“They are shutting down the campus to quell the protests”: AMUSU president Salman Imtiaz

Imtiaz said that AMU students will continue protesting until the CAA is withdrawn. Courtesy Salman Imtiaz
31 December, 2019

On 15 December, the Uttar Pradesh police entered the campus of the Aligarh Muslim University in Aligarh and led a crackdown on students gathered for a peaceful protest. The students had assembled to protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, and police brutality on the protesting students of Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia, earlier in the day. According to AMU students, the police lobbed tear-gas shells and stun grenades, and used lathis on them. The students have also accused the police of entering student hostels and beating the residents. They claim at least a hundred students were injured in the crackdown.

The police have denied using excessive force and claimed they acted in self-defence after the students pelted stones at them. “The AMU students were aggressive,” Ashish Kulhari, the senior superintendent of police, Aligarh, told the news agency ANI. “They deliberately pelted stone on police forces. Police then used the non-lethal weapon as part of self-defence and to disperse the protestors by using the minimum force.” The same day, Abdul Hamid, the AMU registrar, issued a notice to close down the university till 5 January, citing “disturbances created by certain anti-social elements.”

On 23 December, the Aligarh Muslim University Students Union released a report detailing their version of what transpired on the night of 15 December. It includes accounts of six students who were seriously injured. One such account is of Shahid Hussian, who is pursuing a masters’ of arts degree in history.  “He was beaten inside the hostel,” the report said. “He was dragged into the police van and asked about his domicile state. Once he told them that he was from Jammu and Kashmir, he was tied to a tree and beaten for 10 minutes by police using Lathis and Gun butts. He was ethnically targeted and called names. He was called a Pakistani and was told that he is being Azaad”—freed—“with every whip of the stick. His mobile was broken and taken away. He was kept in a dark room for the night without any humanitarian aid. He had torture marks from head to toe … doctors had to capture 16 X-Rays to assess his conditions.”

Another account is of Mohammad Tariq, a doctoral scholar in the chemistry department. The report mentions that he was heading to his lab, when he fell down and a stun grenade hit his hand. “He had only the index finger left in his hand when he reached the hospital. His dominant hand has been amputated,” the report said.

A third account is of Tazeem Khan, a student of Urdu. According to the report, he was “dragged” out of a toilet and “ruthlessly beaten,” and has sustained fractures in his arm. “He was also taken into the van where he was called anti national and terms like Pakistani,” the report said. “He was taken to Malkan Singh Hospital where he was again beaten in presence of two hospital staff members. On asking for medical help, a constable denied the treatment and said that he is to be beaten more. He was beaten with belts. When he asked for water, he was threatened to be urinated in the mouth. He was taken to the jail where he along with nine people was kept in a dark room having the capacity for less than five. They were denied food.”

The report further added that in jail, Khan had slept on the lap of his friend Ashutosh, who is a Hindu, and was also detained. It said that when the police learnt that Ashutosh was a Hindu, he was also beaten. Ashutosh was told that he was standing with anti-nationals and called a traitor, it noted. The report further detailed an account of a student who was hit on the head and had suffered a haemorrhage. It said that he was currently in an intensive care unit.

After the report’s release, I spoke to M Salman Imtiaz, the president of the AMUSU. Imtiaz is a senior research fellow in the department of social work. He went over the events of 15 December, and discussed the students’ future course of action. “The protests have now spread across the country,” he said. “It is upon students to take this up. We are continuing the peaceful protests and will continue to do so till the act is withdrawn—whether it takes six months or even a year.”


Reproduced below are excerpts from the conversation with Imtiaz.

We have been protesting continuously against the Citizenship Amendment Act since 8 December. To create awareness about the act, we had invited persons like Yogendra Yadav [social activist and founder of Swaraj Abhiyan, a political party], Dr Kafeel Khan [former lecturer at the Baba Raghav Das Medical College in Gorakhpur] and Fawaz Shaheen, who works with the research advocacy group Quill Foundation. We had burned a copy of the bill to register our protest against the government's decision to implement it. On 10 December, AMUSU organised a protest march inside the campus from the Maulana Azad Library to the Bab-e-Syed, the main entrance of AMU. Hundreds of students had participated. Despite the march being peaceful, the police filed an FIR against 700 students including me. [The charges included a] non bailable offense.

Further, on 13 December, AMUSU called for a protest after the namaz on Friday. Around 12,000 students marched till the administration block of AMU where a copy of a memorandum addressed to the chief justice of India was handed over to the district magistrate.  As the protests continued, on 15 December, we got the news that there was a violent crackdown on the students of Jamia Millia Islamia. The students gathered in the hostels and decided that they should condemn this act against the students of JMI. Around 5 pm, we all gathered at the Bab-e-Syed. The police and the Rapid Action Force were stationed outside the campus in huge numbers and armed with ammunition. When we reached there, there were around twelve people in civil dress, who appeared to be in the age group of 40 and above, who were clearly outsiders who were provoking the students. As a student representative, I am familiar with the students studying here, and it was clear to me that they were not from the university. They were telling students that the police would enter the campus and beat up students, and fire guns just like they had done in JMI. The students were appealing for peace. Neither the police nor the administration did anything to stop them. They started pelting stones at the police and police too were pelting stones.

I had called the president of the JNMC [Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College] resident doctors association, Mohammad Hamzah, to inform that there could be casualties and that the trauma centre and ambulances should be kept ready. The administration instructed that they should not provide ambulances. The CMO [chief medical officer] of the trauma centre refused to send ambulances based on instructions from the proctor of AMU. However, the CMO finally sent three ambulances when pressurised by the RDA. Hamzah also arranged 16 additional ambulances from private owners to ferry students. The police had also attacked the medical team and the ambulances.

When the police violence started, I was hit by a rubber bullet, fell unconscious and was taken to a hospital. Around 12 am, when I gained consciousness, I was informed that  around 70 students have been injured in police violence. The police were on a rampage in the campus throughout that night. They had forcefully entered the campus, broken students’ bikes and had set the hostel rooms on fire.

As the violence started, the students were getting back to hostels, but the police entered the campus and beat up people. Some of the students were hiding inside toilets; the police broke down the doors and started beating them up. The students, including a minor, were taken to different police stations where they were tortured further. Those who were seriously injured were taken to the nearby government hospital; even there some of the students were not given treatment. The students were not provided any food or water. The police were abusing the students by calling them terrorists. The police shouted at the students, “Go to Pakistan! You are Pakistanis, Jinnah ke Aulad!”—the children of Jinnah—“You people perpetuate terrorism.” Some of the students who witnessed these incidents told me that the police were shouting slogans like Jai Sri Ram and Bharat Mata ki Jai.

Around a hundred students were injured in the police violence at the campus that night. Though there has been no official account of the injured, many of these students suffered head injuries and fractures. The police threatened to make the students drink urine. There was one student called Ashutosh present there. He was subjected to severe violence. The police told him that “In gaddaron ke sathe milke tum bhi ghaddar ho gaye.”—You have mixed with these traitors and become a traitor too. We do not know if he reached home; we do not have any information on him yet. They have vacated the whole place so that there is no proof against the administration and police.

Around thirty students were detained and FIR [first information report] has been registered against 52.The police had picked up injured students the same night saying that they were present in the protests. If not, the news media would have reached the campus in the morning and students could have told them what happened there. The VC [vice chancellor Tariq Mansoor] sent the notice that the hostel should be vacated. Around thirteen thousand students stay in the AMU hostels. They did it in such a hurry that the students coming from far-off and disturbed areas, like Kashmir and the northeast, did not have time to figure out where to go. We had raised this matter with the registrar of the university. We had requested the registrar that research scholars who are from places like Kashmir and the northeast and from poor economic background be allowed to stay in hostels. They do not have winter vacation and are allowed only 30 days of leave per year, and they cannot afford to find private accommodation. But he told us that no matter what, the students should leave the hostels. The VC is not allowing students to stay in hostel. They are shutting down the campus to quell the protests. After all this, now Mansoor is saying that the administration did not vacate the hostels. We have the notice they had sent us as proof.

Some of [the students have] returned home, while some are staying at the houses of former AMU students.  Some stayed at mosques nearby, some were sleeping on roofs of houses nearby. There are over four hundred research scholars [at AMU] most of whom are forced to find rented accommodation and are paying Rs 10,000 to 12,000 for a month. A first-year bachelor of engineering student, who had gone home to Lucknow, was arrested on charges of attempted murder. Now, the parents are telling students not to return home as the situation is worse there. 

After 15 December, the students were continuing with peaceful protests. Today, the situation is such that administration, through some of the teachers, is intimidating the students who take part in protests by telling them that the police would pick them up and do an encounter killing. The students are told that they would be charged under the National Security Act. So the students are tensed and worried. The students who held a peaceful protest at the Bab-e-Syed got show-cause notices from the AMU administration saying that they cannot take part in protests. The administration is trying to suppress the voice of the students and ensure that there would be no further protests.

The AMUSU report says that the teachers too had joined protests going on in the campus, but when the violence erupted, the teachers were missing from the scene. The teachers association of AMU did not even condemn the police attack. The teachers association has not taken any clear stand on the issue yet. It was the residents of Aligarh, who sat on a dharna to get the students released from police custody. But the police have filed charges against them [too], including attempt to murder.

We have demanded the resignation of the VC and registrar who allowed the police inside the campus. Whatever the police did inside the campus was done with their knowledge. They have locked down the campus to save their chairs. The administration is saying that those who are protesting are “anti-social elements.” This is a conspiracy to end our peaceful protests. They are instigating violence by sending their people inside and shutting down the campus to achieve this. The VC and registrar have now accepted that they had given [permission] in written communication allowing the police to enter the campus and use “appropriate force.” Our registrar Abdul Hamid is an IPS [Indian Police Service] officer. Ever since he took charge, the police is involved in the activities happening on campus. 

You can see that this kind of violence started after 14 December, when the prime minister Narendra Modi, speaking on the anti-CAA protests at an election rally in Jharkhand, said that those who are creating violence can be identified by their clothes. This was enough for the [law and order] agencies to act against us. Protests were happening even before this. But, after this statement, the next day JMI and AMU were targeted because these institutions have a unique identity. The same pattern was followed in JMI and AMU, which were leading the protests against the CAA and NRC. They could not accept that these minority institutions were leading the agitation and creating awareness among people. They wanted to stop this.

The police did not follow the standard operating procedure. Instead of trying to warn the students and disperse the crowd using water cannon, they directly resorted to lathi charge and used stun grenades and tear-gas shells. The police were calling the students anti-nationals, jihadis and Pakistanis. The police took away the students’ mobile phones and broke many laptops and phones.  

On 23 December, we had taken out a candlelight march inside the university premises in solidarity with people who were injured and detained across India. The candlelight is a symbol of peace. The main gate of the campus remained locked and we did not step outside. Despite this, the police filed an FIR against 1,200 unnamed students for violating section 144 which prohibits assembly of more than four people.

We are being tortured daily, and the administration is trying to intimidate and spread panic among students. The campus is still barricaded and there is a strong presence of the police force. We believe in the Constitution and are doing peaceful protests, but this violence is being imposed on us by the administration and state. They want to create an image that we are violent. The administration is doing what the government wants it to do.

The protests have now spread across the country. The opposition is not doing their job, so it is upon students to take this up. We are continuing the peaceful protests and will continue to do so till the act is withdrawn—whether it takes six months or even a year. The students from various universities are joining hands to keep the fight going on. This bill is not just anti-Muslim, but anti-women, anti-Dalit, anti-poor and against those who are illiterate. There are people who have lost their documents in natural disasters like floods; there are cases where children have lost their whole families. How will these people produce documents? This bill just divides the nation and takes us back to the days of Partition. 

The government wants to suppress the voice of the dissenters. The police are cracking down on peaceful protests. There is no violence when the strength of public is more [than the police]. The police violence is happening when the numbers [of the protestors] are less. Even [Adityanath], the chief minister [of Uttar Pradesh], has said that they will take revenge [against people who damaged public property] and seize property [in return.] That is for the judiciary to decide, but here, the CM is [implying] that the judiciary is under his control. Even when people are dying, they are talking about damage and expenses incurred by the police force.  If they wanted peace to prevail, they would not talk in this way. It looks like they want to bring in a regime of dictatorship.

This account has been edited and condensed.