Ramjas College

Under siege

Print edition : March 31, 2017

On February 22, the day after the ABVP disrupted a seminar at Ramjas College and beat up teachers and students, students of campuses from across Delhi protesting against the ABVP. Photo: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

Dr Rajendra Prasad, who was the Principal of Ramjas College during the recent violence. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

The ABVP rampage at Delhi University’s Ramjas College over a seminar leaves teachers and students brutalised and traumatised, but resistance to intimidation is also under way.

MEMBERS of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), which supplies storm troopers to the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) across university campuses in India, went on the rampage in Delhi University on February 21 and 22, grievously injuring several unarmed persons. They were agitating against the invitation extended to Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid of Jawaharlal Nehru University to Ramjas College for a seminar titled “Cultures of Protest”. Umar was to discuss “the war in Adivasi areas”, a subject that forms a part of his PhD thesis, in a session on the theme “Regions in conflict” along with the film-maker Sanjay Kak and JNU Professor Bimal Akoijam.

Umar Khalid had shot into prominence after being accused of seditious activities in JNU exactly a year ago, on February 9, by the ABVP.

On the morning of February 21, when the seminar organised by the English Department and Wordcraft Literary Society was scheduled to be held, the organisers were summoned to Principal Rajendra Prasad’s office. Maurice Nagar police station had received an intimation from Yogit Rathi, president of the Students’ Union of Ramjas College, that the ABVP would not allow Umar Khalid to enter the college. (According to Umar, one of the organisers was threatened thus: “We will disfigure your face in a way that you will be unrecognisable”—unless the ABVP’s demand was conceded.) The police had inputs of mass mobilisation—of about a thousand ABVP supporters armed with lathis—somewhere on the North Campus. The police apprehended large-scale violence and Station House Officer Arti Sharma categorically said that they would not be able to control it or provide security to the participants of the seminar.

Even as Professor Vinita Chandra of the English Department, Prof. Mukul Manglik of the History Department, Yogit Rathi and the police personnel discussed the matter in the Principal’s room, loud slogans of “Vande Mataram, Bharat mata ki jai, Desh ke gaddaron ko/ Jhoote maaron saalon ko” [beat the traitors (expletive) of the nation with boots] could be heard from the foyer. By then, Jatin Narwal, Joint Commissioner of Police, North, was also around.

Rajendra Prasad was rudely and aggressively told by ABVP supporters, with the police as bystanders, that they would not allow the seminar to go on. Given the circumstances, Prasad, who was the Principal of Ramjas for 32 years and was known to be generally encouraging of critical and free thought, said that his hands were tied and decided to disinvite Umar Khalid.

At this point the SHO turned to Yogit and asked: “What about Shehla Rashid? Will you allow her to come tomorrow?” Yogit went out, consulted the gang of ABVP supporters, and said: “No, she will also not be allowed.” The SHO turned to the organisers and said: “They are saying it won’t be possible.”

“Even before the violence broke out, senior police officers were consulting ABVP leaders on what could or could not be allowed inside Ramjas,” said a teacher on condition of anonymity, aghast at the turn of events.

The organisers of the seminar decided to take out a march through the college to register their protest. As they felt that their right to hold a legitimate discussion had been steamrolled by threats of violence, they raised slogans against the intimidation. Prof. Manglik, among others, led slogans such as “ Hum kya chahte? meethi meethi, pyari pyrai, sundar azadi” [What do we want? Sweet, lovely, beautiful freedom]. As the procession moved towards the stairs that lead up to the conference room above the canteen, 30 to 40 ABVP supporters lunged at them, kicking and punching. The police hastily formed a cordon around the protesters and herded them into the conference room above.

As Sanjay Kak began to speak, bricks hurled from below broke several glass panes in the room. Huge branches and iron rods were thrown from the terrace above, causing a severe head injury to a student and dislocating another’s shoulder. As panic ensued among those gathered, the lights went out, plunging the room into darkness and anxiety. “It felt as if we were under siege,” said a student. Sensing the severity of the situation, the teachers decided to call off the seminar, and the police escorted them out of the room and out of the college through a side gate. The police asked them to disperse from there as they would not be able to protect them in case of any attack. “Instead of evicting the aggressive ABVP supporters, the police evicted us from our own college,” said a student.

Day 2

The All India Students’ Association (AISA) called for a protest the next day. Nobody could have imagined what followed on day 2. Organised violence of an unprecedented nature was unleashed on the protesters, comprising students and teachers. The police, who were allegedly complicit, could do nothing to stop it. A teacher from Kirorimal College said: “The police allowed the controlled violence to take place. They were not controlling the violent elements but controlling us, who were marching peacefully. Meanwhile, my female colleagues were abused and had their hair pulled, and their own students made obscene gestures to them. ABVP girls were saying: we will get you raped by our men.”

The teacher rubbished the media representation that it was a “Left vs Right” clash. “It is completely wrong to say Right and Left. Very few organisational cadre were there. A large number of common students had come out against the violence witnessed on the first day, to assert their right to discuss and debate. It was a mandate against violence and for freedom of speech,” the teacher said. Several people who spoke to Frontline requested anonymity as targeted assaults were being carried out and they did not want to be identified.

As the police surrounded the protesters from all sides, glass bottles, bricks, cement blocks and auto spare parts were thrown at them from behind the cordon. “Are we to believe that the police in India are incapable of controlling a mob of 200 people?” asked a protester in disbelief. Prof. Sachin Narayanan of Dayal Singh College, who was present, told Frontline: “Lumpen goons of the ABVP targeted us, their new strategy was to push their women cadre to the front who then attacked both men and women. They were circulating pictures of some faculty members and hunting for them through the campus. Many teachers were beaten up. A colleague of mine was slapped by her own student. They wanted to create an atmosphere of fear.” Towards the evening, ABVP supporters searched hostel rooms looking for students they had identified in the protests. “Students staying as paying guests were beaten up and threatened with dire consequences, and many of them have since left for their native places in fear. They are profiling common students and protesters,” he said. Prof. Prasanta Chakravarty of Delhi University was punched, kicked and dragged through the streets and his attackers even tried to strangle him with his own muffler. He suffered severe injuries to the kidney and ribs, which now require protracted treatment. Prof. Vinita Chandra and Prof. Manglik were also targets of abuse, and a morphed video of the latter was later circulated, accusing him of shouting anti-India slogans and calling for his suspension. (See interview.)

Media attacked

Journalists were not spared. In a statement released later, the Delhi Union of Journalists condemned the attack on the press. “ Times of India correspondent Somreet Bhattacharya and photographer Anindya Chattopadhyay were beaten up. Quint reporter Taruni Kumar has given a videoed statement of how ABVP women hit her, grabbed her phone, pulled her hair and broke her phone and mike. Quint cameraperson Shiv Kumar Maurya suffered injuries on his head and reporter Anant Prakash was also attacked. Hindustan Times reporter Ananya Bhardwaj was hit. Times Now reporter Priyank and cameraperson Mazhar Khan were beaten. Photographer Anand Sharma too was beaten. These attacks indicate a deliberate attempt to browbeat and muzzle the press whenever it tries to report violence by supporters and vigilante groups of the ruling party.”

Despite having photographs and videos of the violence, and medico-legal certificates obtained from hospitals by the grievously injured, the police refused to register a first information report (FIR); they only filed a complaint. In the evening, as protesters gathered outside the police station demanding an FIR, they were roughed up, dragged and taken away by the police. Videos of male police personnel punching a female student went viral on social media. Tarun Narang and Deepak Joshi, final year law students, moved the High Court seeking action against the police personnel who allegedly assaulted students and journalists during the violence at Ramjas. Their plea was dismissed by a bench headed by Chief Justice G. Rohini as the Delhi Police had already constituted a high-level committee to look into the issue following a notice from the National Human Rights Commission.

Fear on campus

An atmosphere of terror prevailed on the campus in the days that followed. Classes were held as usual, but teachers and students kept looking over their shoulders. Abinash, one of the organisers who was roughed up and had his spectacles smashed, said: “More than the physical trauma, there is a mental trauma. People were beaten up by their own friends and classmates. The ABVP collaborated with our own students to lead a crackdown. It needs to be healed before we can return to any sort of normalcy.”

As part of an online campaign #FightbackDu, a 20-year-old student of Lady Sri Ram College, Gurmehar Kaur, tweeted a photo of herself holding a placard that said: “I am not afraid of ABVP” and it quickly went viral. Her father, Captain Mandeep Singh, had died fighting in Jammu and Kashmir in 1999. An old video of hers, with a placard saying “Pakistan did not kill my father, war did” was unearthed and circulated widely, as a result of which she was trolled and subjected to rape threats. Public personalities such as the cricketer Virender Sehwag and the Bollywood actor Randeep Hooda joined the bandwagon and mocked her. Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju, in total disregard of the high office he holds, jumped into the controversy by tweeting: “Who is polluting this young girl’s mind?” The Minister’s tweet seemed to legitimise the trolling and added fuel to the fire. Gurmehar left the city. Ex-servicemen and her family, however, supported her.

Meanwhile, P.C. Tulsiyan, who succeeded Rajendra Prasad (who retired on February 28) as the Principal of Ramjas, showed proactiveness in probing the violence and bringing the perpetrators to book. The staff council set up an inquiry. “People should come forward with whatever proof they have. Whoever can be identified within Ramjas to have participated in the violence should be suspended. We are also trying to register an independent and separate FIR for Ramjas,” said a teacher.

One teacher said on condition of anonymity: “While the February violence shocked everybody, it also precipitated a movement against what was seen as a crackdown by the combined might of foot soldiers of the right-wing hegemonists, the police, the state and sections of the media. The pattern repeated itself in university after university, from HCU [Hyderabad Central University] to JNU to DU and all others in between, of ABVP taking offence at a particular film screening or an event or a seminar, framing the discussion in ‘national versus anti-national’ categories, branding anybody who disagreed with their violent methods as going against the nation. And finally ending in either an institutional murder, a disappearance or large-scale riot-like violence as seen in DU. Followed by police inaction and media misrepresentation.” As Prof. Sachin marched through the streets of Delhi with other members of civil society to reclaim academic spaces, protesting against the ABVP’s continued violence, he said: “They want to shut down our public universities to further the role of crony capitalism and self-financing institutions. But we are here for our studies, which includes active participation in politics, and will continue to engage in debates and discussions.”

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