It was Sunday evening, and all of Delhi was shivering in the cold that has enveloped the capital city. But while the country was still prepping to go back to work on the first Monday of the new decade, it was mayhem at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). On the evening of January 5, a mob of masked goons—allegedly members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the students' union linked to the ruling BJP party—entered the university premises and openly attacked students with rods, sticks, bats and other weapons. At least 19 students and five professors got injured in the incident.
While this was unravelling inside, there was also utter chaos outside the campus main gate. People were being heckled, journalists were abused and asked to leave, and cops ensured no one could leave or enter the campus. Mrinal Borah too couldn’t escape the varsity.
A 27-year-old Master of Philosophy student from the varsity, Borah too was injured last night in what he terms as a “planned attack”. He’s managed to leave the campus today but Borah was forced to spend last night in the natural forests that are part of the university campus. “I managed to leave the campus somehow,” he tells VICE. “It is life-threatening to be there. They can kill anyone. You know what happened to Najeeb.”
Najeeb Ahmed was a young, underprivileged Muslim student of the same university who went missing in 2016 following a scuffle with members of the ABVP. The brutality being seen in campuses over the past few days has brought Ahmed back to public consciousness, with people requestioning how it is that a student from a minority community and studying at a prestigious university should go missing in a democratic country.
JNU has been seeing a standoff between the students and the administration over the hike in hostel fees for over the last 70 days. On the evening of January 5, as part of the ongoing protests, Borah along with other students had decided to boycott the registration process and protest, when there was an unexpected disruption.
“It was a peace march,” recalls Borah. According to him, students were marching within the university campus towards Sabarmati Hostel. He remembers standing near the Vivekananda Statue in the premises, a place where students are not allowed to participate in any political activity, when the goons appeared with lathis and rods.
Borah and the group, however, continued to march peacefully. “When we reached the Sabarmati point, where teachers and other students were concluding their speeches, we were attacked,” he says. “Stones were hurled at us and we were beaten with lathis. It was uncontrollable. Many students were hurt.” At least 24 people, including the varsity’s Students' Union president Aishe Ghosh were injured in the attacks carried out by the masked goons.
According to eyewitnesses, a big crowd of people who were not from the university were allegedly allowed safe passage into the university by the cops themselves. “The police helped them get inside the university, while our university guards just watched. The crowd armed with rods and lathis started hitting the students, teachers and everyone mercilessly,” Borah says.
“I went to save some students, but they (the goons) came up from behind and started hitting me on my back and head. The only thing I could do at that moment was to run and save my life.” Terrified, Borah and some others escaped into the jungle around Sabarmati Hostel, and stayed there for the night, avoiding the goons who were allegedly hunting down students in the area. “Later, somehow I managed to sneak out, pack my bag and run away from the campus. I am not in a position to walk properly. My body hurts.” Borah continues to remain hidden, fearing for his life.
While protests against the CAA have been going on across India, universities have emerged as epicentres for several protests. In December, the police used teargas and lathi charge on students at the Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi, leading to thousands of students across India protesting against both, the police brutality and the Act itself. Borah believes the government action on all the universities is interrelated with the aim being to quell dissent by coercion. “This is all a right-wing orchestrated violence organised with the motive of demoralising students,” he says. “Everything that’s happening is connected, first they attacked Jamia, then AMU (Aligarh Muslim University) and now JNU. They just want to make this country a mobocracy—a democracy controlled by a mob.”
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