Police brutality against student protests in Delhi
Were the protests violent, and was the police response justified? I try to piece it together using eyewitness accounts, newsreports, and images from the protest
Disturbing visuals and stories have come out from Jamia University in New Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) on clashes between student protesters and police.
At the center of the row is the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, (CAA) which seeks to discriminate between immigrants and refugees on the basis of their religion. And this Act is the precursor to a National Register of Citizens, which will put the burden of proving citizenship onto…err…citizens.
Coming back to the protests. In this fast moving social media world, where fake images and videos are circulated at the drop of a hat, and where the media cannot be trusted for unbiased reporting anymore, piecing together what really happened can be a nightmare.
But one needs to try. And so here, I’m piecing together images of the protests with eye-witness accounts and reports from news outlets that are still credible with their reporting.
- It is a fact that protests erupted across the country against CAA. A lot of these protests were called by students. And a lot of them were peaceful.
- The government/police has turned college campuses into war zones.
- Section 144 was imposed in JNU, Delhi in the evening of 15 December 2019.
- AMU has been surrounded by cops.
- Cops forcefully entered the library at Jamia and tear gassed students.
- Buses were set on fire in New Friends Colony.
Let’s make a few things clear:
Peaceful protests are a democratic right. It is the only way for citizens to express their objection to government actions/policies.
Vandalising public property in the guise of protests is not acceptable.
Should cases of stone pelting be reported, the police would be within their right to retaliate to control the situation. However, the retaliation cannot be in the form of excessive use of force.
Having said that, there are a few questions following the events of yesterday that have not been adequately answered.
- Why were the police on the Jamia campus without the VC’s permission? They are not allowed to enter like this, in such huge numbers, at will.
- Why was brutal force used in AMU and Jamia? Why did the police storm the girl’s hostel and library? And why were students allegedly denied access to medical treatment?
- Who ordered the police crackdown? Because the police doesn’t act like this on their own. They get their orders from the top. In Delhi, the police comes under the ambit of the central government (i.e. BJP)
- Who burnt the buses in New Friends Colony? There are videos doing the rounds that show cops torching buses. Since I cannot verify if they’re legit, I am not sharing them here.
Here’s an eyewitness account from a Jamia protester.
Read this in conjunction with this news report, where Delhi police sources themselves say that the students only raised a protest call, and that the violence was raised by local politicians.
So on what basis did the police storm Jamia? And how can they claim any moral high ground here?
What unfolded at Jamia yesterday was condemnable and a clear case of police brutality. The Jamia VC has said she will slap a case against the police and has demanded a high level inquiry into yesterday’s incidents.
Not only was the police brutality condemnable, but according to Maitreyi Gupta, International Legal Advisor for the International Commission of Jurists, it was against international laws that India is a signatory to, as well as to Indian Constitutional law.
Over in AMU, there were two small protest gatherings during the day. In the evening, when news of the Jamia crackdown reached AMU, students from the boys hostel came out in huge numbers to protest the brutality. There were rumours that two students had been killed in Jamia (it was later clarified that there were no casualties) and that the cops had entered the mosque at the university campus and vandalised it.
Student anger is understandable. However, with no clear call to protest and no agenda, students started sloganeering on their own. When they saw that the cops had locked the main gate of AMU, they broke it down, and then started stone pelting the cops.
This wasn’t acceptable behaviour on the part of the students. However, what happened next, defied all moral high ground the cops could take — the police brutality against students was completely disproportionate to the student action. Journalists, too, were roughed up and asked to leave. In fact, according to a journalist’s eyewitness account, the cops were reeking of liquor. Reporting to duty while drunk — I’m pretty sure it is against the law.
The normalisation of police brutality against students, painting students as anti-national elements and ‘urban naxals’ is something this government has perfected in the last five years.
However, if we do not learn to question the what’s app forwards we receive, if we do not question and verify the media we consume, if we do not counter the reports that pit one section of Indians against the other, we have no hope of banding together to protect our country.
It may be the privileged few who have the time to read and understand for themselves. But if they don’t read, and they don’t counter misinformation where they find it, how can we move forward?
The time has come to stand up for our rights. To stand in solidarity with our students. And to stop acting like sheep who can be herded wherever the powers that be wish to heard us.