“The police entered Jamia, and started hitting the students. I was at the canteen, talking to my mother. I was telling her, ammi, they are hitting me so much. They are hitting my friends. And while I was talking to her, the police started hitting again. I said, ammi, they might take our lives today,” a student who was present during the protests of December 15 at Jamia Millia Islamia told media persons in Delhi, as he choked back tears. “I told my mother, I may die, keep me in your memories,” he said, breaking down.
At a press meet on Tuesday, several students from Jamia revealed what happened on the fateful Sunday night when students protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act turned violent. The scene was an emotional one where many of the students on the panel broke down while narrating their ordeal and the police action against them.
Preceding the students was a panel of human rights activists and lawyers who started the press conference. They stated that there were two civil society groups who were present to witness the events at Jamia, and could factually corroborate what had happened.
On this panel was a gender and minority rights activist, Farah Naqvi, who described in chilling detail what transpired that night.
December 15 was a black day in the history of India, she said, because on that day, and that night, the Indian government, with all its power, attacked unarmed students. Talking about the detention of 50 students – many of whom were injured – after the clashes, Farah recounted how lawyers and activists could not get in to meet the students, or get any information.
“Finally, one activist and one lawyer were allowed to go in, but not before their phones were taken away. They were told that we could not take their signs on any vakalatnaama. Why? Why weren’t they allowed access to lawyers? Was it arrest? Was it preventive detention? How is this acceptable?” she questioned.
“The police were trying to release people at 3 am without even getting their medicals done. When the gate of the Kalkaji police station finally opened, […] Injured, and limping, the boys walked out. I am an activist, and have seen Gujarat also [in 2002]. But this degree of heartlessness… in the dead of the night, without due process, just an exercise of power because you have it. This is unacceptable in a constitutional democracy, which, I’d like to remind the Indian government, we still are,” Farah said.
Students recount violence
After the above panel left, six students – mostly from Jamia – walked in. Most of them were limping, or required assistance. One of the them had casts and bandages on both his arms.
One student started by explaining what preceded the violence. He said that Jamia students had taken out a peaceful march, and at one point, found a police blockade. When they did not get permission from the police to proceed further, they sat down there in a peaceful protest. He said that the police officials allegedly manhandled some of the women students, and as it started getting dark, they started trying to intimidate protesters by banging their lathis on the ground. This, he said, where the violence started, when the police hit the protesting students at Mata Mandir.
“My friends were hit, and injured on their legs, arms, heads. We ran from there and came to Jamia. We thought, we can stay and tend to our injured here. But as soon as we reached there, we saw that the police had followed us,” he said.
Seated beside this student was a man whose hands were in casts. And next to him, a woman student, who was also at the protest march. “I thought for a moment that I would die,” she said, recounting the moment when the violence started. “There was also someone in a civil dress who was also hitting us with a lathi.”
She also described the violence that was seen in the widely shared videos of the library in Jamia Millia Islamia, and the moment when some students were made to leave the premises with their hands raised. “They used foul language to talk about us. If it was a woman, they said, ‘why don’t you cover your head with the dupatta? It might break otherwise.’ They hit a person who was reading his namaz in the mosque. There was blood on the floor,” she said.
Another woman student, fighting back emotions, also alleged that women were molested, and that the police used foul and abusive language against them.
Hanzala Mojibi (21), a student of the English department at Jamia, said that it was around 7-7.30 pm that the police entered the Jamia campus again. “We raised our hands and shouted that we are not engaging in any violence. I was in the front, so they took my phone first and broke it in front of me. Then they took the rest of our phones and cameras and broke them. […] one of the policemen, who I was looking in the eye, took my glasses and broke them,” he said, taking deep breaths. Hanzala wiped his eyes, and added, “We are not afraid. We will keep fighting as long as we are together.”
There was also a student from Aligarh Muslim University at the press meet. Mohammad Shahid Nadeem, an M Sc student at AMU, said that they had given a call for a peaceful gathering at AMU at 8.30 pm as a response to the police action at Jamia. “But the police had barricaded the gate and wasn’t letting the protesters leave. We tried to get through the barricade to get out.”
Describing the subsequent violence which included lathicharge and tear gas, and police entering the student hostels, Nadeem pointed out a difference from what happened in Jamia. “We were later told by the Vice Chancellor that the police entered our campus with permission. That is shameful,” he said. Jamia VC had explicitly stated on Monday that police entered their campus without permission, and that they wanted a high-level probe into the matter.
Nadeem added that the students were made to vacate hostels, and especially students from Kashmir were allegedly being made to leave the hostel.
Another student from Jamia, who lifted his shirt to show the bruises from being beaten by the police, said, “Our fight is not about making or breaking a section. It is about upholding the Indian Constitution. If the Constitution remains intact, then India remains intact, as does Jamia, and as do Muslims and Hindus.”