Things turned ugly at Panjab University (PU) on Tuesday as the protest against fee hike witnessed police using tear gas and students replying with stone-pelting.
At least 15 policemen and some students had to get medical help; some were still in hospitals and said to be in a stable state. More than 50 were taken into custody.
The fee hike for the 2017-18 session — purportedly necessitated by a financial crunch at PU — meant some courses saw an increase of up to 1,000%. The Union ministry for human resource development (MHRD) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) have been pressing PU to increase income from internal resources if grants are needed.
On Tuesday, students’ parties except the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) had called for strike. The ABVP is protesting separately and their hunger strike entered its tenth day on Tuesday.
Right from 9 am, members of Students for Society (SFS), which is a leftist union, was moving from department to department asking students to join the protest. Around 10.30, hundreds of students gathered outside the vice-chancellor’s office and started sloganeering against V-C Arun Kumar Grover, the MHRD and UGC, and the Modi government.
Members of Panjab University Students’ Union (PUSU), Students’ Organisation of India (SOI) and National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) also joined. The students managed to dodge the police and university authorities to enter the arena right outside the V-C’s office.
Watch | Why are students protesting at Panjab University, Chandigarh?
As students tried to push their way to enter the office, the policemen pushed back. When the water cannon was used, stone-pelting started which smashed the windowpanes of the water-cannon bus of the police. However, some leaders then tried to pacify the students and told them not to throw stones.
Students sat down and told the policemen to call an ambulance for those injured. They were also demanding to call the V-C out, but the authorities said he was out of station.
When the students charged for a second time, the police resorted to water cannon and lathicharge. At the same time, students hurled stones and flowerpots at the police personnel. The police then fired teargas shells.
Students dispersed but the police chased them and nabbed some of them. Many students were assaulted in full public view. One of the teargas shells entered a classroom in the chemical engineering department.
Even photojournalists had to bear the brunt as the police did not spare them in the lathicharge.
Some students took shelter at the university gurudwara. The police surrounded, but AS Ahluwalia, the professor who heads the management of the gurudwara, did not allow cops to enter the sanctum sanctorum to arrest students.
Finally, some students called up the president of Chandigarh district bar association and other lawyers from the district courts, and in their presence surrendered before the police. As many as 40 students surrendered at the gurudwara.
Amritpal Singh, an SFS leader who surrendered before the police, said, “The movement will get stronger now. We were instigated to resort to stone-pelting. Our female members were injured and we were only calling for an ambulance.”
Damnapreet Singh, president of the SFS, said, “This fee hike is also a form of structural violence. Our right to education at PU is being denied.”
Watch | Panjab University students arrested: