JNU violence: Students recount attack by a masked mob, said Delhi Police watched

The students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University said that a masked mob pelted stones, ransacked furniture, damaged vehicles, broke into hostels and beat up students late evening on 5 January. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan
06 January, 2020

At around 7 pm on 5 January, social-media platforms and WhatsApp groups started sharing SOS reports coming from students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. The panicked messages said that a masked mob had gone on a rampage in the campus, and attacked students and faculty members, even as the Delhi Police silently watched. Over the next seven hours, The Caravan’s reporters on the ground collected multiple testimonies of students, faculty and residents of the surrounding areas about what transpired.

According to the accounts The Caravan heard, at around 6.30 pm, scores of masked people attacked a peaceful gathering being conducted by the JNU Teacher’s Association. The masked mob pelted stones, damaged cars, beat up faculty and students present. The mob then proceeded to vandalise at least three hostels, and beat up the residents. All calls for help to the police personnel deployed at the university since the morning went unheeded; the police even tried to stop an ambulance from leaving the campus. The violence continued for at least 45 minutes and the police blocked all entry and exit into the campus till around 12.50 am. All the accounts blamed the Akhil Bharaitya Vidhyarthi Parishad—the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—for the unprovoked violence. The ABVP’s Twitter handle, however, claimed that “leftist” and “commie goons are on a rampage attacking ABVP students and karyakartas.” 

As The Caravan’s reporters converged on the campus, they discovered that by around 7.45 pm the Delhi Police had blocked all access roads to JNU—Aruna Asif Ali Marg, Baba Gang Nath Marg and the Nelson Mandela road—and there were police personnel deployed at all the main and side gates to JNU. When one of the reporters tried to walk in through the gates, his way was initially blocked by young men who refused to identify themselves. They insisted that he delete any videos he had recorded from his phone. When he asked the police personnel standing there who these men were, the police told him they were “students.” The roads had not been opened till at least 12.15 am.

Scores of police personnel deployed outside the campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University. The police had blocked all access roads to JNU till past midnight. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan

In addition, between 9.40 pm and 11.00 pm, the streets lights on the roads leading to JNU and the campus had been cut off. The residential areas surrounding JNU, such as Munirka Vihar and Vasant Vihar were lit up even as JNU stood out like a dark stain pockmarked by scores of police personnel.

Within the university itself, there was utter chaos. Anjana H Kumar, a student of labour studies said that the campus had been witnessing violence and unrest for two days now. Members of the ABVP had objected to the student’s ongoing agitation against registration for the upcoming semester, and the bigger protest against the fee hike. Dev Krishnan, a student of labour studies, also said that the ABVP had been trying to disrupt the protest by beating up students for the past two days. Anjana said that there had been a huge peaceful march against the ABVP violence in JNU the previous night, which had not gone down well with the right-wing group. Krishnan, who is a member of the Students Federation of India, also said that on the morning of 5 January, at least fifty or sixty “ABVP goons” had beaten up students in front of the admin block. Anjana narrated a similar account: that morning, about “70 ABVP students were heckling and beating up other students at the Vivekananda Statue;” they were carrying lathis and rods and hammers; and the same group “was visiting hostels and intimidating students” all over the campus.

The students told The Caravan that on Sunday, 5 January, the JNUTA had called for a peaceful gathering to protest the ongoing violence in the campus. That day, at least three of the students said, there was an increased presence of Delhi Police in the campus. But nothing prepared the students for what followed in the evening and the extremes of fear and outrage left in its wake. By all accounts, around 6.30 pm, as the JNUTA gathering reached an informal pitch, between a hundred to a hundred and fifty masked people reached the outer edges of the protest. According to doctoral research scholar, who did not want to be identified, “the protest was happening around what is known as ‘T Point’”—a trisection at the end of main entry road into JNU. According to the students, the masked mob was wielding lathis, rods, hammers, stones and the like. Every student The Caravan spoke to said the same: the mob first pelted stones and then systematically destroyed the cars of the faculty parked in the vicinity. The mob attacked faculty members and students alike. 

As per The Caravan’s reports from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, at least two faculty members, Sucharita Sen, a professor at CSRD, and Ameet, an assistant professor at the school of arts and aesthetics, were beaten up. Sen sustained a head injury and was being treated at AIIMS.

Around 6.45 to 6.50, the mob started moving towards the hostels in the vicinity. By all accounts, the Sabarmati hostel was the first hostel to be attacked. A doctoral scholar who is a resident of the hostel and was inside at the time told us that “when she first heard ruckus outside the room, she looked out and saw a mob running directly towards the hostel.” She said that people in the mob were carrying “rods and lathis, and all had their faces covered.” According to the scholar, the mob “first entered the common area of the hostel, located on the ground floor. They started breaking the furniture and glass there.”

Jyoti Kumari, a masters student in Russian, who is a resident of Sabarmati hostel, was also in her room when she heard the racket outside. She spoke to The Caravan right outside the hostel around 9 pm. She said that when she heard the noise she went to the hostel entry gates and “saw women students frantically trying to get inside the hostel. She could hear a huge crowd roaring behind them.” Both Kumari and the research scholar said that at this point, the women students all huddled back into their rooms in huge groups of 10 to 20. They could all hear furniture and glass being broken. Kumari said that “fifteen minutes later, when the sounds subsided, she came out and saw a group of masked people armed with shovels and stones prowling around.” As she tried to take a video one of them hit her with a huge stone and a few other beat up a few girls who had ventured out of the rooms. Kumari said she went back inside.

The research scholar and other girls then saw the mob move to the boys wing of the hostel and enter it. They could hear the sound of objects being smashed and of people screaming. The scholar said the screams sounded like people were being beaten up. Both the women students said that this rampage carried on for at least 45 minutes till the mob moved to another hostel. The girls called the police too. Most of police personnel did not pick up the calls, and the ones who did said that they were coming, but never turned up. The students of Sabarmati hostel were still locked inside their rooms in fear till at least 9 pm. The scholar said the students inside were feeling “absolutely helpless.”

Other students gave equally harrowing accounts of similar atrocities in other hostels. According to Varun, a PhD student at JNU, “There is chaos and panic among students at Brahmaputr hostel. We do not know whether it is safer to stay in or go outside the campus for help.” Jitendra Suna, PhD student and member of BAPSA, said, “We were hiding in our hostel, Jhelum. They were everywhere.” According to Suna, “The masked men were selectively attacking non-ABVP members.” The research scholar echoed Suna and said that the mob was targeting specific rooms. Suna also told us that “the most affected hostels were Sabarmati, Narmada and Kaveri.” Kumari said that at least nine women were injured in Sabarmati.

As the masked militia spread over the campus and wreaked havoc, the Delhi Police gathered in ever increasing numbers outside the campus. By 9.45 pm, the entire 500-metre stretch outside the JNU main gate was lined with police vehicles. But the police were not allowing anyone to enter—it had been restricting entry of outsiders in the campus since the morning—or allowing students to move outside. Varun said, “The biggest emergency on the campus is that the ambulance are not being allowed to come in. There are a lot of injured students, who were beaten up by goons, who need immediate help.” Anjana told The Caravan that she was accompanying Aishe Ghosh, the JNUSU president, in the ambulance. Ghosh was beaten up brutally by the mob and “was soaked in so much blood you could not see her face,” according to Anjana. Anjana said the police refused to let the ambulance out via the main gate and they had to use a different gate at least 3 kilometres away.

The police’s utterly callous attitude and collusion with the mob was reflected in all the accounts. The research scholar said that multiple calls were made to the police between 6.45 and 8 pm, but till at least 9 pm, not a single police personnel had reached the hostel. The girls tried to send word to the police at the main gate, but the police did not respond. The wardens also chose not to help.

Around 9.45, as the police presence was increasing, one of the reporters witnessed a ruckus outside the main gate. About 25 people were shouting anti-Left slogans, chanting “Bharat Mata ki Jai,” and running around everywhere as the police stood around looking at their phones or smoking. Another reporter on the main gate witnessed slogans like “Jai Shri Ram” and “Delhi Police Zindabad” being raised by a separate group. Members of another group yelled, “Jo Afzal ki chaal chalega, woh Afzal ki maut marega”—those who act like Afzal will die like him, referring to Mohammad Afzal, who was convicted in the 2001 Parliament attack case.  Meanwhile, students of JNU were mobilising within the campus and pushing back against the siege-like situation created by the mob—which seemed to have had the tacit approval of Delhi Police.

The students of JNU rallied in support of their colleagues who had been terrorised through the evening of 5 January by masked people. The JNU students claimed that the masked people were cadres of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan

Around this time, Kumar Gaurav, a resident of neighbouring Munirka was crossing JNU. Gaurav said that a group of people were aggressively chanting “Bharat Mata ki Jai”—hail Bharat Mata—and slogans like “Goli maro salon ko”—Shoot the bastards. Gaurav said, “They asked me who I was and I said I had just come to see what was happening. Then eight or ten people surrounded me and began beating me up. They thrashed me. They used a helmet to beat me which broke as they hit me.” He managed to run away but not before being badly beaten up.

Another passer by, a 31-year-old who did not want to be identified, said that he was walking by when he heard the ruckus and stopped to take a video. The man had a beard, which led members of the crowd to conclude he was Muslim. Some men from the crowd descended on him and began beating him. “They were goons,” he said. “They covered my head with the hood of my sweatshirt and beat me. They kept saying, ‘He is making our video, he is from Jamia.’” The members of the mob then took his phone, to forcefully delete the footage. Before he could take his phone back, the mob moved away. “A policeman was standing there, I told him that these people took my phone,” the passerby told me. “He just turned away.”

Around 10.30 pm, The Caravan reporters witnessed a bunch of lathi-weilding and masked men walk out of JNU, casually stop to chat with the police—who did not stop them—and move on. By now, we had also witnessed multiple ambulances leave. Over the next few hours, as word spread, more and more people started turning up outside JNU in support of the students and faculty. Yogendra Yadav, leader of Swaraj India, and D Raja, former member of parliament and national secretary of the Communist Party of India, were among those present. As the crowd swelled outside, inside JNU, too, the mobilisation had increased. Finally, around 12.50 am, the police opened the gates allowing movement to and fro. As a huge number of people started moving inside the campus, the police tried to shut down the gates again.

This prompted a fresh bout of anti-Delhi Police sloganeering from the JNU students. Cries condemning the police rang through the air—“Stop shielding the ABVP,” “Shame on you Delhi Police,” “Down with Delhi Police,” “The VC is scared of us so he sends Delhi Police.” The students did not let the police close the gates. Half an hour later, the police personnel came back, accompanied by around one hundred and fifty police men and women, all decked in riot gear—at 1.45 am, the horde of police officials were marching through the campus.