Snatches from a dark Sunday at JNU when masked men, women ran riot on campus
While the accounts of what happened in JNU through Sunday are conflicting and varied, they are unanimous on one count — tension was simmering on campus for several weeks, and particularly over the weekend. A look at how it unfolded.Updated: Jan 07, 2020 11:34 IST
Surya Prakash, an MPhil student of Sanskrit at Jawaharlal Nehru University, cannot identify the people who thrashed him in his room in the varsity’s Sabarmati hostel on Sunday evening. But he vividly remembers everything they said.
Prakash, 25, has been visually challenged since 2013. He said he “never imagined” that he would hear the things that he did on Sunday, when a gang of masked individuals went on an hour-long rampage inside the south Delhi campus, leaving dozens injured . “When I told the attackers that I am a blind student, one of them said, ‘andha hai toh kya hua’ [so what if you are blind],” he said.
According to Prakash, the first sounds of the mob began around 4pm, when he was listening to audio lectures on his laptop. “I heard some men aggressively looking for some students who live in Sabarmati hostel. But they went back without any violence.”
What happened later, at around 6.45pm, will remain etched in Prakash’s mind. “This time the mob was louder. They were using the filthiest of abuses. I hurriedly latched my door from inside. Moments later, I heard the glass window above my door getting smashed. Some glass shards fell on my head,” he said.
The mob managed to unlock his door and barge in. Prakash was alone, but, he said, the mob noticed something in the room.
“They saw a spray painting of Ambedkar on my wall and door; it meant I was a Left-leaning student. I told them I have no affiliation to any party, I never attended the ongoing protests, and the Ambedkar painting belonged to the previous occupant of the room. They rained iron rods on my back six-seven times,” he said.
Prakash said he did not know for sure which group his attackers belong to. “Some of them kept asking about a specific room where a Kashmiri student lives.”
The Sanskrit student hasn’t left his room since Sunday evening. He could not see the state of the Kashmiri student’s room, on the floor above, after the mob allegedly broke into it using a fire extinguisher. He couldn’t see a masked assailant wielding a hammer and charging at students in the same hostel — as described by other students and captured on video clips. He can’t see the frightened faces of students around him.
While the accounts of what happened in JNU through Sunday are conflicting and varied, they are unanimous on one count — tension was simmering on campus for several weeks, and particularly over the weekend. The students’ protest over hiked hostel fees has been on since October 29. Most students boycotted attempts by the administration to hold semester exams until the issue was resolved.
On December 31, the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) had called for a boycott of registration of the upcoming semester, beginning January 1. As per official records, only 2,000 of the varsity’s 8,500 students have registered and paid their semester fee until now.
Since Friday, there were skirmishes and scuffles between two groups of students – those affiliated to the ABVP (the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad is the student arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and those linked with the Left bodies. Around lunchtime on Sunday, there was a clash between some students who had gone to complete the registration process and those opposing it.
At around 5.15 pm, scores of teachers and students, under the banner of JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA), began assembling at a spot about 100 metres from the Sabarmati hostel. They planned to protest against the violence that took place on Friday and Saturday.
“I was on my way to the gathering around 5pm and was walking past the Periyar hostel when I noticed scores of people holding objects like rods, hammers and sticks. They did not belong to the campus, and there was an air of expectation around them. Some of them were looking at their watches. When we asked them, they said they were around to beat up Leftist students. It sounded funny and we didn’t take it seriously,” said Jayati Ghosh, an economics professor.
Sometime later, Hasan Imam, a physically challenged student of Russian language, was riding his four-wheeled scooter towards the East gate of the campus when he allegedly noticed about a dozen men putting on masks on the roadside. Those men halted him on seeing an anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) slogan on his scooter and checked his identity card.
“One of them said that if I don’t ride out of the campus immediately, they wouldn’t leave me in a position to even crawl,” Imam said.
Between 6.30 pm and 7 pm, as daylight faded away and the gathering of students and teachers was dispersing, text messages warning of “armed men” leaving from Periyar hostel — about 300 metres from this spot — began flowing in.
The real alert came from a professor who was allegedly chased by the mob from Periyar hostel after he clicked them gathering around with sticks.
Before the gathering could understand what happened with the professor, a mob of 60-70 persons, almost all of them masked using mufflers, towels, full-face masks and hoodies charged towards them, according to witnesses.
“They were carrying rods and thick sticks, and were pelting stones. One large stone hit a professor, Sucharita Sen, knocking her down. We thought they were coming for the students and we hurried to form human chains to protect them, but they broke through us,” said Avinash Kumar, former JNUTA general secretary.
Over the next 30 minutes, the mob -- that also allegedly comprised of a few women – beat up teachers and students at that spot before charging into the Sabarmati hostel. They damaged several motorcycles parked outside, then smashed the glass doors of the hostel, and the canteen inside before heading towards the rooms.
“They were calling us Naxals and asking us to come out of our rooms. But seven-eight of us locked ourselves in my room and placed two beds against the door to prevent it from being brought down. Then we put our phones on silent modes to avoid their attention,” said Chinmay Saha, a student.
But Saha had underestimated the mob. His woman friend, who was hiding in the same room, said that soon there were stones being pelted on the glass window pane above the door. “A large stone landed next to me. I slid under the bed to save myself,” said the student who didn’t want to be identified.
Outside the room, she heard the sound of an iron rod clanging against the floor.
JNUSU president and SFI leader, Aishe Ghosh, was among those gathered at the protest site, was attacked by the mob while she was walking back to her hostel. She was accompanied by her sister and an activist of her organisation.
“Some of them vandalised a car parked nearby before surrounding us. My sister managed to escaped, but my friend and I got caught by the mob. They first struck an iron rod on my head before kicking and thrashing me. I screamed at them that they couldn’t do that, but they didn’t stop,” she said.
The mob formed small groups and was going from door to door, the students said. “They spared rooms belonging to ABVP students and particularly targeted some rooms on all the three floors of the hostel,” said Udita, a PhD student who had suffered a finger injury during a clash a day earlier.
One of those rooms belonged to the Kashmiri student cited above, who requested anonymity. He was alerted of the mob by his seniors and he hid them in his room. “But when the mob began breaking my door, my four-five seniors jumped down from the first floor. I escaped from my room through the balcony and took shelter in another room. We feared that the mob would set the room on fire,” said the student.
His room wasn’t set on fire, but a fire extinguisher was used to break in. It can still be seen lying on the floor, in the middle of the room, which appeared to be vandalised more than any other. Students who got caught by the mob weren’t spared. “One of them was carrying a hammer and made me feel like I was in a horror film,” said Udita.
While the mob didn’t enter the women’s section of the same hostel, thanks to a human chain made by the students, they allegedly attacked women. “While barging into the hostel, the attackers beat up several women who were on the ground floor,” said Anuradha Singh, an MPhil student.
According to doctors at the AIIMS Trauma Centre, the day’s violence left 35 persons requiring treatment. Nearly half of them were from Sabarmati hostel.
Police, but no action
The police entered the scene only when it was too late, the students alleged. “A police team from outside, as well as those camped inside, responded to the fresh violence. They used a public address system to urge the mob to disperse, but the rioters continued with vandalism before fleeing,” said Devender Arya, deputy commissioner of police (south-west).
Another senior police officer, on condition of anonymity, said that these policemen were outnumbered by the mob, and also came under attack.
The police said they alerted the varsity officials and sought their permission to enter the campus in large numbers to contain the situation. “At 7.45pm, the JNU administration gave us written permission to enter the campus. By 9pm, the police carried out a flag march in the campus,” said ADCP Singh.
An FIR, however, gave a different timeline: the police, the document says, received permission to enter the campus in the afternoon but waited till at least 7.30pm.
The worst part of the violence in the campus was over by that time.
Meanwhile, word about the mob attack spread quickly on social media, bringing large number of people in support of the students to the main gate. ABVP sympathisers arrived as well, raising slogans such as ‘shoot the traitors’.
The mob and their sympathisers — comprising mostly of outsiders — also stopped an ambulance from entering the campus, and smashed it.
Swaraj Abhiyan chief Yogendra Yadav, CPI leader D Raja, journalists and students who were protesting against the violence outside the main gate were heckled and pushed around by unidentified men as streetlights were turned off.
A lot of the violence was caught on camera, but on Monday the police registered a case of rioting against unknown persons. Till Monday night, no one was arrested.
According to one group of students and the police, they were receiving calls from JNU since 3pm on Sunday. The frequency of calls increased around 5pm, said Ingit Pratap Singh, additional deputy commissioner of police (south-west). The first call that evening, he said, was about a mob gathering outside Periyar hostel, which has a considerable population of students affiliated to the ABVP.
NP Gurung, a guard at the hostel, said that around 4pm, 80-90 students gathered outside the hostel. “Some of them were masked and most of them carried sticks. They did not attack me, but asked me not to call the police. I stayed on the sidelines and dialled other security guards, but we were outnumbered. The mob pelted stones and some of them barged into the hostel,” said Gurung.
Indra Prakash, who studies Russian and is the acting president of the Periyar hostel, said that the mob, allegedly led by JNUSU president Ghosh, smashed glass windows of a few rooms, barged into them, and beat up students.
A latch of one door in this hostel was broken, the knob of another twisted out of shape, and glass panes of a few windows were smashed. However, no Periyar student with injuries was found when HT visited the hostel, and asked to speak to them. “Those who are injured are either hospitalised or have left out of fear,” said Ambuj Mishra, who is pursuing PhD in environment science.
Priya, who runs an eatery near the Periyar hostel, said that the mob comprised also of some students she remembers selling food to in the past.
“When they approached my brother to assault him, I downed the shop’s shutters and ran,” she said.
A PCR team and some policemen who are deployed in the campus full-time visited the hostel around 5pm, checked the scene at Periyar hostel, and left. “The situation didn’t seem too serious at that time; it was under control. Three-four students were injured and we took them for treatment and medical examination,” said ADCP Singh.
That was about 90 minutes before all hell broke loose.