Violence flares at Delhi university as protests continue against Indian citizenship law

Updated 16 Dec 2019

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Policemen detain an injured student outside Jamia Millia Islamia university in Delhi during a protest against Citizenship Amendment Act on Sunday. — AP
Policemen detain an injured student outside Jamia Millia Islamia university in Delhi during a protest against Citizenship Amendment Act on Sunday. — AP

More than 100 activists protesting against a new Indian citizenship law were injured in New Delhi on Sunday as they clashed with police who used tear gas and baton charges to disperse demonstrators at a major university.

Thousands, including students at the Jamia Millia Islamia University, protested against a new law that will give citizenship to non-Muslims fleeing religious persecution from several neighboring countries. The third day of what had been a peaceful demonstration against the law, passed by India’s Parliament last week, descended into chaos on Sunday afternoon. Three buses were set on fire, police officials said.

Chinmoy Biswal, a top police official, said that six police personnel were injured in the melee in an upscale enclave of south Delhi.

Student organisers blamed outsiders for the violence.

“We have time and again maintained that our protests are peaceful and non-violent,” they said in a statement. “We stand by this approach and condemn any party involved in the violence.”

Explainer: What does India's new citizenship law mean?

At Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi, where slogans such as “#SecularIndia” were graffitied on buildings, many students told The Associated Press that the police fired tear gas inside the university’s library and beat up protesters before sealing all campus gates.

“We were treated like criminals. Scores were injured and I escaped from the campus to save my life,” said student Tufail Ahmad.

Outside campus, the area around Delhi’s Jamia Nagar, a predominantly Muslim area, was deserted with shops and houses latched tight after the violent protests.

A trail of stones that video footage showed protesters pelted earlier in the day at police lay with debris of broken glass and splatters of blood.

Videos shared with the AP from students streaming past a police perimeter surrounding the campus showed scenes of chaos in the university library with police firing tear gas and students huddled under tables and locked inside bathrooms.

“Police have entered the campus by force, no permission was given. Our staff and students are being beaten up and forced to leave the campus,” said Waseem Ahmed Khan, a top official of Jamia Millia Islamia University.

Many of the injured students were taken to nearby hospitals, including Holy Family, where about 26 students were treated, according to Father George, the hospital’s spokesman.

“The police beat me mercilessly after pinning me down to the ground. My other friends weren’t spared either,” said Mujeeb Raza, a student who was being treated at the nearby Al-Shifa hospital.

Local authorities ordered all schools in southeast Delhi to remain closed on Monday. Jamia Millia university had already said, on Saturday, that it was closing early for the winter break. The Aligarh Muslim University in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh announced that it was shutting early for the break after student protesters clashed with police on Sunday.

Hundreds of activists gathered outside the New Delhi police headquarters on Sunday night to protest against alleged police brutality and the detention of students.

Jamia Millia Islamia Vice Chancellor Nazma Akhtar released a video message for students, reported India Today on Monday, in which she said she stands in solidarity with them. She also said she will take up the issue of police forcing their way into the university with authorities at the highest level soon.

India Today quoting police said that as many as 50 students, who were detained during the protests on Sunday, were released in the early hours of Monday.

Videos show chaotic scenes

Videos showed chaotic scenes inside the hall, with sounds of things being smashed and students running and crouching under desks, reported Scroll.in.

A female student said that when the police started charging into the campus, many students ran back to the hostel area. “Many students were caught in police lathicharge,” she was quoted as saying by Scroll.in. “Some injured were taken to the hospital but others still hiding in the hostels.”

The students said that the police were “uncontrollable” as they beat them. In some places, the lights were switched off. “Even empty buildings were raided,” a student was quoted as saying by Scroll.in. “Some policemen entered the toilets and attacked students.”

A video showed a student lying unconscious on the floor of a washroom, while another student cowered in a corner, his face covered with a blood-stained cloth.

The police denied firing inside the campus, though videos that emerged later in the evening showed policemen using rifles. Some students who spoke to Scroll.in said that they thought rubber bullets had been fired.

BJP-Congress blame game

The protests have raged particularly in some eastern states such as Assam, Tripura and West Bengal, where resentment towards Bangladeshi immigrants has persisted for decades. The death toll from violent protests in northeast India rose to six on Sunday.

Authorities have shut down internet access in several parts of the affected states in an attempt to maintain law and order.

Modi, speaking at a rally in the eastern state of Jharkhand on Sunday, blamed the opposition Congress party and its allies for inciting violence against the citizenship law.

The Congress party in turn slammed Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party on Twitter saying, the government “has failed at its duty to maintain peace in the nation.”