JNU teachers, students face lathi-charge, water canons as march to Parliament stopped
A protest march organised by students and teachers from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) ended in clashes with the police on Friday evening, leaving people from both sides wounded after police officials stopped them near INA Market in south Delhi.
The students were marching from JNU to Parliament House demanding action against a varsity professor accused of sexual harassment and against the Central government’s decision to ‘grant autonomy’ to JNU, which the protesters said would lead to privatisation of higher education.
During the clash, a newspaper reporter was allegedly molested by a policeman while a photojournalist with Hindustan Times was roughed up and her camera allegedly snatched by a group of policewomen. The snatched camera couldn’t be retrieved even hours after the incident as the police said they were unsure about where they had placed it.
The JNU students had planned to march from the university to the Parliament House, but the police did not allow them to go beyond INA Market. While the students claimed that they had permission to march all the way to Parliament, Dependra Pathak, Delhi Police’s chief spokesperson, said that it was “mutually agreed” during meetings that it would be a “symbolic march” that would culminate at INA.
Pathak added that the students had allegedly turned violent, assaulted the police and tried to march ahead by breaking barricades.
The police used water cannons to contain them and detained 23 protesters, officials said.
However, the students alleged they were assaulted with batons. “The police assaulted many of the protesters. We were only marching ahead on the route pre-decided with the police,” said Geeta Kumari, president of JNU Students Union.
Delhi Police spokesperson DCP Madhur Verma denied allegations about batons being used by police officers.
In the clash that followed, both sides are reported to have suffered injuries. JNU students were seen nursing swollen limbs while police claimed they were left with 41 injured personnel that included the station house officers of Hauz Khas and Safdarjung Enclave police stations.
Many journalists too bore the brunt of the clash. A reporter alleged that she was standing with her colleagues, away from the clash site, when a male inspector allegedly groped her from behind.
A video of the clash showed the HT photojournalist being roughed up by over half-a-dozen policewomen. “I was clicking a student being dragged when the police targeted me. They were talking about snatching and breaking my camera. I kept pleading with them to spare my camera,” said Anushree Fadnavis, the photojournalist.
Responding to the allegations, Pathak said the vigilance department would enquire about the alleged molestation. He added that the camera snatching could have happened due to confusion in the melee.
The protests also led to traffic snarls across parts of south Delhi. Traffic jams were reported from Africa Avenue, Laxmi Bai market near Sarojini Nagar, the Ring Road near JNU campus and other nearby areas. The Traffic Police said it closed Sansad Marg and diverted traffic, after receiving information that the students had started the march. Traffic was also diverted from the roundabout near the Leela hotel in Sarojini Nagar.
CPI leader Brinda Karat, who was present at the march, said, “The JNU vice-chancellor has become a chancellor of vices. A professor accused of sexual harassment has place in the varsity and being protected by the V-C.”
The autonomy status means the JNU can start new courses, have collaborations with foreign universities and hire overseas faculty. “Granting autonomy to JNU means privatisation of education and making education out of reach of poor students,” Kumari added.
Despite repeated attempts, JNU authorities were not available for comment on the matter