Hate speech to hate crime at Jamia Millia Islamia anti-CAA protest
A protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act at Jamia Millia Islamia was disrupted after a young man, later identified as a teenaged minor, opened fire at the crowd using a countrymade pistol, injuring a first-year postgraduate student on Thursday, eyewitnesses said.
The minor’s Facebook account, since suspended by the social media company, was filled with hate speech directed at anti-CAA protests, especially those at the Capital’s Shaheen Bagh. Indeed, one of his recent posts seemed to suggest he was planning something drastic.
“Shaheen Bagh khel khatam... azaadi de raha hun (Gave over, Shaheen Bagh. I am giving you freedom),” he wrote in a post made moments before he began one of several short live stream videos from close to the place where he opened fire.
The injured student, Shadab Farooq, was taken to Holy Family Hospital at first and later to AIIMS trauma centre for his treatment where doctors said he will be kept overnight.
The shot was fired even as a group of policemen, many of them in anti-riot gear, stood and watched for several seconds before one of them made a move to restrain the attacker, who has claimed that he is 17-years-old and a student of Class 12 at a private school in Noida’s Jewar.
Eyewitnesses said the gunman shouted “Yeh lo aazadi (here, take your freedom)” before he fired the shot.
Union home minister Amit Shah tweeted saying action would be taken against those behind the incident. “I have spoken to the Delhi Police Commissioner on the incident of firing in Delhi and have directed him to take strictest action,” he said.
By late evening, the investigation was handed over to the crime branch.
The firing comes towards the end of a fraught week in the Capital, which is going to the polls on February 8 even as the protests against CAA at Shaheen Bagh continue. The ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is touting its track record, which is being questioned by the BJP. The latter has also sought to make the election one between pro- and anti-CAA forces. Earlier this week, Sharjeel Iman, one of the original organisers of the protest at Shaheen Bagh was arrested for inflammatory speeches where he suggested that Assam should be separated from India in the context of NRC.
On Thursday, the Election Commision suspended BJP leaders and MPs Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Verma for 72 and 96 hours respectively. The former led the audience at an election rally in a chant of “Desh ki gaddaron ko...”, exhorting them to finish it, which they did with “goli maaron saalon ko”. The slogan roughly translates as shoot the traitors. Verma said protesters from Shaheen Bagh “will enter your houses, rape your sisters and daughters and kill them”.
AAP leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh said Thursday’s incident was waiting to happen after the provocative speeches given by BJP leaders. He also accused the party of trying to scuttle the elections.
“If the home minister of our country inspires and instigates the leaders of his party to give provocative speeches, then the result will be exactly what is happening in Delhi today. The BJP is fearing its defeat and is trying all this to stop elections which is why it is constantly trying to spoil Delhi’s atmosphere.”
Shifa-ur-rehman, a member of Jamia’s alumni association, said a police complaint has been filed against the attacker and Thakur, Verma, and another BJP leader Kapil Mishra for allegedly provoking people. “The communal and hate speeches by these leaders have provoked people. They are responsible for instigating people like the one who attacked the protesters in Jamia on Thursday. We have filed a complaint against them in New Friends Colony police station.”
AAP leader and former MP Ajoy Kumar drew an explicit link: “A few days ago you all must have heard BJP’s Anurag Thakur’s comment and just after this, one man reaches with a gun and shoots as well. The AAP demands the resignation of home minister Amit Shah.”
Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari said the party was against the violence. “The home minister has already ordered a probe, but Arvind Kejriwal has backed Shaheen Bagh from where provocative statements like killing PM Narendra Modi and killing HM Amit shah are coming... Kejriwal being CM of NCT Delhi should meet Shaheen Bagh protestors and persuade them to clear the roads occupied by protestors,” he said.
The incident took place as hundreds of students were gathering for a march to Raj Ghat on the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi as part of an anti-CAA protest. Police said the students did not have permission for the march which was called by the Jamia Coordination Committee, a body with members from different students’ outfits.
Roads leading to Jamia Millia Islamia were barricaded near Sukhdev Vihar Metro Station and Holy Family hospital by police to stop students from marching ahead. At around 1.30pm students crossed the university’s gate and were marching towards the hospital. Multiple eyewitnesses said the teenager was then spotted walking towards the students, brandishing a gold-coloured countrymade pistol and shouting provocative slogans.
“He came running from the other side and started saying aao aaj aazadi dilaata hoon (come, I will give you freedom). He walked around raising religious slogans and fired in front of police, injuring Shadab Farooq. How could he fire in the presence of so many police personnel? For whose safety were they deployed?” asked Aamir Zahid, a former Jamia student who runs a small business in the area.
After the shot was fired, police detained the attacker and took him away for questioning. “Police did not even remove the barricades to let Farooq cross the road and reach the hospital. He had to climb the barricades with his wounded and bleeding arm,” said his friend Midhat Samrah, an undergraduate student at the varsity.
Jamia vice chancellor Najma Akhtar condemned the incident and said, “If the miscreant had been nabbed by the police on time, this deplorable incident could have been averted.” She also said she was proud of the students for their “Gandhian principles of non-violence” and “wise avoidance of retaliation”.
Speaking to reporters at the spot, deputy commissioner of police Chinmoy Biswal said the police told the students they did not have the permission for the march to Raj Ghat.
“When the march was coming towards the barricades, some of our officers were going to meet the students and have a dialogue with them. During this time, one person who was a part of the crowd and was marching with them, came out and waved some kind of weapon-like thing, There was noise and someone stepped forward and said he was injured in the left hand. Immediately, we took him to Holy Family hospital,” Biswal said.
Biswal said that the organisers should have “screened” the protesters, since it was a “public march” putting the onus for the incident on them.
Hundreds of students and residents gathered outside Holy Family thereafter, blaming the police for inaction and remained parked outside the hospital, blocking both carriageways of Okhla Road, demanding action. While metro services were not disrupted, at least two entry gates of Sukhdev Vihar Metro station remained closed till evening. Vehicular movement on Okhla Road and MP Road were also disrupted for around five hours.
Praveer Ranjan, special commissioner of police (crime branch), who will head the probe into the attack, said that the incident happened “in a split second” and before the police could react. “He emerged from the crowd and seemed like one of the protesters. But we reacted to overpower him and seize his weapon,” said Ranjan.
The teenager has been booked for attempt to murder and under the arms act. The police are yet to ascertain whether he was working alone.