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Freedom Politics

Aftermath of clashes at AMU

On December 15, two historically Muslim universities; Jamia Millia Islamia University (JMIU) and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) saw a crackdown against protesting students by police and security personnel. But the repercussions at AMU were graver, with students being forced to vacate their hostel rooms and go back home.

Sabrangindia 18 Dec 2019
AMU
Image Courtesy: PTI

When AMU students held a spontaneous protest to express solidarity with their brethren at JMIU where students faced police brutality, AMU too ended up being the scene of clashes where police led a lathi charge and used tear gas shells against students. But to understand what happened in AMU on Sunday, one first has to understand what transpired during protests on Friday.
 

The previous peaceful protest on Friday

Explaining the build up to the clashes, Prof. Mohibul Haque says, “The protest on Friday was a peaceful protest that saw participation from close to 8,000 students who were expressing their dissent against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). They wanted to leave the University campus, march down and present a memo to the District Magistrate. But in the interest of law and order, university authorities stopped them at the gate where police had put up barricades.”

AMU Deputy Proctor Azam Malik Khan adds, “The policemen present were very polite and cooperative. In fact, SSP Akash Kulhari, who is a JNU alumnus, told the students that peaceful protest was their democratic right.”

Videos of Kulhari standing on top of a table and addressing thousands of students emerged on social media. In one such video that may be viewed here, Kulhari can be heard saying, “If you use democratic means of protest, I stand with you. I Akash Kulhari guarantee you that even I have to go myself to deliver your memorandum to the President of India, I will do so myself.”

This helped build confidence among students and there were no further incidents that day.
 

What happened on Sunday

However, trouble began once again on Sunday evening when reports of police brutality started coming in from JMIU. Many AMU students have friends and family who study at JMIU and anger started brewing.

“AMU has over 20,000 residential students. So, it wasn’t surprising that thousands gathered to respond to a protest call. It all happened so quickly, in a span of 10-15 minutes, some 8,000 to 10,000 students had come together,” says Haque. But Khan says it wasn’t just AMU students. “The nearby neighbourhoods also have a significant Muslim population, and we suspect many people who engaged in stone pelting and clashes with the police were not AMU students. This is clear from the arrests made. Out of the 26 people arrested, only 6 were AMU students. We feel these outsiders, some of whom may have been friends of the students, were the ones who caused the situation to escalate so much,” says Khan.

But, once the retaliation began, things got ugly quickly. Haque says, “Some students say that it was personnel from the Rapid Action Force who were the most brutal. In fact, many students told me that the RAF personnel hurled Islamophobic slurs while beating the students. The intensity of the retaliation was such that even the father of a student was not spared. He had come to pick up his son to take him to a safe place, but they were caught even as they were leaving and beaten severely.” He adds, “Later I visited injured students who were admitted to Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College. I saw 40 to 50 students who had been injured in the clashes. They told me how the police were relentless in their beatings.”

Confirming the use of tear gas Khan says, “We were monitoring the situation using CCTVs in our control room. We saw a student union member with a few others near the canteen. Later they made their way to Suleiman Hall and the group grew into a mob. Suddenly they turned violent and started breaking barricades and pelting stones.” After the police and RAF personnel entered the campus, some of the alleged organisers of the violence took refuge on one of the rooms in Warrison Court hostel. “That was when the police broke window panes and fired tear gas shells in a bid to smoke them out,” says Khan.

Both Haque and Khan denied allegations of police entering women’s hostels or misbehaving with female students.
 

The next day

The university not only cancelled all exams, it also declared winter vacations early forcing students to vacate their hostel rooms and go home. “It was shocking and sudden, and perhaps the most difficult for students from Kashmir and the North East. It is snowing heavily in Kashmir and many rods are closed. Guardians were advising students not to come. Similarly, there are no trains to many parts of the North East given the curfew and violence during anti-CAA protests. And then there was the problem of sending girl students, many of whom had never travelled without their guardians,” says Haque explaining the plight of students forced to vacate their hostels.

Khan says that the AMU authorities organized transport for students up to Jammu, insisting students went willingly. “We organized six UP roadways buses; two on Monday and four on Tuesday. Students were sent to Jammu with proper security and the university bore the expenses. The students must have made some arrangements in Jammu as they left willingly,” says Khan. This appears to sound a little callous given how difficult road travel becomes in the region, especially in the Kashmir valley after snowfall begins. What if the students are not able to make arrangements to reach home or find safe haven in Jammu? Where would they spend a punishingly cold winter?

As far as the students from the North East are concerned, AMU authorities says that some went to live with their local guardians, while many left for Delhi. “We know about the situation in the North East and even in Bengal. Some of our students are from Murshidabad where there is violence and we arranged for train travel to other safe areas where the students wanted to go. We organized buses to take many students from the North East to Delhi where they said they had some arrangements. In fact, we allowed some students from Kashmir and the North East to stay an extra day in the hostel on compassionate grounds,” said Khan. “For longer distance travel such as Bihar, Bengal and Kerala, we made arrangement for rail travel. Sometimes train tickets were not available at such short notice, so we requested railway authorities to make exceptions on humanitarian grounds. In many cases university authorities have spoken to TTs and requested them to let students travel in the general compartments,” said Khan.

Even on Tuesday, a few students including medical college students who were required to run the OPD, a few students from the North East and 12 foreign students, who could not make travel arrangements at short notice, were allowed to stay in their hostels.
 

What happens now?

The detained students who had been taken to different police stations including Civil Lines and Banna Devi have all been released. But some students are still missing. “We feel it is possible that they are hiding fearing arrest or laying low after the violence,” says Haque. 

AMU will reopen on January 5. It remains to be seen if any action will be taken against the police and RAF personnel for their alleged use of excessive violence against students. Also, can they explain why they vandalized bikes parked outside the university campus? A fact-finding team of activists led by Harsh Mander and John Dayal met with a few students and teachers on Tuesday evening. They also met the Proctor of the University. Their findings are awaited.  

Aftermath of clashes at AMU

On December 15, two historically Muslim universities; Jamia Millia Islamia University (JMIU) and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) saw a crackdown against protesting students by police and security personnel. But the repercussions at AMU were graver, with students being forced to vacate their hostel rooms and go back home.

AMU
Image Courtesy: PTI

When AMU students held a spontaneous protest to express solidarity with their brethren at JMIU where students faced police brutality, AMU too ended up being the scene of clashes where police led a lathi charge and used tear gas shells against students. But to understand what happened in AMU on Sunday, one first has to understand what transpired during protests on Friday.
 

The previous peaceful protest on Friday

Explaining the build up to the clashes, Prof. Mohibul Haque says, “The protest on Friday was a peaceful protest that saw participation from close to 8,000 students who were expressing their dissent against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). They wanted to leave the University campus, march down and present a memo to the District Magistrate. But in the interest of law and order, university authorities stopped them at the gate where police had put up barricades.”

AMU Deputy Proctor Azam Malik Khan adds, “The policemen present were very polite and cooperative. In fact, SSP Akash Kulhari, who is a JNU alumnus, told the students that peaceful protest was their democratic right.”

Videos of Kulhari standing on top of a table and addressing thousands of students emerged on social media. In one such video that may be viewed here, Kulhari can be heard saying, “If you use democratic means of protest, I stand with you. I Akash Kulhari guarantee you that even I have to go myself to deliver your memorandum to the President of India, I will do so myself.”

This helped build confidence among students and there were no further incidents that day.
 

What happened on Sunday

However, trouble began once again on Sunday evening when reports of police brutality started coming in from JMIU. Many AMU students have friends and family who study at JMIU and anger started brewing.

“AMU has over 20,000 residential students. So, it wasn’t surprising that thousands gathered to respond to a protest call. It all happened so quickly, in a span of 10-15 minutes, some 8,000 to 10,000 students had come together,” says Haque. But Khan says it wasn’t just AMU students. “The nearby neighbourhoods also have a significant Muslim population, and we suspect many people who engaged in stone pelting and clashes with the police were not AMU students. This is clear from the arrests made. Out of the 26 people arrested, only 6 were AMU students. We feel these outsiders, some of whom may have been friends of the students, were the ones who caused the situation to escalate so much,” says Khan.

But, once the retaliation began, things got ugly quickly. Haque says, “Some students say that it was personnel from the Rapid Action Force who were the most brutal. In fact, many students told me that the RAF personnel hurled Islamophobic slurs while beating the students. The intensity of the retaliation was such that even the father of a student was not spared. He had come to pick up his son to take him to a safe place, but they were caught even as they were leaving and beaten severely.” He adds, “Later I visited injured students who were admitted to Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College. I saw 40 to 50 students who had been injured in the clashes. They told me how the police were relentless in their beatings.”

Confirming the use of tear gas Khan says, “We were monitoring the situation using CCTVs in our control room. We saw a student union member with a few others near the canteen. Later they made their way to Suleiman Hall and the group grew into a mob. Suddenly they turned violent and started breaking barricades and pelting stones.” After the police and RAF personnel entered the campus, some of the alleged organisers of the violence took refuge on one of the rooms in Warrison Court hostel. “That was when the police broke window panes and fired tear gas shells in a bid to smoke them out,” says Khan.

Both Haque and Khan denied allegations of police entering women’s hostels or misbehaving with female students.
 

The next day

The university not only cancelled all exams, it also declared winter vacations early forcing students to vacate their hostel rooms and go home. “It was shocking and sudden, and perhaps the most difficult for students from Kashmir and the North East. It is snowing heavily in Kashmir and many rods are closed. Guardians were advising students not to come. Similarly, there are no trains to many parts of the North East given the curfew and violence during anti-CAA protests. And then there was the problem of sending girl students, many of whom had never travelled without their guardians,” says Haque explaining the plight of students forced to vacate their hostels.

Khan says that the AMU authorities organized transport for students up to Jammu, insisting students went willingly. “We organized six UP roadways buses; two on Monday and four on Tuesday. Students were sent to Jammu with proper security and the university bore the expenses. The students must have made some arrangements in Jammu as they left willingly,” says Khan. This appears to sound a little callous given how difficult road travel becomes in the region, especially in the Kashmir valley after snowfall begins. What if the students are not able to make arrangements to reach home or find safe haven in Jammu? Where would they spend a punishingly cold winter?

As far as the students from the North East are concerned, AMU authorities says that some went to live with their local guardians, while many left for Delhi. “We know about the situation in the North East and even in Bengal. Some of our students are from Murshidabad where there is violence and we arranged for train travel to other safe areas where the students wanted to go. We organized buses to take many students from the North East to Delhi where they said they had some arrangements. In fact, we allowed some students from Kashmir and the North East to stay an extra day in the hostel on compassionate grounds,” said Khan. “For longer distance travel such as Bihar, Bengal and Kerala, we made arrangement for rail travel. Sometimes train tickets were not available at such short notice, so we requested railway authorities to make exceptions on humanitarian grounds. In many cases university authorities have spoken to TTs and requested them to let students travel in the general compartments,” said Khan.

Even on Tuesday, a few students including medical college students who were required to run the OPD, a few students from the North East and 12 foreign students, who could not make travel arrangements at short notice, were allowed to stay in their hostels.
 

What happens now?

The detained students who had been taken to different police stations including Civil Lines and Banna Devi have all been released. But some students are still missing. “We feel it is possible that they are hiding fearing arrest or laying low after the violence,” says Haque. 

AMU will reopen on January 5. It remains to be seen if any action will be taken against the police and RAF personnel for their alleged use of excessive violence against students. Also, can they explain why they vandalized bikes parked outside the university campus? A fact-finding team of activists led by Harsh Mander and John Dayal met with a few students and teachers on Tuesday evening. They also met the Proctor of the University. Their findings are awaited.  

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2020

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In the year devastated by the Covid 19 Pandemic, India witnessed apathy against some of its most marginalised people and vilification of dissenters by powerful state and non state actors. As 2020 draws to a close, and hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers continue their protest in the bitter North Indian cold. Read how Indians resisted all attempts to snatch away fundamental and constitutional freedoms.
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