chief Proctor of Jamia University, also condemned the “barbaric” behaviour of the Delhi Police that happened after the entry of Delhi police without the permission of any JMI official including himself on Sunday. In an official statement released today, he refuted the allegations made by Solicitor General of India in the apex court today that it was him who allowed entry to Delhi Police inside the campus.
“Jamia has been very apolitical like we don’t have a students’ association in the way other universities have it. Since the university is comprised of people from so many different communities that we accept dissent and diversity of thoughts”
After-impact of the clampdown
The protest and the subsequent police rampage gave rise to protests in other institutions as well including Aligarh Muslim University, Hyderabad’s Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Lucknow’s Nadwa College etc. Student bodies of NLS, NUALS, NALSAR, MNLU Mumbai, MNLU Nagpur, NLUO, HNLU and NUSRL have also released a joint statement in solidarity with the students of Jamia who suffered attacks. The clampdown has not deterred Jamia students from protesting as they continue to show their dissent to the CAA. “Police have not been successful in instilling fear within us, in fact, they stand exposed to what they believe in and what power structure controls them,” one of the students claimed.