Recent attack on Tamil student betrays a disturbing trend in JNU

Nazar Mohamed Mohideen, a Tamil student at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, has complained of members of the ABVP—the student wing of the RSS—beating him and vandalising portraits of Marx, Lenin and Periyar. SHAHID TANTRAY FOR THE CARAVAN
14 March, 2023

Sixteen days after he filed a complaint about members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad assaulting him, Nazar Mohamed Mohideen, a Tamil student at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, said that the Delhi Police has not yet registered a first-information report in the matter. On 19 February, Nazar told us, members of the ABVP—the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—also vandalised and destroyed portraits of Marx, Lenin and the anti-caste revolutionary EV Ramasamy, commonly known as Periyar. While several Bahujan politicians, including the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, MK Stalin, condemned the violence, not one prominent leader from Delhi spoke up.

This is not the first such incident as many students from the state in JNU have anti-caste and anti-Hindutva politics. Pertinently, this is only the latest complaint of violence against the ABVP, which has a reputation of indulging in hooliganism on campus without facing any consequences. “The goal of the ABVP is to create clashes and issues so that the administration can clamp down on students and the democratic space here,” Nazar said. “Violence was not common here, but the more they do this the more the administration can regulate us.”

Nazar recounted the events of 19 February to us. A small left-leaning reading and cinema group called 100 Flowers was slated to screen Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, a Hindi satirical black comedy film, at the office of the JNU students’ union, at 9 pm. Before the screening, the ABVP had used the office to mark the birth anniversary of Shivaji, a seventeenth-century Maratha king—a figure the RSS portrays as a defender of Brahmins against Muslims. During the event, the ABVP garlanded and applied a tilak on his photo.

“Every time a screening is held there, whoever is holding it removes all the photos on the wall of the office so that a white screen can be put up,” Nazar told us. Accordingly, Latha, a member of the 100 Flowers, said that around 9 pm, they took down all photos on the wall, including those of Shivaji, BR Ambedkar, Birsa Munda, Lenin, Marx, Savitrabai Phule and Jotiba Phule. Nazar told us he was in his hostel room at the time, in a building opposite the student union office, when he saw “several messages on WhatsApp groups that students were being attacked by the ABVP there.”

Nazar told us that he, and about twenty students, reached the office and found that about thirty attackers, many of whom he could identify as ABVP members, were beating three 100 Flowers members and had broken the framed portraits of Periyar, Marx and Lenin. “I was hit on the head, I don’t even recollect what by,” Nazar said. “I felt my scalp and it was covered in blood.” Multiple students told us that the Delhi Police and campus security personnel were present outside the office but took no action against the mob. Another student, Rakshanda, who was present for the screening and said she was not associated with any group, reiterated this. She told us she was punched in the face, and then beaten up after she walked out of the venue with her friend. Rakshanda said one member of ABVP told her, “In the next fifteen days I’ll cut you into pieces.”

Students called an ambulance for Nazar as he was bleeding profusely, according to Aravind Adiga, another Tamil student at JNU. But when they sat in the ambulance, Aravind said, “the ABVP mob surrounded it and kept trying to pull us out. Even after we closed the doors, they put their hands in through the window and were hitting Nazar on the wounded portion of his head.” Aravind told us that when they reached the JNU health centre, a handful of ABVP members were present there, clad in saffron turbans, and began shouting slogans such as “Death to Naxals,” “Hindi Hindu Hindutva” and “This is not your land, this is Jai Shri Ram’s land.” Nazar was referred to Safdarjung Hospital, where he was admitted that night and discharged the next morning.

When he returned to the student union office after taking Nazar to the health centre, Aravind told us, he saw that it had been completely wrecked. Broken shards of glass from the framed photos lay everywhere. Photos of Marx, Lenin and Periyar were missing from their frames. Hateful slogans were written on the wall. Photos of the wall that students shared with us included slogans such as, “Pigs and Communists are not allowed,” “Hang Comrades,” and “Green Hunt 2.0,” a reference to an all-out paramilitary offensive against Naxalites.  

In its subsequent statements, ABVP denied allegations of violence, and instead, alleged that students of the Left had beaten them and vandalised the Shivaji portrait. They shared a photo of the portrait kept on the ground across social media platforms—this was not defaced. We saw that the photo was intact when we visited the office on 20 February.

This is not the first time a South Indian student has complained of ABVP members attacking them. For instance, in November 2022, the ABVP was accused of beating up four South Indian students at Delhi University for wearing a dhoti. In January 2023, when several people complained of being physically assaulted by the ABVP during a protest, about thirty Tamil students from JNU wrote a letter to Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit, the vice chancellor of JNU, on behalf of their community. The letter stated that many of the victims of the January violence were Tamil. “We, the Tamil students, are coming over 2000 km from Tamil Nadu to study at JNU,” it said. It mentioned that the Tamil Nadu government was providing funds for the expansion of the Tamil language department, hence, more students from the state would likely be joining the university. “But,” the letter stated, “the violent attacks on JNU students by goons have raised serious concerns about our safety on campus, which the University has failed to [ensure.]”

Elaiyakumar is a former JNU student and presently a research scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia has been in Delhi for the last few years. “There is a notion among BJP people that Tamils as a whole oppose their ideology, which is why we are targeted,” he told us. “The anger against Tamils is very palpable, particularly in universities and it is mainly because we stand for reservation and against the BJP.”

“We are not in large numbers in Delhi, particularly non-Brahmin students,” Elaiyakumar said. “Many study at home because we have good universities there.” Elaiyakumar told us he has also worked with the All India OBC Students Association. He said that when he was giving his interview for admission into JNU, he was asked about his stance on reservation, as are many other students. If the applicant said they supported reservation, he told us, “we are very unlikely to get marks.” Elaiyakumar added, “If we ask for proportionate representation, they call us casteist. If we ask that teaching happens in English and not Hindi, they call us regionalist. Like gender sensitisation programmes, we need to have caste sensitisation programmes too.”

Nazar suspected that the JNU administration had grown hostile towards him because he co-founded a group called the Reservation Club, which advocates for better representation in the university, in 2022. “Many people told us we should call it Social Justice Club or something like that, but we disagreed because why should we be ashamed of reservation?” Nazar said. He said that the group was made because he noticed that many students from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backwards Classes communities were not getting hostels in JNU, even though the allotment happens on the basis of reservation.

When students looked into how the administration allots hostel rooms, Nazar said, “we found that they had created a separate category called the ‘unreserved category’ for those not from SC, ST and OBC communities.” While 10-percent rooms are reserved for economically weaker sections of the upper castes, he told us, another 40 percent hostel rooms were going to the unreserved category. “So, the administration had functionally ensured that the majority of the country and students, those from backward communities, could not possibly get more than 50 percent of the rooms,” Nazar said. Boys hostel allotment lists published by the office of the dean of students in June 2022 indeed show that forty percent of rooms were given to students from the “unreserved category.”

OBC, SC and ST students usually come from rural areas and cannot afford to live outside the university, he explained. “This is how they are denying us education, because many leave the university as they can’t afford it.”  

Senthilkumar, an MP from Tamil Nadu, donates a portrait of Periyar to the JNUSU office after the attack. While several Bahujan politicians, including the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, MK Stalin, condemned the violence, not one prominent leader from Delhi spoke up. SHAHID TANTRAY FOR THE CARAVAN