New Delhi: Masked assailants attacked students and teachers at the Jawaharlal Nehru University Sunday, injuring at least 34 people and damaging property.
The injured were taken to the AIIMS Trauma Centre, and among them were JNU Students’ Union president Aishe Ghosh and faculty member Sucharita Sen, both of whom received head injuries.
Allegations and counter-allegations flew thick and fast about the identity of the masked perpetrators, with the JNUSU and many students alleging that the RSS’ student wing ABVP was behind the attack, while the ABVP blamed Left student organisations. There were also a lot of unconfirmed reports about the series of events leading up to the attack.
ThePrint traces the chronology of events between 3 and 5 January that preceded the attack.
Enrolment for winter semester
The JNU administration issued a notice to students in the last week of December, giving time between 1 and 5 January to enrol for the winter semester. According to the rules of the institution, if students didn’t finish the formalities by then, their names would be struck off.
Meanwhile, students had been protesting against the hostel fee hike since October, and many of them said they would not enrol for the new semester as a mark of protest, and also because if they did enrol, they would have to pay the increased fees.
Students on campus told ThePrint that on 3 January, a scuffle broke out between student members of the ABVP and Left parties, as well as other students. Students at Periyar hostel alleged that ABVP members clashed with them over why they were not registering for the semester.
That evening, the administration also released a press note, stating that some students tried to disrupt the registration process by blocking internet and switching off computer systems. “Agitators in JNU have crossed all boundaries of decency and discipline and appear determined to cause as much damage to the academic interests of their fellow students as possible,” a note from registrar Pramod Kumar issued late on 3 January stated.
The note went on to state that at 1pm, masked students forcibly entered the “Centre for Information System (sic)” and switched off the power supply, forcibly evicted the technical staff and switched off the server. As a result, the entire registration process was hampered, and it became impossible for students to complete it.
The next day, on 4 January, minor scuffles and clashes broke out between the ABVP and Left members in front of the library and other hostels, according to students and teachers on campus.
Following the clashes on these two days, the police registered two cases against students from the Left parties for destruction of public property. No arrests were, however, made.
“One FIR was registered pertaining to the clash between students on 3 January when masked students, mostly from Left parties, forcibly entered the CIS and switched off the power supply and forcibly evicted the technical staff and made the server dysfunctional (sic). Another FIR was pertaining to the clashes reported on 4 January, that too against the students from the Left parties,” a senior police officer said.
The officer also said students of the Left parties had been wearing masks and sitting in the area where the registration was being done on 3 and 4 January.
“Initially, it was the students from the Left who were sitting where the registration process was on, wearing masks, and were dissuading other students from enrolling. It has also come to our knowledge that students from the Left parties entered hostels and beat up students,” the officer said.
A meeting and an attack
Many students said they approached teachers for advice on whether to enrol for the semester or not. The JNU Teachers Association (JNUTA) organised a meeting in front of Sabarmati dhaba at 4 pm on 5 January to talk to students about the entire registration process, and about the previous day’s scuffle.
Numerous students ThePrint spoke to said there was no scuffle Sunday, but alleged that the ABVP went on a rampage, attacking JNUSU president Ghosh, professor Sen and many others.
Faculty members recalled that they saw people with their faces covered, wielding batons and sticks, walking within the campus around 6 pm.
“When we spoke to these people to ask what their problem was, they started pelting stones, attacking people with batons, and then went towards the hostels,” said professor Atul Sood, a faculty member.
Students and teachers said the masked attackers entered the Sabarmati, Periyar and Mahi-Mandavi hostels and started breaking property. Some even allegedly went to the girls’ wing and started threatening the students.
In the middle of this, residents of Sabarmati hostel claimed one student was thrown from the first floor, while the masked assailants “singled out rooms of Muslims and Kashmiri students”.
Students alleged that rooms occupied by those associated with the ABVP were left untouched.
It was around 6pm that students started clicking videos of their injured and bleeding cohorts and teachers, and sending out SOS messages on social media.
Students alleged that the masked attackers were outsiders, but the administration and the police said everyone involved was from the campus.
The attack continued for a while, with students outside the campus unable to enter and forced to take refuge outside. Some students who were in their hostels rooms said when the attack was on, they hid under their beds and waited for the vandalism to stop.
The administration said it called in the police around 8:30 pm, and the police came and barricaded all the gates. It was also around this time that politicians and other public figures began reacting to the violence.
The police Monday morning registered a case of rioting against unknown persons. No arrests have been made so far. The case has been transferred to Delhi Police Crime Branch.
“We have begun the investigation to identify the miscreants. We know that they did not enter from the main gate armed with sticks. Some came from the back gate and some joined from inside the campus. We have accessed the CCTV footage from the gate and administration block, and are also looking at videos that were put up by students on social media to identify the persons,” a senior police officer said.
The administration had a meeting to discuss how to control the situation, and released a statement condemning the violence. Around the same time, people started gathering outside the JNU campus and began sloganeering. Initially, it was a battle between calls for ‘azaadi’ by the Left, and ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaron saalon ko’ by ABVP. However, eventually the space was claimed by students and other people who formed a human chain protesting against the violence.
The morning after
Monday morning, there was heavy police barricading in the campus. Many students whose rooms were attacked either left the campus or were in the process of leaving.