One year since violence in JNU, no arrests yet
On January 5, 2020, at around 6:30 pm, Aishe Ghosh was walking towards her hostel after attending a march organised against the hike in hostel fees at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus when a mob attacked her. Her head was smashed with a rod, and her left arm was fractured. Soon, a photo of her blood-smeared face and a video of the attack went viral on the social media, sparking horror, condemnation and outrage.
While the mob was running amok on campus, beating up students, teachers, targeting hostellers and breaking furniture, a contingent of police was waiting outside the main campus gate, called the North Gate. Later, senior police officers had said that they did not go in because they did not have the permission from the vice-chancellor -- a stand which attracted widespread criticism.
A case was registered under sections of rioting, unlawful assembly, rioting with deadly weapons, and a section of the prevention of damage to property act against unknown persons at the Vasant Kunj North police station. The case was transferred to the crime branch later.
Five days after the attack, at a press conference, the police released photographs of nine students, including Ghosh, saying they were involved in violence. However, an unidentified woman who was seen with the attackers in the video was not there in the police list. She was later identified as Komal Sharma -- apparently a student of Daulat Ram College in Delhi University. She was allegedly linked to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) but could not be traced for several months.
She was eventually called to record her statement, according to police.
Siddhardh Yadav, state secretary ABVP (Delhi), said, “We have an active member named Komal Sharma but she is not the one who was seen in those pictures shared on social media. ABVP has been very clear about this from the beginning. We also want the person who was there among the mob to be identified and questioned.”
The police refused to share Sharma’s details. Authorities and students in Daulat Ram College also provided no details about her.
The police claim to have met over 35-40 witnesses, recorded their statement and questioned more than 70 persons, including Sharma. Till date, however, not a single person has been arrested in connection with the violence on the campus.
Special commissioner of police (crime) Praveer Ranjan said, “Three cases pertaining to last year’s violence in JNU are being probed by the crime branch. The investigation in all the three cases is in progress.”
TENSION WAS BUILDING UP
Tension was mounting on campus with the Left and Right leaning student outfits sparring over the boycott of semester registration as a part of the protest against a hike in the hostel fees. While the Left outfits were demanding a boycott, the Right wing groups were demanding that the registration process must be continued. According to teachers and students, skirmishes were going on between the two groups.
On January 5, a group of students and teachers had organised a march at the T-point near Sabarmati hostel when a mob, armed with hammers, sticks, and rods and wearing face masks, allegedly attacked them. The mob broke into several hostels, including Periyar and Sabarmati, and beat up the students. It also damaged several motorcycles parked outside Sabarmati Hostel. The attackers smashed the main glass door before proceeding towards different rooms and throwing stones inside. Several students said they had to put beds against their hostel-room doors to protect themselves; some jumped from the balconies to escape.
In August, three JNU professors who were injured in the January 5 attack had moved the Delhi high court, claiming that the attacks were “premeditated” and “coordinated”, planning for which had been done on various WhatsApp groups.Two such groups - Friends of RSS and Unity against Left - were used to mobilise the protesters, the professors had said in their petition.
The police had claimed that Aishe Ghosh was herself part of the mob that attacked “specific rooms” in Periyar hostel and released a blurred video grab of a woman whom they claimed was Ghosh, standing with some masked men and women.
Ghosh, a member of Students Federation of India (SFI), refuted the allegation. “I had gone to check what was happening after I heard that there was something going on in Periyar hostel. The allegations that I led the mob are baseless. I was looking for the security guard at Periyar Hostel and no one was present, and the guard also was missing,”she said.
The incident, which took place 21 days after the police action against anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protest on Jamia Millia Islamia campus, made headlines nationwide. Bollywood A-lister Deepika Padukone made a brief appearance at a press conference organised by the Left-leaning students on the campus, on January 8, where Ghosh, JNU students union president, blamed the university administration of a witch-hunt.
SHODDY POLICE PROBE
Surya Prakash, a resident of Sabarmati Hostel and now a PhD scholar, who is visually challenged, was among those who were attacked by the mob that day. He said he had given an application to get an FIR registered but even a year later, is yet to hear from the police.
Though no senior officer authorised to speak to the media on the case developments responded to HT’s queries despite repeated calls and text messages, some investigators in the crime branch said on condition of anonymity that there was little or no headway in the case.
“We sent the photographs and videos to the forensic science laboratory. The result is awaited. Because of the lockdown, many such videos are pending forensic examination. The case involved students so we do not act until we have strong evidence,” said a mid-level officer.
According to doctors at the AIIMS Trauma Centre, 35 injured were brought for treatment. Nearly half of them were from Sabarmati hostel.
“I received no calls from the police for any investigation into the case. It has been a year and yet there has been no conclusion in the matter so far. I don’t even hope for any kind of justice,” said Surya Prakash, who alleged that the mob broke into his room and thrashed him.
Another postgraduate student and a resident of Sabarmati hostel, who recorded a video of the time when the mob went on the rampage at her hostel premises, said, “We came out of the room on hearing the commotion and saw the mob charging towards the girls’ wing. We soon gathered and made a human chain. I started making a video and was attacked with stones. I have written multiple times to the police and the administration but there has been no response.”
She alleged that the administration did not even repair the damage caused during the violence. “Some teachers pooled in money and got the window panes changed. Otherwise, the administration has not fixed anything as of now,” she alleged.
JNU PANEL MADE LITTLE PROGRESS
JNU vice-chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar constituted a five-member committee to probe the violence. HT spoke to several students from both Left- and the Right-leaning groups, and to several teachers -- they all said they have never been contacted by the committee to record their statement.
Satish Chandra Yadav, general secretary of the students’ union and a member of All India Students Association (AISA), said he was also injured in the attack. “We do not know about the existence of the internal inquiry committee,” he said.
Several other students had the same response. Shivam Chaurasiya, a PhD scholar and president of ABVP’s JNU unit, said that he was attacked by the mob near Periyar hostel. “At least 20-25 ABVP members got injured in the violence. We did record our statements with the police but we do not know about any other inquiry committee. We have on Monday written to the administration asking it to tell us what it’s done so far to probe the matter,” he said.
Aishe Ghosh said, “The administration has never ever contacted me to ask if I was alright even as my images and videos were all over the news and social media. Justice has been denied to us at every stage and if this gets normalised students won’t feel comfortable coming to the JNU campus. We do not want this to get erased from the public memory before justice is delivered.”
TEACHERS RECALL HORROR
Shukla Sawant, a professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, was among those who first saw the mob moving towards the gathering at Sabarmati T-point. She alleged that she was attacked with lathis and stones, suffering injuries on her back and head. “It was mayhem. I could not believe my eyes. The masked mob was smashing and breaking the vehicles, and beating students and teachers with sticks, rods and stones... It’s been very traumatic. It’s taken away everybody’s mental space. There were several WhatsApp groups clearly mentioning the names of several people but nothing has been done as of now,” she said.
Sucharita Sen, a professor at the School of Social Sciences, who was attacked at the same spot, and received injuries on her head, said she felt hesitant to go to her workplace for some time after the incident. “I was hit by a stone. I was bleeding when a colleague and a student tried to take me to the hospital on a two-wheeler. But we were not allowed to pass through the main gate. We had to go back to the campus. They shifted me to the university ambulance and was taken to the hospital through another gate. The police were right there and they looked away,” she said.
Sen, 58, said that the only time police had met her was when they recorded her statement, two months after the incident. “There has been no follow up after that. The administration did not even acknowledge my representations sent via emails during this period. I had even moved a Delhi court, seeking registration of an FIR but nothing happened. I have no hope for justice now,” she said.
Former JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) member Bikramaditya Choudhary, whose wife was chased by the mob armed with sticks and rods, near faculty housing complex, said, “She had submitted a video to the police and had written five times to them but nobody approached us. She is still traumatised by the incident and feels wary while stepping out. The behaviour of the administration shows that it colluded with the perpetrators.”
PROVIDED SUPPORT, SAYS ADMIN
Despite several attempts, vice-chancellor Jagadesh Kumar did not respond to calls and messages for a response. JNU registrar Pramod Kumar said all possible support was provided to the students and teachers. “The university had provided ambulances and medical aid to students and teachers injured in that unfortunate incident. The representatives of the administration had also visited the injured in the hospital. We could not meet everyone personally but we have full-time counsellors at the campus for any psychological support for the students,” he said.
On being asked why the internal inquiry committee constituted by the administration did not approach any victim or the eyewitnesses of the violence, he said, “We did not push the internal inquiry committee since a special team of police is investigating the matter. We regularly take the updates about the investigation from the police.”
Kumar dismissed the allegations of the administration being “hand-in-glove” with the attackers. “It’s equally shocking for us all...We do not want to comment on who was responsible for the violence. Let police do their work.”
INACTION INDEFENSIBLE: EXPERTS
A crime branch officer, who did not wish to be named, said, “We have taken the statement of all students who were caught on tape. Even the woman whose photo went viral (allegedly Komal Sharma), was summoned and her statement recorded. The investigation could not proceed thereafter because within a month riots broke out in Delhi. Also, within weeks, the lockdown was announced and the university was closed. All students from JNU and Delhi University were on leave and returned their homes.”
Retired IPS officer, Prakash Singh, who served as director general of police in Uttar Pradesh and Assam, said that the lockdown did not mean police stopped doing their job. “I do not know the progress of the case. But if it is true that police have not arrested any person, it reflects poorly on the police’s conduct. Things keep on happening. This does not mean work should stop. The world has not stopped. We have not abandoned our daily chores. If there is not a single arrest, and the progress is slow, it means Delhi police is acting under some constraints. Apart from the earth’s rotation, other things are moving, maybe slow. But if police have not acted on identifying and nabbing the attackers, then it is indefensible.”
Retired IPS officer, NC Asthana, who was a director general in the Kerala police, said Delhi police’s conduct in the case has been far from being professional. “Police have not been able to find who that woman (Komal Sharma) is even after a year. It is very unfortunate, also not professional. It does not inspire confidence. You have to be impartial. Let me put it this way. The conduct of the police has been far from professional.”
(With inputs from Prawesh Lama and Karn Pratap Singh)