Citizenship Act: What Actually Led to Violent Protest in Jamia Millia Islamia
New Delhi: Jamia Millia Islamia—a central university located in Southeast District in the national capital—turned into a virtual battlefield on December 13, as a result of “irresponsible” handling of a huge crowd (comprising thousands of protestors) and “excessive” use of force, including lathi charge and tear gas shells, that triggered heavy stone pelting from the agitating students.
Following the brutal crackdown by police on the protesting students, the university authorities on Saturday, December 14, declared vacation till January 5. "All exams are postponed. New dates to be announced in due course of time. Vacation declared from December 16 to January 5. University will reopen on January 6, 2020," a senior university official was quoted by PTI.
A Jamia student was quoted by PTI as saying, "We have left the exams in the middle and cancelled it. Jamia will raise its voice if anything wrong happens to our nation. We have boycotted the classes and exams. We will march again and again for our rights."
The varsity students had given a call for a Parliament march at 3 PM to register protest against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 or CAB – which seeks to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who are—according to the current ruling regime—persecuted minorities in the respective countries. The new law, experts argue, is discriminatory as it is based on religion and violates Article 14 and 25 of the Constitution.
The protesting students — chanting slogans against the contentious Act and the government — began their protest march at the given time. The crowd swelled after a large number of residents of Jamia Nagar locality, where the university is situated, joined the students.
The police had erected barricades at the exit point of the university to stop the protesters from marching ahead. When the agitating students as well as residents reached the barricades, they entered in a heated exchange with the cops deployed there. Those who tried to get through the barricades were detained by the police. Video footage from the protest site show that the detained protesters—mostly students—were being assaulted by the cops. This provoked the angry protesters who broke the barricades by bringing it down.
Following this, the police launched a baton charge at the protesters, leading to the agitators rushing into the campus through university gates. Meanwhile, the policemen were chasing them down with lathis. A video clip appeared later wherein the cops—who too appeared to be unruly and leaderless — can be seen brutally assaulting at least three students inside gate number 3. Their repeated requests to police personnel went in vain till Jamia security guards intervened and asked the policemen to leave the campus.
The use of brute force further agitated the protesters who began pelting stones. The policemen were chased away from the campus and forced to go to the other side of the barricades. Several of the policemen, too, were seen hurling stones at the protesters standing inside the university’s Faculty of Engineering. When the situation slipped out of control, the police began to fire tear gas shells. Several rounds of targetted tear gas shells were fired inside the engineering faculty. The stone pelting and tear gas shelling continued for over two hours. At least, 30-40 rounds of tear gas shells were fired amid loud bursts, bringing the ongoing viva in the engineering department to a halt.
Around 60 students, dozens of policemen and many journalists suffered injuries. As many as 30 people were admitted to the nearby Holy Family Hospital following the clashes. Of them, 25 were discharged by the hospital after first aid. A student, Mohammad Fahad, was referred to All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) as he suffered serious injuries to his hand, which requires plastic surgery. Three policemen with head injuries are still admitted to the hospital’s neurosurgery department.
“Apart from a student who suffered serious injuries to his hand, none of them who were brought here has any serious injury. Those who were brought to our casualty ward had minor bruises. They were given first aid and sent back. Those who are still admitted are stable,” Holy Family Hospital Director Father George PA told NewsClick.
Several other protesters who suffered injuries were taken to Al-Shifa Hospital. Many of them had hand or leg fractures.
After the stone pelting and tear gas shelling stopped, Jamia faculty members, representatives of Jamia Alumni Association, Okhla MLA Amanatullah Khan and few responsible citizens of the locality stepped and pacified the students.
Also watch: Jamia CAB Protest: How the Clashes Ensued
Senior police officials, too, reached the spot, but late in the evening. The protesters were pacified only after Devesh Srivastava, joint commissioner of police (southern range), assured the students that their detained fellow students would be released soon. “I urge you to disperse peacefully and give the country a message that you are law abiding citizens and you don’t believe in violence. Let’s create such an atmosphere that no new visitor to the area can figure out that anything has happened here. I assure you that all the students will soon be released. Please go back to your hostels and homes and let the law and order prevail,” he appealed to the protesting crowd.
Meanwhile, the police claimed they had to take action to bring the situation under control. “The protesters were asked not to hold any protest as they did not have permission. Since they pelted stones, the police had to resort to mild lathi charge,” said Southeast Delhi DCP Chinmoy Biswal.
Explaining the reason behind denial of permission, the Delhi Police in a statement said that there was a scheduled protest at Jantar Mantar (on December 13). “Since the place was already saturated with people beyond the permissible number of 1,000, the protesters who were coming from different parts of the city to gather at Jantar Mantar were advised not to proceed to the venue. In this process, some protesters who were coming from Central Delhi were stopped at Ranjeet Singh Flyover, and they dispersed peacefully after police persuasion. Likewise, the protesters who were coming from Jamia University were also persuaded to protest peacefully there only, and were requested not to march towards the New Delhi area. However, they got agitated and aggressively confronted the police personnel. They broke barricades and indulged in stone pelting at police personnel which also caused damage to parked vehicles. The police had to lob tear gas shells with use of limited force to disperse the protesters. A total of 42 protesters were detained and subsequently released. In this incident, 12 police personnel were injured and two of them with relatively serious injuries are under observation in ICU,” read the statement.
‘A SHEER LIE, THE POLICE USED EXCESSIVE FORCE’
Several faculty members and students of Jamia Millia Islamia told NewsClick that the police statement is a “sheer lie”. They said had the police not resorted to lathi charge and maintained restrain — as they do while dealing with other protests, the situation would not have gone out of control.
“Protesting against faulty and discriminatory decisions of the government is our right, which has been guaranteed by the Constitution. As per schedule, we took out the protest march but we were stopped at the exit gates of the university. As we reached the barricades, the police resorted to indiscriminate lathi charge. Violating the varsity’s autonomy, the cops entered our campus and beat us black and blue. They did not even spare girl students, who were assaulted and dragged on the road. And now, the police is trying to come clean and blaming us for what happened,” said a visibly agitated student, who wished to remain anonymous.
Another girl student, who was also part of the protest, said the CAB is discriminatory and against the spirit of the Constitution. “It is an attempt to make Muslims a second class citizen in the country and snatch their rights. We will oppose them tooth and nail. No matter how violent the police turn, they cannot weaken our resolve,” she said.
A student from the engineering faculty who was appearing for his viva examination said tear gas shells landed in his classroom. “We were appearing in the viva but it was so loud outside that nothing was audible. Few tear gas shells also entered our class. There was chaos everywhere and police must take responsibility of their reckless behaviour while dealing with students,” he added.
His claim was corroborated by a faculty member, who also said that many students could not turn up for their viva examination because of the barricades and hostile situation outside.
“The Delhi Police should have maintained restrain. There was no need to resort to lathi charge and chase the students and beat them up in the campus. They (policemen), too, were involved in stone pelting. The way they were lobbing tear gas shells, it appeared as if they are in a battle field. Our complex (Faculty of Engineering) was targeted by the cops. Several photos have emerged that show they were firing tear gas shells targetting students standing in the engineering faculty. It is uncalled for and the university administration must take a note of it,” he said.
JAMIA ALUMNI CONDEMN POLICE ACTION
The varsity’s alumni in a statement strongly condemned the violence and “brutality” meted out by the Delhi Police against the students. “Ample evidence through photographs, videos and ground reports confirms that the police injured several students with batons, tear gas, shoes and stones. Many students have suffered serious head injuries and fractures. The students were protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, passed by the Indian government on December 12, 2019. The Act sets religion as a legal criterion for Indian citizenship. It is not only sectarian in nature but also against the democratic ethos of India,” the statement said.
“Many of us,” it further read, “have not only acquired excellent professional skills from the university but also learned essential life lessons of co-existing, respecting and upholding the plurality and diversity that exists in India. By speaking out, the students have displayed their firm belief in the same values. It is the democratic right of students to protest. The violent actions of the police on the instructions of the Central government are absolute violations of the fundamental rights of Indian citizens.”
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