06 Jan 2020, 03:42 PM ISTAsmita Bakshi

  • On 5 January around 6 pm, masked mobs allegedly comprising ABVP members from inside and outside the university entered campus with sticks, stones, rods and hammers
  • They vandalised hostels, beat students and teachers. Lounge spoke to the inmates of Sabarmati hostel, which was attacked thrice that day

New Delhi: It is 1.30am on 6 January at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) Sabarmati hostel. What’s left of the main door is just the frame, the glass has been completely shattered and shards lie in heaps on either side. Doors and windows inside the mess are in similar condition. Outside, civil society members and students have gathered, amid swarms of police officers armed with lathis, helmets and bullet proof jackets, chanting slogans of JNU pe hamla band karo (Stop the attack on JNU)! and ABVP murdabad! (Down with ABVP!). A drone flickers overhead, and disappears just as quickly as it becomes visible.

As we enter the hostel, small groups of students are gathered outside their rooms across the ground, first and second floors–some with their windows smashed in and all in a state of fear.

On the first floor outside room 156, student Rahul Pandey points out that the door is covered in what he claims is a lethal “powder”. This, he and other students say, is the room of a Kashmiri student, which is why they believe it was specifically and most brutally targeted. A student outside is frantically calling out his friend’s name–worried for his safety, but the door is locked. “The reason the mob targeted this room could be many — first that he is Kashmiri, second that he is Muslim,” says Pandey. A student from Varanasi who was hiding along with 17 others in the hostel as the violence ensued, says, “They threw acid, bricks, smashed windows with rods and threw slippers or whatever else they could find. Two or three people in the room had panic attacks, the others were trembling with fear.”

The students of the university have been protesting against the fee hike over the last few months
The students of the university have been protesting against the fee hike over the last few months (Asmita Bakshi)

As Pandey explains, the JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA), a legally elected body, was holding a peace march outside the hostel around 4.30pm. As it was winding up around 6pm, a mob wielding sticks, with masked faces, started beating the teachers and students and pelting stones, eventually entering the hostels and vandalising the area, smashing windows, hurling vile expletives and causing terror among hostel inmates. These groups allegedly comprised ABVP (Akhil Bhartiya Vidya Parishad, a right-wing students’ organization with affiliations to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) members from inside and outside JNU. As students and teachers were being rushed to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) after the attack–reports state that at least 34 were admitted with head and other injuries–the mob attacked the ambulances. Students claim that the police stationed both inside and outside the campus took no action.The room next to a student’s has the glass completely smashed (Asmita Bakshi)Now finally, with the gates locked, crowds have gathered outside to demand that members of the mob be brought to justice and the police inaction condemned.In a room on the ground floor of the hostel is Surya Prakash, 25, who has recently completed his MA and is doing his course work in preparation for an MPhil. He has complete visual impairment. “Around 6.50pm I was sitting in my room studying, and I could hear people outside yelling the filthiest abuses. I could hear them attack the room in front of mine and then they stormed into my room,” he says.Prakash, who is from Deoria, Uttar Pradesh, put away his laptop in a safe place. “They broke down my door, and started thrashing me with rods on my back and arms,” he says. “They were reeking of alcohol and I kept screaming, ‘Main blind hoon mujhe chhod do! (I’m blind, please spare me!)’.” But the mob did not relent. “One person said, ‘Yeh jhoot bol raha hai isse maaro (He is lying, thrash him!)’ and they kept beating me — until they finally stopped after one person from the group told the others that I am actually blind.”Prakash was rushed to the AIIMS trauma centre by a group of students, where he was “given an injection, a painkiller and bandaged”. As he sits in his room, with a stencil of B.R. Ambedkar painted on the wall, the graduate from St. Stephens College reveals that he was thrilled until this evening–he had won a prize in an extempore speaking competition and was back in Delhi from home to compete in a sporting event at the national level. “I’ve been receiving calls saying if I tell anyone (about my attackers), I will not be safe. I’m in a state of terror, I just want to leave from here so that I can feel safe,” he said. “I hope the administration will help us.”On the second floor, half-eaten plates of food are lying on broken tables in the corridor. A final-year PhD scholar in computer science who wished to remain anonymous was following his daily routine–he finished his studies at 7pm, was washing up and would then go down to the mess for dinner at 7.30pm. In the common washroom across from his hostel, wearing a towel, he was brushing his teeth, when suddenly he heard the mob enter–he could hear people screaming and the sound of glass shattering. He rushed to his room, but the mob was already on the first floor. In a state of panic, he could not manage to unlock the door.The student, who hails from Prayagraj, rushed up the stairs and hid under a pile of boxes near a locked terrace door. “I ran upstairs to save my life. I hid there for a while and as the noise died down I went down to my room. Five minutes later the mob came back. This happened three times. They banged on our doors with sticks,” he says. He would check for updates on the hostel and students’ WhatsApp groups–where members shared pictures of injured students, videos of the brutality, and kept students alert in case they heard of the mob’s whereabouts.The room next to his has the glass completely smashed. “We were a few of us hiding in here. When we heard the noise we all locked the door and held it from behind so that they couldn’t break in. These are targeted attacks. The room two doors away (from his) belongs to someone from the ABVP. He has not been here since the afternoon and the mob spared his room,” he says.The students of the university have been protesting against the fee hike over the last few months. And though JNU has been in the news frequently over the last few years for protests and the ensuing state action, students claim they have never seen this level of violence, especially inside the campus. “This is extreme; it’s not something we have witnessed before. They are trying to kill our protests and kill the university, they are trying to distract people from the state of the economy and the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests going on across the country,” says Pandey.Students downstairs, who are studying Sanskrit and Hindi literature, have swept glass from their smashed windows off their beds and into a corner. A few rooms away, Prakash worries how he will make it through the night. “I have always done everything myself, in spite of my disability — cleaned, washed, studied. But tonight, I will have to sleep with an unlocked door. People have assured me I will be safe. But after tonight, after the trauma, how can I be sure?” He closes the door once we leave, as tightly as he can.Earlier this morning, in a letter to the dean, the warden of Sabarmati Hostel stepped down.

JNU Students Say They Jumped Off Balconies to Escape Mob Terror

Video Editor: Mohd Ibrahim“We were three of us, we used all our might and strength against the door. We had to keep the door from opening or we would be killed. For the entire 30 minutes, I kept thinking the door would break open now, the door would break open now…my heart was pounding. I could hear it. I want to go out but I am unable to step away from my room.”

This is what Rehman Mirza, who is doing his Masters in Pashtun from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, told The Quint on the night of Sunday, 5 January, as the students suffered a violent attack by a masked mob on campus.

Standing amidst broken glass and stones, while getting numerous frantic calls from home, Mirza said, “My family is insisting I go to a relative’s house in Okhla. I am scared to step out but. I do not know how I will get there.”

“I heard those goons even manhandled Yogendra Yadav. If that can happen with him. Then I am a nobody,” he added, not knowing what to do to keep himself safe.

The violence started when a masked mob of around 100 people, carrying rods, sticks and stones, stormed into the campus and attacked the students and teachers who were conducting a meeting at Sabarmati dhaba in JNU. The mob allegedly consisted of right wing groups, primarily ABVP students, many of whom could not be recognised as those from the campus, students said.

Stones were also pelted in rooms. In some cases shoes were thrown inside.
Stones were also pelted in rooms. In some cases shoes were thrown inside.

The Fee-Hike Issue: Meeting Was Called to Ensure Peace in JNU

Over the last couple of days, JNU had been tense, primarily due to the ongoing fee hike issue. 5 January was the last date for registration for the new semesterand a number of fights had broken out between left wing and right wing students.

While the left has been fighting for a roll-back of the fee hike the right wing is supporting the administration and encouraging students to sign up.

It was in this charged atmosphere that a meeting was called by the JNUTA (Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers Association) on the evening of 5 January, in order to maintain peace in the university. Ironically, it was stormed by goons.

“Sabarmati was a peaceful congregation of teachers and students. They decided to attack the very students who were calling for peace in campus. The professors were mercilessly beaten up with rods and sticks. I saw students run with terror in their eyes,” an eyewitness and JNU student told The Quint, requesting to remain anonymous.

Those at the Sabarmati dhaba were beaten up mercilessly. In shock, students ran to their hostels and mess to take cover. However, the mob reached there as well. At Sabarmati hostel, several rooms, including that of Mirza, were vandalised by the masked attackers.

This is the door to the entrance of the mess at Sabarmati hostel. At least 10 people who were running from the mob were hidden by those who serve food inside.
This is the door to the entrance of the mess at Sabarmati hostel. At least 10 people who were running from the mob were hidden by those who serve food inside.

‘Rooms of ABVP Students Barely Touched’

“Activists, leftists and Muslims have been targeted. There are some rooms that haven’t been touched or barely touched, they belong to the ABVP people or their friends,” Mirza told The Quint,pointing towards two rooms on his immediate left, which did not seem to have been vandalised. In another room in Mirza’s corridor, we met Jashan, Bharat and Jaya.

Similarly, on the first floor, the rooms of those in or affiliated to the ABVP were not vandalised, the students said.

‘Students Had to Jump Off Balconies, Now Admitted in AIIMS’

While some students were able to close the door and keep the mob out, not everyone could keep safe.

One room at Sabarmati hostel was vandalised most brutally. However, when the goons were finally able to break into it, they found it empty. A student, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Quint, “During the time they were breaking the glass of our windows, two of my friends jumped down from the balcony.”

But, while these students did escape the rioters, they fall from the balcony ended up injuring them. “One of them has a fracture in his hand and another has hurt his lower back very acutely. They are both in AIIMS,” the student added.

A fire extinguisher was sprayed across this room, which saw the most damage of all. Even flower pots from the corridor were brought inside and broken there.

However, three rooms adjacent to it remained completely untouched by the violent mob. Some students said these rooms belonged to those affiliated with the ABVP.

‘Chants of Vande Mataram, Bharat Mata Ki Jai Grew Louder and Louder’

Present at the JNUTA meeting were Richa* and Seema*, both pursuing their Masters at the university. Standing right next to the professors, they saw around 100 people coming towards them.

“One of the professors said that we should make a human chain so that the goons do not pass us,” Seema said.

As they tried to form a chain, Richa saw a stone being hurled in their direction; it hit a girl hard in the head. Richa said:“The chants of Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata Ki Jai were growing louder and louder.”

Both of them ran for their lives.

The Sabarmati hostel where people ran to for cover.
The Sabarmati hostel where people ran to for cover.

While many ran to the boys wing, situated at the left side of Sabarmati, others ran to the right, towards the girls wing. Some students also hid in the mess of the hostel.

“I was one of the first ones to run towards the mess. I was so scared. We begged the mess warden to allow us to hide here. Ten of us, guys and girls, were here for about an hour,” Richa said.

The mess where at least ten people took cover from the violence being inflicted by the mob.
The mess where at least ten people took cover from the violence being inflicted by the mob.

‘Going Home’

Shocked and traumatised, most students want to get away from the campus for now.Jashan’s parents, in West Bengal, were extremely worried for their child. His room’s window was broken by the mob, and replaced with a thick wooden slab. Shoes that were thrown inside, were still lying there.

Saying that all of them were now planning to go home, Jaya recounted:“For half-an-hour, I sat on that floor and cried and screamed. For half-an-hour, they banged the door. They abused us. I can not believe this is what they have done. I am still in shock.”

“Security is the first thing that matters,” Jashan said as he tried to comfort Jaya.

Contrary to allegations that the ABVP orchestrated this attack by calling people from outside campus and ensuring they got entry, ABVP Secretary Manish Jangid blamed the students from leftist parties for the violence. “The ABVP members and students are being intimidated since 4 January by these students. They hit us with stones and glass. No one is listening to us,” Jangid claimed.

(*Names chaged)

(The Quint is now avail