Justice as a refuge from trauma


 It was a year ago that the students of many universities protesting peacefully against Parliament’s citizenship amendments faced police brutality on their campus with the permission of the university administrations.

These nationwide protests would go on to turn 19 state governments, UN offices, the European Parliament, the US State Department publicly against New Delhi’s proposals on the NRC, NPR and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

On December 15, 2019 the Delhi Police controlled by the Union government entered the campus of the Jamia Millia Islamia University.

Along with shelling the campus with explosive teargas, police also entered the University’s Central Library where students had taken refuge. CCTV footage and videos of unrestrained police violence stand as evidence of state atrocities on unarmed students.

They also chased down students living nearby. Over 60 students were injured; the attack prompted international condemnation as the United Nations Secretary-General condemned Indian authorities for allegedly using excessive force.

Over a year since, Ishita, a student of JMI, can still hear the sounds of teargas shells that turned the campus into a war zone:

“That day, I realised how minorities are made to feel in our nation. We are hypocrites because we talk about censuring human rights violations but allow it to happen with our minorities.”

She calls that day a “nightmare” and says she has been trying to deal with the accumulating trauma in the year since, because “the ruling regime” has not been held to account, or faced any sense of responsibility for its actions.

The university authorities had filed a complaint against the “brutal action” but it has yet to be registered as an FIR. Vice-chancellor Najma Akhtar, appointed in April 2019, has reportedly stated that “there is no point in pursuing the FIR after one year as there is no hope… If the court is taking so long to decide whether or not our FIR will even be registered, then there is nothing we can do about it.”

Akhtar asked her students to focus on the future. Farhan, a second-year student of mass communication, reckons that to look at the future it is necessary to get rid of past agonies which haunt students. But the police and paramilitary forces patrolling the campus boundaries since December 12 will never allow him to do so.

“Patrolling is an attempt to turn the narrative, insinuating that students are instigators of violence and even peaceful protests will be curbed immediately,” Farhan tells The Citizen.

“These are planned manoeuvres to instil fear in people.”

He thinks “the grave security breach of police entering the library is being treated trivially by the establishment, not realising how students are counting on justice as a refuge for their trauma.”

Several students like Farhan think they could have made peace with the barbarity of December 15 had the campus violence been perpetrated by “miscreants” – as happened at the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus on January 5, 2020 – but say the involvement of state officials is the larger part of the tragedy.

“Whenever I see the police now, I fear for my safety instead of feeling safe. This is the kind of psychological trauma we have been suffering since the incident,” says Farhan.

A report of police atrocities on Jamia students released by the National Human Rights Commission stated that the Delhi Police had no option but to enter the campus as it was under attack by stone pelters. The same report ignores the CCTV footage and testimonies of students who said that police had vandalised the university campus.

Further, police charged several students with various crimes and these cases continue to hang over their heads.

“Our situation continues to be pathetic. Students remain booked even after a year and getting justice for the transgression of human rights seems bleak now,” says Aman, a journalism student at the university.

Photograph: Prabhat Tiwari

It was on the night of December 15 that the UP police started breaking down the gates of the Aligarh Muslim University campus and stormed through. The police and ‘Rapid Action Force’ used violence, teargas shells and stun grenades leaving hundreds of students critically injured.

Several were detained and one student even lost an arm to the police brutality perpetrated at the university’s Morison Court Hostel. Some students also stated the police had tortured them in custody.

AMU vice-chancellor Tariq Mansoor, appointed in May 2017, had called the police on campus stating they required help as the student protests against the CAA and police violence at Jamia were getting out of hand.

“The state machinery and the administration are working in tandem and each will do anything to satisfy the other,” says Tauheed a master’s student of English literature.

Not part of the protests, he was present on campus that day and forced to live a memory he wishes had never occurred in his life.

“To curb the protest of Aligarh at that time became mandatory for the establishment because their motive was to silence any voice that questioned autocratic laws,” he tells The Citizen.

Injured and jolted, AMU students were asked to vacate their hostels and go home within 36 hours.

“Fear and despair grips us when I recall the horrific night. We were compelled to go alone till the stations as Section 144 was implemented. With internet and SMS services also suspended, students were left to fend for themselves,” says Ramsha, a second year postgraduate.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently addressed the centenary celebration of AMU as chief guest via video conferencing.

“A group of university students wrote a memorandum to the Vice Chancellor listing questions they wanted to ask the PM regarding the December 15 incident,” says Nabeel, a master’s student of library science.

But “the PM only engaged in what can be termed as ‘dealing’ or jumlabaazi in AMU jargon. Calling AMU ‘Mini-India’ will not benefit anyone if the atrocity of the violation remains unaddressed and justice is not granted to students,” he states.

AMU December 15 (PTI)

“The quest of justice has a path and here the path is missing,” says Tauheed, who is afraid that the constant denial of justice might weaken students’ spirit over a period of time.

Quoting Salman Rushdie, Ishita says “We are a nation of forgetters. Until it does not matter to the whole country, I do not think something will be done about it.”

While some fear these traumas may crystallize in the coming years, others are anticipating its alternate side.

Last month the Delhi-based collective Citizens Against Hate (CAH), compiled a 124-page report titled “The Dismantling of Minority Education: Police Violence in Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia”.

Collated after six months of field work by a team of human rights experts, lawyers and researchers, the report documents 209 testimonies and points out loopholes in the NHRC’s findings, which it says did not take several circumstantial evidences into consideration.

It also documents the psychological impact of the incident on students and family members.

Farhan believes that the only way to ensure justice is by talking and documenting testimonies of the incident:

“December 15 should always be remembered, either through peaceful protests or through seminars where people share their stories of facing atrocities by the state machinery and how the incident has left them traumatised.”

“Students need to figure out new peaceful and powerful measures through which they can still voice their opinion or persuade the administration to take steps towards justice,” says Tauheed.

“Justice will aid in minimising our traumas,” says Aman.

“Even if the incident is effaced from memories, we will keep talking and reminding people about it. The axe might forget; the tree never does.”

Cover photo: Prabhat Tiwari

sharethis sharing button