If police are our friends, why are they beating us: University students

Students from AMU, JNU and JMI respond to the sweeping statements made by university administration officials during a webinar on university discipline.

Image Courtesy:timesofindia.indiatimes.com

On September 8, the Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) university hosted ‘Discipline in Universities: Issues and Challenges’ webinar that included administrative officials from various prominent universities of India. Curiously enough, while the panel consisted of police officials to discuss discipline in the academic environment, it did not include a student representative to talk about student grievances.

When approached by SabrangIndia, students of JMI and other universities said they were not even aware of such a webinar until news reports came out. However, every student had a severe response to the statements made by the webinar panel.

All India Student Association (AISA) member Arbab Ali from JMI in particular said he felt betrayed by what Vice-Chancellor Najma Akhtar had said during the webinar. He was disappointed by Akhtar’s claim that “police are friends of students” when she herself had criticised the police in December last year for their unwarranted entry into the campus. Ali remembered how the police threw tear gas at the students.

“Has the university offered any legal remedy? Have they explained the student questioning? Have they stood in solidarity with the students? We do not see police as friends,” said Ali.

Since the incident, the university has installed many permanent police posts everywhere in the campus. Rather than calling them friends, he alleged that the Delhi police is an anti-Muslim machine. Ali said he could see a saffronisation in the webinar panel that called dissent “criminal.”

The History student emphasised the significance of ‘dissent’ in Jamia by alluding to the university’s historical dissent against British colonists. “Our idea of a university is dissent and discussion for everything,” he said.

And it is this dissent that the VC called problematic. This makes it harder for students to raise issues against university policies especially considering that Jamia does not have a student body, said Ali.

Reacting to specific statements, Ali wondered whether they could explain JMI’s exemplary performance if they truly believed that student protests deterred them from studies.

“It is because of students and teachers that Jamia is among the top universities of India. If we’re not interested in studies, how did we manage to get in? These activists are MA PhD students,” he said.

Regarding Akhtar’s suggestion to make a “problem creator list” Ali asked if a similar list could be made of the guards who previously attacked and beat students.

He also refuted Akhtar’s claim that students are no longer afraid of the police. He said nowadays students can’t even communicate with teachers because of the coronavirus pandemic.  He claimed that students are being monitored by the very administration that is supposed to be their guardian.

Similarly, Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) Students Union President Aishe Ghosh said that a concept such as discipline needs to be understood with a context and pretext since the definition changes from place to place.

During the webinar, she said the context of discipline was restricted to student protests. In response, she asked about the whereabouts of police when a mob of masked and armed people attacked the JNU students and teachers on January 5, 2020. At the time police were expected to protect the institution people but they did not. Thus, students raised their own voice because the police failed them, she said.

According to Ghosh, JNU and JMI often become targets of such violence because these students have always stood up in times of protest. This time, a lot of students and other citizens became involved following JMI protests.

“They don’t want youth to think. They want us to be mechanisms,” said Ghosh.

Ghosh believes that students live in a university that is an extension of society – a sentiment shared by other university students as well.

Same as Ali, Ghosh wondered at the JNU Chief Proctor Dhananjay Singh’s statement of “counter-productive activities at the cost of learning.”

“Students are not neutral beings,” she said, illustrating that varying market prices affect canteen fees as well.

However, the proctor’s statements did not come as a surprise to her because of his own political background and association with the RSS. She alleged that he was not a neutral being either because he was also allegedly part of the WhatsApp group that attacked the students in January. She also said that the proctor has previously given a clean chit to ABVP groups in the campus.

“Everything is a political question and needs to be addressed accordingly,” she said.

Ghosh said that the administration was trying to crush Student Unions because student representatives will naturally speak about student issues such as fee hikes. Student Unions are a mini-democracy that help organise students to approach higher authority, she said. To drive home her point, she gave the example of JMI that does not have a student body and is oppressed by the administration to a large extent.

“Dismantling Unions has a negative influence on campus environment,” she said.

Regarding police intervention, Ghosh said that she has noticed an increase in militarisation in the campus that has created an environment of fear. Earlier, students used to have political discussions in the canteen around evening. However, with the police roaming around in civil clothes, students suffer from mental stress. Ghosh suspects that such an environment will also hurt the research quality of students.

When asked about Singh’s descriptions of student protesters as “rowdy elements” Ghosh said, “They want to show that only bad students protest. However, Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee also protested during his university years,” she said.

She also gave the example of Nirmala Sitharaman who was also a political student and questioned whether the Finance Minister should also be called “rowdy.”

“As researchers, we are trying to understand the world around us. To call me anti-national because I have a different opinion is very problematic. The point is, does anybody want to listen to us?” she said.

When asked about a new student’s perception of JNU in the current environment, Ghosh said that some of her juniors had applied to JNU due to its strong political voice.

She rubbished the webinar’s argument that campuses require police intervention asserting that students have always done everything in a very peaceful manner.

This sentiment was carried forward by a student from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU.)

As far as Student Federation of India’s District Secretary Isteaque Ahmed can remember, police have always been around the AMU campus. Till date, one of the university campus’ main gates is guarded by police personnel.

“It does not make any sense to me.” said Ahmed, “They [the administration] just suppress voices and increase police intervention,” said Ahmed.

Just like JMI, AMU students have also lived in a state of fear following the incident in December 2019. Moreover, the recent unprecedented police attacks on student activists add to the psychosis of fear, he said.

Ahmed pointed out that although protests took place prior to 2014, they were never violent. Nowadays, protests continue but only police are violent.

“So, what’s the point of having them [police] around? The only point I see is to suppress voices of students,” he said.

Ahmed argued that universities should encourage students to raise questions to the government otherwise there is no use of education.

Much like Ghosh, he considered Student Unions an important part of campus life and worried that there was no Student Union election last year. He fears the administration is trying to create an environment where students are not free to express themselves.

Ahmed said that in the current environment, Student Unions also end up playing the role of the Opposition against the government. The UP government accordingly, seems more interested in university politics than state politics. He alleged that the reason may be because of the government’s anti-minority attitude.

For a third time, a student objected to the label of ‘rowdy’ of ‘problem creator’ as Ahmed pointed out that the government is the one who makes protests violent.

“There have been many protests. Show me one where students are at fault for violence. They are not!” said Ahmed.

To prove his point, Ahmed talked about his friend who was studying in JMI’s library on the night of the incident. Ahmed’s friend was blinded in one eye during the incident although he was never involved in school politics.

“This shows that something is wrong with the system,” said Ahmed.

A press release by the JMI PRO announcing the webinar on September 4 may be read here:


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