New Delhi: A protest called by the students of Jamia Milia Islamia University in Delhi, against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the Narendra Modi government last week, took a violent turn Sunday with police resorting to lobbing tear gas shells to disperse them.
Three buses and two bikes were set on fire in the university area, followed by stone-pelting by a group of protestors who allegedly targetted residential buildings and even a hospital, and damaged several vehicles parked on the roads.
As the police lobbed tear gas shells and resorted to lathi-charge to control the situation, over 50 people, including students and local residents, sustained injuries.
The police have registered two cases of arson and rioting in the matter and have detained over 50 Jamia students and residents of Jamia Nagar’s Haji Colony and Batla House at three police stations — Kalindi Kunj, Jamia Nagar and Kalkaji.
There were rumors that a few students had died in the violence, but the Jamia administration dismissed such reports.
DCP Central and Delhi Police spokesperson Mandeep Singh Randhawa too said no one died in the clashes. He also said the police did not open fire at the protestors, even as a video doing the rounds online shows a student with a gunshot injury in his leg.
“The police did not open fire. Who fired the round is a matter of investigation,” he said.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has requested the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi to take stock of the situation and get it sorted at the earliest. The government also decided to keep schools in southeast Delhi shut on Monday in the wake of the protest turning violent.
Jamia students, however, claimed they were peacefully holding the protest, and that it was “hijacked” by local residents of the area.
Randhawa corroborated the claim. “The protest was peaceful till 3:30 pm and Delhi Police was cooperating with the protestors. It was only after some anti-social elements entered the protest and set vehicles afire, that things turned ugly,” he said.
The officer added, “They hurled stones at building, damaged vehicles, putting lives at risk. It is then when the police mobilised all its resources to get the situation under control.”
The police later said the situation was under control, with 10 companies deployed in the affected areas, and all entry points barricaded.
Late in the night, on a call given by the JNU students’ union, another group of protestors, including students from JNU, Jamia, Delhi University and other activists associated with student movements, gathered outside the Delhi Police Headquarters in ITO to condemn the police action.
Ours was a silent protest: Jamia students
Students of the university claimed that they had organised a silent protest inside the campus at 4.30 pm, and it was only after residents from nearby Batla House and Shaheen Bagh locality started agitating that the situation became tense.
Syed Harris, a Jamia student, said, “We had organised a silent protest inside the campus. Some locals from nearby Shaheen Bagh and Batla House area gathered outside the campus and started arsoning. To chase them away, police entered the university campus and used tear gas shells and rubber bullets on students.”
Basheer Ahmed, another student, said, “We were beaten up by the policemen who entered the campus without permission, thinking students were creating the ruckus. They should have instead stayed outside the campus and managed the local residents who were arsoning.”
JMI University Chief Proctor Waseem Ahmed Khan confirmed that the police entered the campus without any permission from the administration. “No permission was given to police, they entered the campus without the administration’s permission,” he said in a statement issued to media.
JMI Vice-Chancellor Najma Akhter too condemned the police action.
Entered college campus while chasing miscreants: Police
According to the police, the students’ protest was going on peacefully when some people from Haji Colony started hurling stones at policemen.
Sources said the protestors turned violent and set two bikes on fire.
“When the police tried to stop them, they got aggressive and set a bus on fire,” said an officer.
The police then started chasing the protestors, who reportedly ran inside the university campus.
The police then entered the campus, including the library, and started throwing tear gas shells inside. The police even damaged furniture and pulled out a few persons, including students. Many students ducked under the furniture to save themselves and even got locked up inside, finding it difficult to breathe, according to some accounts.
Defending their action, the police said they entered the campus only to pull out the protestors were outside, and not to act against the students.
“The protestors got mixed up with students, who were inside the campus, making it difficult for us to identify them,” said an officer.
Meanwhile, the police barging inside the campus without permission and resorting to action enraged the students who then came out on the roads.
A group of people from Batla House too came out at the same time and allegedly started hurling stones at the police, making the situation worse.
“There were stones being hurled by protestors from Batla House area, Haji Colony and now the police also came under attack by students of the college, Additional police force in anti-riot gears were called in to control the situation around 5 pm,” said a police officer.
‘Condemn any party involved in the violence’
Later in the day, the students released an official statement. “The students of Jamia Millia Islamia disassociate themselves from the violence that has erupted today. We have time and again maintained that our protests are peaceful and non-violent. We stand by this approach and condemn any party involved in the violence,” they said.
The statement added, “We have maintained calm even when students have been lathi-charged and some women protestors have been badly beaten up. Media personnel are a witness to these events. Violence by certain elements is an attempt to vilify and discredit genuine protests. We appeal to everyone to share this message.”