An uneasy calm prevailed on the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) campus in Ludhiana on Wednesday as its students protested on a religious issue for the first time since the militancy era in the state.
Opposing the pardon to the Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim, PAU students lent support to the bandh — called by radical Sikh groups — by boycotting classes, between 9 am and 2 pm, and assembling at a gurdwara on the university campus. They later held a prayer meeting at the gurdwara.
They also released a press statement in favour of the bandh.
“Even people like SAD minister Bikram Majithia and former CM Surjit Singh Barnala were pardoned by Akal Takht only after they accepted their mistake, appeared for a hearing and went through with their punishment. So PAU students feel that it is completely unfair to pardon the Dera head without any punishment,” said a student.
The protesting students, however, were irked by police personnel deployed at the campus, whom they accused of harassing them. Security had been stepped up on the campus.
The students further alleged that not only had the police turned the gurudwara into a fortress and even blocked its entrance, they allegedly demanded the contact numbers of their parents.
A student on condition of anonymity said: “We were questioned as if we are criminals. No doubt it was for the first time that such a boycott by students was called on a religious issue and in support of radical groups, but that does not mean we are criminals or support violence. We only organised a peaceful prayer at the gurudwara and classes were boycotted till 2 pm”.
Another student added: “Police threatened to inform our parents. They also asked for contact numbers of our parents which was not right. We are adults and have the full right to register our protest”.
Police, however, said the interrogation was necessary to establish the identity of students and confirm that they were not ‘outsiders’ who might try to create violence in the campus.
“To avoid any violence at PAU campus, we took all possible measures,” said DCP Narinder Bhargav. On why the policemen had sought the parents’ numbers, he said: “This was to ensure that outsiders were not present during the protest. It was a way to identify the students”.
Despite repeated attempts, PAU Vice-Chancellor Dr B S Dhillon did not respond to calls. A senior professor, however, said: “It is for first time since the 90s terrorism period that a boycott call was given by students on a religious issue supporting radical groups”.