Indian students unite in solidarity against police brutality

After the police crackdown wherein over 100 students were injured, students from across the country are rising up in protest against the police brutality

December 17, 2019 by Pavan Kulkarni, Umer Beigh
Over a thousand rallied outside of Delhi Police headquarters to demand the release of JMU students detained in the repression on Sunday. Photo: NewsClick

On Sunday December 15, police brutally attacked two institutions (Jamia Millia Islamia University in the New Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh) where students were protesting the recently passed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). At least 125 people were injured in the police attacks and 50 were detained. In response to the barbaric violence, students from across India have taken to the streets against police brutality and the ‘unconstitutional’ CAA. 

The university campus and the surrounding areas remain besieged by the police. Despite the imminent risk of further violent repression by the police, students mobilized once again yesterday. They demanded that normalcy be restored on campus and that the CAA be scrapped. 

The CAA has been widely criticized as it allows refugees from specific countries and religions to apply for Indian citizenship and it explicitly excludes Muslim refugees. The law, which was passed on December 12, is seen as another attack on the minority Muslim population by the Hindu-supremacist BJP government. Jamia Millia Islamia University and Aligarh Muslim University, which are Muslim universities, have been active in mobilizing against the CAA and other Islamaphobic measures taken by the ruling party and have been increasingly subject to state crackdowns and repression.

Battalions of police in riot gear and agents from the paramilitary Rapid Action Force (RAF) have also been deployed to the areas around the university. Fear of escalation in the area is palpable, especially given the widely circulated, but unverified, rumors that the right-wing Hindu-supremacist forces, affiliated to the ruling party, are gathering in the area. 

What happened at Jamia on Sunday?

On December 15, on the third day of protests against the CAA at Jamia Millia Islamia University, the police launched an attack on the university. The police barged into the campus, firing rubber bullets and pellets, attacking students and choking even the university library with tear gas canisters.

Footage surfaced on social media showing students with bloodied faces lying unconscious on the floor of a toilet on campus, where all the mirrors had been shattered, allegedly during the attack by the police. 

Earlier on Saturday, amidst the clash between the police and some students and residents in the neighborhood of the university, buses were set ablaze. However, the student community of the university denounced the act and distanced itself from it. “We have time and again maintained that our protests are peaceful and non-violent. We stand by this approach and condemn any party involved in the violence,” the statement made by students and its alumni said.

About 125 students are reported to have been injured.

Speaking to Peoples Dispatch on condition of anonymity, a 26-year old student from the south Indian state of Kerala recollected the attack as follows: “I was offering prayer inside the mosque. I had no idea that.. protests began outside the campus.. [I was] preparing for the UPSC examination and was reading in the library for most part of the day. When I moved out I saw police everywhere. They got a hold of me and began throwing their lathis [batons] on me. They broke my hands, my legs and neck.” 

The Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia University, Najma Akhter, maintains that the police attack on students was sudden and unnecessary. In her press briefing on Monday, she said that the university management will be filing a first information report against those policemen who intruded the university premises. 

Arrests

Among the arrested, were 16 injured students who were held in the New Friends Colony police station and were later taken to the AIIMS hospital’s trauma center for treatment. However, about 35 others were held in Kalkaji station by the police until about 3 a.m, and were denied access to lawyers until the last moment. 

Mangla Verma, a human rights lawyers involved in negotiations with the police, told Peoples Dispatch at around 1:30 a.m: “Initially there were 28 students. Then seven or eight more were brought in. These.. students are injured. Some of them have head injuries. Four of them with very serious wounds were taken to a hospital, but the others are not being allowed any medical care, except for some basic first aid given by a doctor inside the station.” 

An emergency order was issued yesterday evening by the Delhi Minorities Commission to the  Station House Officer (SHO) of Kalkaji station, which directed him “to release the injured students.. so [as to] take them without any delay for treatment at a reputed hospital. SHO.. will be personally responsible for any complications…[resulting from] the injuries of the students.” However, the students were not released until much later. 

Verma added, “All of the students held in this station have stated that they were all in the library when the police barged in…What needs to be asked here is how come these students are injured, and if they were injured in police action, then why an MLC is not being done.” 

Following the attacks at Jamia University, an emergency protest was held outside the Delhi Police central headquarters in order to demand the immediate release of students detained during the police repression. Over a thousand protesters including youth, students from universities across the city from the Students Federation of India (SFI), All India Students Association (AISA), All India Students Federation (AISF), along with the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) and the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) blocked the road in front of the Delhi Police headquarters for hours in the cold. The protest ended at around 3am when police confirmed that all of the students detained in Jamia were released.

Senior leaders from the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPIM), the Communist Party of India (CPI), and even of the centrist Indian National Congress (INC) attended the protest in solidarity.  

Siege of AMU

In the meantime, around 7:30 in the evening, when the video clips of the police assault on students in Jamia was being widely circulated on social media, the students from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) – located in state of Uttar Pradesh (U.P) in Aligarh city, about 130 kilometres to the southest of the capital – held a meeting in the library to discuss the situation in Jamia.

Following this, around 8:30 p.m, the students came out of the university to peacefully protest in solidarity with the Jamia students. The police fired tear gas to disperse the students. However, they regrouped quickly, and this time, “with salt and buckets to quell the threat of tear gas shells,” The Hindu reported, quoting a student.

Following this, the police launched a baton charge and entered the university campus, inside which the students were attacked. This left at least 70 injured, most of whom are students. Video clips broadcast on the news showed police damaging parked vehicles of the students.

More and more students are now expressing their solidarity with the universities under siege in the country. Among the students taking to demonstrations across the country include those from top educational institutes including the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Mumbai and Chennai, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai, Hyderabad Central University (HCU), Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU) in Hyderabad, Nadwatul Ulama in Lucknow, and Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore.

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