By- Susan Visvanathan,
23rd March 2018, I had guests for lunch, so I joined the Peaceful Protest March organized by JNU Students Union, (JNUSU) and JNU Teacher’s Union (JNUTA) only by 4 p.m, from Ber Sarai. I walked with the academic community which has been fiercely opposing the JNU VC, Prof Jagadesh Kumar’s attempt to rewrite the rules, and impose them on the JNU.
This has been a two year battle which is reported in the Press daily. We walked peacefully through Safdarjung Enclave, past Bhikaji Cama, and on to Leela Palace traffic lights. There, I decided to return, since I was not well enough to walk further. I came home in an auto, by 6 pm, and at twenty to 7 pm, (6.40 p.m) I got a phone call from my daughter, Mallika.
Mallika: Mum, I’m sorry I’ve got detained in a police van, and they are taking us away.
Susan: Okay, I am at home, call me when you can. At 7 p.m, another phone call, Mallika saying “They are taking us to Defence Colony Police Station.”
>Susan: Okay, I will wait for you there. I left the house immediately, with two bottles of water in a jute bag. I found an autorickshaw, whose driver knew the way, and after twenty minutes wait in traffic jams, by 7.40 p.m
I was climbing up the stairs to an office. An elderly policeman said that he did not know about the JNU students, and the thana was downstairs. I ran down the steps, turned and came to an alcove, where there were some young men constables, whom I did not look at, three or four of them, and one of them was saying jocularly, in the manner of lumpens, “Sab ke kapde utarne chahiye tthey.” (Everyone’s clothes should have been removed.) I asked a policeman standing on guard, “Suna Hai JNU ke Student ko Dakhil Kara Hai?” ( I heard you have admitted some JNU students?) He shook his head in answer. I turned the corner, and there they were, crammed in a jeep.
>I started shouting, “Kidhar Le Ja Rahe Ho?” (Where are you taking them?) The constables about twenty of them, men and women, fell into a silence, and a woman constable reached in and pulled a young woman by her hair, and made her leap out of the van.
Susan: Maine Dekha Hai, Tumne Kya Kiya Hai. I am a witness to your action. We are citizens. Tum Bharat Vasi Nahi ho. Mujhe pata hai tum ladkiyo ko mar daal te ho. Mujhe maloom hai, Haryanvi police kya karti hai. Mujhe Maloom hai Haryana ke log, bachon ko pait se nichod dete hai, aur mar dete hain. (I have seen what you have done, I am a witness to your action, We are citizens, You are not inhabitants of Bharat . I know what Haryanavi police in Delhi do. I know that people from Haryana pull out babies from their womb and kill them.) They looked shocked at my speech, then said “Challo!’ and wanted to move the young women to some place else. They would not say where, so I jumped into the van and sat with the young women. I said, “We will not go anywhere till a lawyer arrives.”
A woman officer arrived with cap and belt and wearing glasses, and said, “Woh detainee nahin hai. Nikalo Usko.” (She is not a detainee, take her out.) I started yelling that “masoom bachae”, innocent children had been picked up and sent to jail, and as citizens of a free country this was not acceptable. Finally, five women constables accompanied us in the van, with the police driver, saying that they were taking us, “pata nahin kahan”, (don’t know where), but for a medical examination. I said they haven’t done anything, so no question of medical examination.
The police women had already threatened the young women saying that a FIR was to be lodged against them for seriously wounding a constable. I said “Hoi Nahin Sakta”, (impossible allegation) but they had continued to frighten the youngsters with this threat of an FIR against them. The women constables who were very young, kept insisting that they had not touched the girls, except “Haath Pakda” (Held Hand). I had seen them and the violence which they had pitched Nupur out of the van by pulling her hair by the scalp.
I continuously called on their Gods, including Kali to enumerate their karma, and asked if they did not have tender mothers, or grandmothers who would be aghast at their cruelty. If this was the price that Kurukshetra had placed on them, that five thousand years later, they were still disrobing women… They listened stoically and maintained that these women were not “good women” and that they were dancing and singing, as if that was their primary crime. In a moment of sudden friendliness, Rashi and I suggested that they admit themselves to IGNOU, and get degrees and write the IPS exam, to which they countered that they were quite happy doing what they did (beating up protestors, taking orders, and dismantling and demolishing and controlling crowds by force.) They said “Everybody cannot climb the ladder, and at this level also people were needed, who would do this work?” But the two vans arrived simultaneously at AIIMS. Here we were met with such a confusion of voices, and people.
After an eight km walk, the students were already exhausted. Six of them had been roughed up, including having their clothes ripped, and body parts exposed to men. However, they were alert. The women constables did not allow us to step out, and after about twenty minutes of waiting, in a stuffy airless van, we went into the AIIMS Trauma Centre. Moushoumi and Himanshu, teachers from JNU, were fortunately waiting for us at AIIMS. A police officer said, as soon as we arrived, to JNUTA representatives in our presence, “There is no charge against the young women, and if they wished to have a medical examination, they could, and if not, they could write “Medical Examination Refused.” After this, the women would be free to go.
After about half an hour, the registration of the victims began. A clerk called out their names, photos were taken, thumb print taken. In fits of anxiety, students, and the two ex students (alumni) gave their grandmother’s name, or their mother’s name. They were horrified that a peaceful march had degenerated into this calamity. Mallika says that she was standing with her former teachers from School of Arts and Aesthetics, including Ranjani, when one of their acquaintances was disrobed, and standing in public at INA in her bra, and her friend Rashi ran towards her, and Mallika followed her, and gave her dhuppatta to cover the young woman. The police then bundled the seven girls who had formed a cordon around Sheena into a van
Since Mallika had not been beaten, disrobed or scratched, she did not sign for a medical examination cum discharge slip from the doctors who were at the computers. Rashi also refused the medical examination. Mallika was traumatised by what she had seen, but she could see that I was even more vacant eyed, and since I have a neurological ailment, Multiple Sclerosis, she was terribly worried for me, and kept patting my back, hoping I would not collapse. For a young woman to have to go through this experience for no known reason is really horrifying.
We were at the Trauma Centre with its endless whirl of activity and soul destroying loss of life and limb from 8.30 p.m to 12. 30 midnight. The students went up one by one when called, and filled a form, giving their name, as they went up to the desk. The young medico or para medic who was filling the forms would not accept that Mallika and Rashi did not want medical examination. So she wrote “Absconded” against their name.
Prof Moushami noticed this, and kept insisting that she should delete “absconded” and write “refused medical examination” against the names of the two women who had not wanted any physical examination of any kind. A policeman who was present said that if they had refused medical examination, they did not need a discharge slip. Moushami said this was incorrect, and persisted, till Mallika and Rashi were also back in the line. While eight women were being registered, we were told that it would take two hours to get receipts of the statement that we had come to the Trauma Centre. It was already ten p.m.
The women were tired, there was nowhere to sit. The doctors and nurses were working in exhausting circumstances, and attending to the knife wounds and victims of accidents that came in every minute. For those of us who lead sheltered lives, the scene was terrifying. People came in bleeding profusely, children cried, the mike blared calling out names and numbers. We suspected that the medicos who were filling the forms of eight women were politically biased, as they wrote incorrectly, that the women were assaulted by unidentified people, and had been brought into the Trauma Centre by relatives.
Moushami: Aap ko lag raha hai ki police mar peet ke, inke relative ban gaye??? (Does it look like the police who have beaten them up are their relatives?)
>By then, Suhasini Ali, and a Communist MP of the Rajya Sabha had already arrived, made their presence felt, laughed about their own experiences in the hands of the police, and calmed the students down. Their comrades included Viju Krishnan, also JNU alumni, who was visibly mediating between police and doctors and JNUTA members.
The RSS worker who had threatened the girls by saying things like “Do you know who I am? Have you any idea who I am? I will pull out your face, I will twist it.” was always present. She had travelled in the other van, and frightened the girls witless with the menacing tone she had, and is reported by Sheena to have said, to the women constables, “Maro. Peeto. Video Lo.”
The RSS worker watched carefully as Suhasini Ali hugged us and said goodbye. I had never met Ms Ali before, but was glad she had spent time with us, as we were just not used to the circumstances in which we had been placed, and they were political veterans. Having no party affiliation what so ever, Mallika and I were just comforted by the kindness of humans who were strangers to us. Viju Krishnan also left, as his parents were in town, and he had to see them off early in the morning.
Mallika’s father and her two sisters, and brothers in law, from different cities, called through the night, desperately seeking information of our condition and whereabouts. I said, “It’s a waiting game, call you in the morning.” We were left with the police, who were standing about, scrutinizing all of us, but not unfriendly, taking photos with their mobiles and keeping company with the RSS woman, who was either a political representative or a police woman in plain clothes.<
Some healthy looking young constables were also waiting to get their Medical Legal Receipts made, to prove that they had been assaulted by the women! It may be noted that none of the police were wearing badge names, and when asked they said it had been torn of by students.
One policeman, who had been very friendly, showed me his arm, and said the plastic cord had been tightened around his arm, and that his arm had been burnt by cigarettes. I could not see anything unusual, yet, simultaneously, a man who had his arm broken, was standing nearby and said he was present in the demonstration.
One of the women students showed me her ripped clothing, which was in a plastic bag. A horrible smell came out of it, and she said that the water cannon had dirty water. The police had given the victims some pretty kurtas to wear, all brand new and made of collaged Benaras silk with cotton fabric. The forms had finally reached the last counter.
Dr Dube at the computer who was typing in the last formatted versions kept writing, inspite of remonstrations, that the victims “had been assaulted by unknown assailants, and had been brought in by relatives”. It took two hours for the error to be corrected. Meanwhile the young woman medico said tersely, “Yes, you may have issues, but we are dealing with serious cases, and you are wasting our time by wanting these corrections.” Absconded seemed to her to be the right word for stating that a person did not want a medical exam and unknown persons/assailants was the term they used for what was clearly police harassment. I asked her worriedly,“Is everyone here from the RSS?” as the process was so slow, and round about, and it was only by 12.20 that the final discharge forms were finished. My last glimpse of the Trauma Centre was of a young worker, pale as newly harvested corn, who had had his throat slit, and the blood was pouring into a long shawl, which was soaked. The two medicos who had been irritable with us, suddenly shot out of their chairs, and called for attendants, who took the man to the appropriate surgeon. Yes, this rigmarole we were in, was bizarre, but nothing like the real life of people who lived in the Dickensian world of being knifed and hung, and punched and beaten, and fell off beds, and off motor cycles, and children too, who fell at midnight, while dancing in wedding parties on terraces.
I thanked the Malayali nurse who had said, “Acha, Police Jabardast Bacchon ko legaye?”. I was really grateful for the aphorism with which she described our story, though these were adults, who had been traumatised by the long drawn out drama. Outside, the 18 men who had been detained, but refused to enter the trauma centre, had waited for five hours outside, for us, were also escorted back to JNU with us. We arrived at JNU at 1 a.m.
The students were singing vociferously, “We are JNU.” One of the young women who had been disrobed said, “Please make sure no photos or videos are circulated of my naked body.” I had taught that student several years ago…bright, intelligent, motivated, full of a buoyant and tremendous energy. Her friend and she had cried bitterly when they had been put into different vans, and when reunited cried again, because one had been paraded naked, and the other had been near scalped. By the time we reached JNU the students pleaded to be dropped inside the campus, as they were too tired to walk to their hostels. But of course the police remembered that the entry into university campus is not permissible! When I got off the bus, I said to Moushumi, “They did their job, and we did ours.”
I know that the Practice of the State is to be what it is. Legalising criminality is not the job of the police, particularly among their own cohorts