Tensions have been mounting in India’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) since a student went missing from the campus more than 10 days ago after a brawl between rival student groups. Since then, many conflicting accounts of the incident have come out. The BBC’s Vikas Pandey reports from the JNU campus in Delhi.
Who has gone missing and what happened?
The missing student has been identified as Najeeb Ahmed, a post graduate biotechnology student, who lived in one of the university’s residential hostels.
Mr Ahmed, was reportedly involved in an altercation on the night of 14 October with a group of students affiliated to the right-wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) who were campaigning for hostel elections. JNU has a robust culture of student politics.
He went missing the following day.
However, a lot of his personal belongings like his mobile phone, wallet and clothes were left behind in his room.
The disappearance has caused a great deal of tension inside JNU, which has already been in the news after when five of its students were arrested on sedition charges earlier this year. They are now out on bail.
The left-wing All India Students’ Association (AISA) has taken out several protest marches inside and outside the university, saying that “JNU authorities haven’t done enough to find Najeeb”.
Some students formed a human chain inside the campus on 23 October to protest against the university administration, while others formed a blockade outside the vice chancellor’s residence.
Why is there confusion over the incident?
ABVP and AISA have their own versions of what actually happened the night before Mr Ahmed went missing.
Rama Naga, the president of AISA, has blamed the ABVP for the incident and alleged that some of its supporters “badly thrashed Najeeb because he was a Muslim”.
“I reached the spot after hearing about the incident. A crowd had gathered in the hostel, but we somehow calmed people down and decided to have a meeting in the hostel warden’s room. But even before we could enter the room, some ABVP supporters beat up Najeeb again,” he told the BBC.
But Alok Kumar Singh, the president of ABVP in JNU, rejects these allegations. “I am told that Najeeb started the brawl and he first hit some ABVP supporters, after which a scuffle broke out. But nobody badly beat him up. I was also present when the meeting took place in the warden’s room and I can tell you that nobody hit him,” he said.
Both groups also have different versions of the outcome of the meeting.
The ABVP claims that Mr Ahmed “admitted his fault” and was temporarily suspended from the hostel by the warden for “attacking a fellow student unprovoked”.
“This decision was taken in the presence of several AISA members who accepted the outcome at the time,” he said.
Mr Singh showed the BBC a letter which stated that Mr Ahmed had accepted his mistake and “was being suspended” from the hostel as a punishment. The letter contained the signatures of the warden and some AISA members “as witnesses”.
“If Najeeb was as badly injured as AISA claims, why didn’t they take him to the hospital, why didn’t they register a case with the police?” he asked.
But Mr Naga rejected Mr Singh’s understanding of the outcome.
“It’s true that Najeeb accepted his mistake, most likely out of fear. Some of our members signed the letter as observers with a promise to the warden that we would file another complaint the next day about ABVP supporters thrashing Najeeb,” he said.
“We did this and Najeeb’s suspension was revoked the next day. But we haven’t been able to find him since then.”
The only thing both student leaders agree on, is that the police and university should do everything possible to find Mr Ahmed.
What has happened since then?
Mr Ahmed’s mother, Fatima Nafees, has filed a police complaint about her son’s disappearance.
“He was a simple boy who believed in working hard and nothing else. We struggled a lot to send him to JNU to study. Now I don’t even know if he has eaten or not, let alone how badly he is injured,” she told BBC Hindi’s Vineet Khare.
“I last spoke to Najeeb at 11am on 15 October and he told me that he wanted to see me. I just hope the police find him soon and take action against those who beat him up.”
Meanwhile, the Delhi police have formed a special investigative team to find Mr Ahmed.
Inspector Santan Singh, who is part of the team, told the BBC that the they were “doing everything possible” to find him.
“We are perusing several lines of investigation, but can’t reveal anything to the media at this point. Let’s just hope that we find him very soon,” he said.
The university later said in a statement that the police “has taken several serious steps to find Najeeb Ahmed”.
Most students in JNU are anxious and want the police to solve the “mystery” of Mr Ahmed’s disappearance as soon as possible.
“The case has affected all of us. We just want to study and urge student leaders to not politicise the issue. Too much has happened this year,” said Abdullah A Rahman, a student at the campus.
Purna Naik agrees with his friend.
“The JNU is one of the most inclusive campuses in the country. Students from all walks of life study here in a peaceful atmosphere. I am a Dalit [formerly known as untouchables] and I have faced discrimination in the past, but never inside the JNU campus. But now I am worried,” he said.
Another student, Chinmaya Mahnand said there was “a sense of fear now among the students like me”.
“I hope that we find Najeeb soon and we all are praying that we don’t get any bad news. The JNU is a great institution and we all should work together to keep it that way.”