Rarely has a sustained period of aggression been launched against students carrying out a countrywide protest that has an equal in India itself or in the annals of the free, democratic world. Unfortunately, the sheer brutality of the attacks by members of the All Bharatiya Janata Party (ABVP, the students’ wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS) in cahoots with the venal and sadistic Delhi Police on students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on Sunday went far beyond legal conduct.
Since the violence against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019, broke on 13 December 2019, the day of its passage in the Lok Sabha, violence marred violence in Meghalaya and Kolkata, too, where the management was largely led by students. Then, of course, the same much-vaunted city force staged attacks on the students of Jamia Millia Islamia (Jamia) in obvious contravention of law and procedure, not to mention in breach of common humanity.
Jamia redux was played out on Monday in New Delhi, when a gang of ABVP Black Shirt stormtroopers attacked the JNU campus. The campus had been off-course because of the long, and most will say justifiable, strike against a fee hike. Nevertheless, clearly the numbers were down. And the goons went about beating students indiscriminately. Some faculty members were also beaten. The use of excessive force was denied. But televisions screens beamed pictures of the gates being closed with both the beaten community of students and their armed tormentors inside. One observer put the number of SS cadres at near 200.
The murderous mobs, who should behind bars, also asked a bearded man his religion, while a pro-RSS Sanskrit teacher walked up to a local Bharatiya Janata Dal (BJP) and told him, “Students are scaling the wall and stepping outside campus. Tell your boys to push them back.”
Let us replay the Jamia issue. Just five days after the CAA was passed by Parliament, students of the university held a rally. In response came immensely disproportional force against them. The Jamia operation was carried out, no doubt, on the orders of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, that indomitable champion of CAA. The force, however, illegally entered the university campus, beat up students, some of them ignominiously dragged girls and boys from rooms and toilets and rampaged through campus, destroying invaluable property, including books from the raided library.
Once on the defensive, the administration had to stick to their guns, claiming they had not fired a single round during the episode. A police report, in fact, showed they fired several. Like the Cyberabad Police, one expects. If no action is taken against Delhi Police, the Home Ministry will have ended up having stated categorically that his police force is his business—a private army. And Karnataka state will be emboldened to follow suit, with all his fellow chief ministers in the National Democratic Alliance.
The obscene attack on Jamia and its students was repeated in Aligarh Muslim University, when policed bulled their way on campus and beat students indiscriminately without recourse to due process or the reasonableness of law.
By the time the Jamia episode took place, the movement against the CAA and National Register of Indian Citizens had started to snowball. The movement was peaceful by and large in most places in India—symbolised by the dramatic movements in Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, and Kolkata. In the rest of the country, too, robust movements were held.
Violence happened on a large scale in small pockets of the country, mostly either provoked by the brutalities of the police or the agents provocateurs mentioned above. Many of the latter were members of Sangh branches as discovered in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. In Uttar Pradesh, the brutalities have been intense and still carry on. The body count has not been written out fully even now; bat for something in the double figures.
Coordinated gang attacks on academic institutions across the country is becoming—if it has not already done so—endemic. JNU is a show-piece academic institution in Delhi and India. Yet, neither Prime Minister Modi nor Shah bothered to pass even the most anodyne of comments. The administration blamed the students who were peacefully protesting an internal matter of the university. And Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, usually so quick to comment on the state of the weather in, say, Upper Volta, had no sympathy for students from her alma mater.
These relentless attacks appear to have two main objectives, both beloved of the BJP: first, to capture institutions, insert into them its dodgy ideologues, who will re-package the social sciences mainly; and, second, the mediocrisation of all institutions, because what they want is a citizenry that will not think for itself.
The impunity allowed to the police forces, and of course, all paramilitary forces to act summarily to deprive them of their liberty and sometimes, unfortunately, life is sending India careening down a steep, slippery slope towards a genuine authoritarian nation. Inscribed at its centre will be the hard Hindu state.
The author is a freelance journalist and researcher. The views are personal.