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'It was complete mayhem': Delhi's JNU students and teachers describe brutal attacks on Sunday evening

As a masked mob carried out attacks on campus, a group at the gate assaulted journalists reporting on the violence.

Updated 06 Jan, 2020 11:03am

At around 5pm on Sunday evening, as a peace march organised by the Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers Association was winding up on campus, participants got word that a group of masked people was going from hostel to hostel, attacking students.

The campus had been tense for a few days as one section of students had been protesting against the sharp increase in hostel fees by the university authorities. As registrations for the new semester started, minor scuffles had been reported.

The peace march by the teachers’ association aimed to restore calm. But as participants began to disperse, "a huge bunch of people with their faces covered suddenly attacked us," said Shukla Sawant, a professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics. "They came running down the road pelting stones and beating people with sticks. They broke cars, they broke furniture."

Sawant saw her colleague Sucharita Sen, of the Centre for the Study of Regional Development, being hit by a stone. Photographs from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences a few hours later showed Sen in a wheelchair, her head wrapped in bandages. Sawant herself was struck on the head.

Said Sawant on the phone from AIIMS, "It was complete mayhem."

At least 22 students and teachers were injured in the violence, according to a list compiled by the teachers association. Among them was the president of the Jawaharlal Nehru Students Association, Aishe Ghosh. "I have been brutally attacked by goons wearing masks," Ghosh told ANI. "I have been bleeding."

Through the course of the evening, students and teachers kept Scroll.in updated about the violence on campus. All of them spoke of a group of outsiders (accounts put the number at between 30 and 50) armed with rods and sticks, with masks over their faces, beating up students. The Delhi Police, by all accounts, seemed to have been ineffective in taking action against the group, if, indeed, it had attempted to do so in the first place.

Some students alleged that members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad had perpetrated the violence. The ABVP is the students’ wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

The ABVP, for its part, blamed leftist students belonging to the Students Federation of India, the All India Students’ Association and the Democratic Students Federation for the trouble. "Naxals entered the hostels and beat students brutally with lathis," claimed Nidhi Tripathi, the ABVP national general secretary, in a video posted on Twitter. "Many students are injured."

In a statement late on Sunday night, the JNU administration claimed the violence began when students opposing the hostel fee hike beat up others around 4:30pm. Later, "masked miscreants" entered a hostel, it said, but did not comment on their identities.

Stone throwing alleged

A research scholar told Scroll.in that the violence broke out as students affiliated to the ABVP threw stones at participants in the peace march as it neared the Periyar Hostel. "This led to a scuffle," the scholar said. "After a while, outsiders entered the university and assaulted the students brutally."

Professor R Mahalakshmi of the Centre for Historical Studies, told Scroll.in: "People with lathis, iron rods, going in a group, first attacked students in Sabarmati hostel at 6:30pm. Earlier, they had mobilised outside Periyar Hostel’s warden office [...] Then they moved to Tapti and Koyna hostels."

Rohit Azad, who teaches economics at JNU, said, "Even students who weren’t in the protests seemed to have been attacked. A student who was walking to the library was assaulted. Two faculty members have been badly injured."

The masked attackers also entered women’s wings in the hostels. Vehicles and furniture were vandalised and windows smashed.

A history student who was on campus when the Sabarmati Hostel was attacked described how masked men suddenly barged into the hostel area and began assaulting students. "There was no police presence when this happened despite students and faculty having informed them about what was happening," the student said.

This video showed masked people attacking students.

By 9pm, the violence had not abated. "I am getting frantic calls to rescue groups of students," R Mahalakshmi, professor at the Centre for Historical Studies, told Scroll.in. "There is panic. People are desperate. 'We just want to get out,' they are saying."

But the gates were closed. "Since ABVP crowds had blocked the gates, students couldn’t move out," a history student claimed.

As word of the violence on campus spread, reporters attempting to enter the campus found their way barred by the Delhi Police. The street lights outside the gate had been turned off. A large crowd of right-wing supporters gathered at the university’s main gate, chanting slogans.

"Jai Shree Ram," they shouted. "Desh ke gadaron ko goli maron salon ko", traitors to the nation should be shot.

Some of them carried cricket bats and sticks. The mob attacked a team of doctors and nurses that went to JNU to give first-aid to students and broke the windows of their ambulance, said Harjit Singh Bhatti, the former president of the Residents’ Doctors Association at AIIMS.

The crowd also attacked journalists attempting to record its actions. Scroll.in’s Rohan Venkataramakrishnan was shoved around and hit on the head by members of the mob. They accused him of being a Naxalite.

Ashuthosh Mishra of Aaj Tak and India Today was also attacked. "The moment i questioned Law and Order in JNU, mob in presence of police in dark attacked me and my cameraman, broke my Mike, hurled abuses, called me Jihadis, Naxali," he said in a tweet.

Karnika Kohli of Scroll.in overheard one of the members of the group say, "Beat up NDTV guys if you see them."

Activist Yogendra Yadav, who was at the main gate, was also jostled by the mob. At around 9:30pm, a press conference by JNU faculty members at the main gate was disrupted by the right-wing activists.

Despite the heavy police presence, masked people carrying sticks were allowed to leave the campus unimpeded, as a video posted on Twitter by journalist Rajesh Mahapatra showed.

By 10:45pm, as the violence subsided, JNU students and teachers gathered at the West Gate of the campus and began to chant, "Inquilab Zindabad," long live the revolution.


This piece originally appeared on Scroll.in and has been reproduced with permission.