What turned into a riot-like situation near Jamia Millia Islamia by Sunday evening had begun as a ‘community march’ against the new citizenship law by students in the afternoon.
As the march gained momentum with locals joining in, the situation spiralled out of control within hours.
Editorial | At great cost
Students of Jamia Millia Islamia have been protesting against the new law on campus since Friday. On Saturday, a ‘united general body meeting’ was held with members of all major student organisations on campus to decide the future course.
On Sunday, soon after noon, students began to stream out of the university in a ‘community march’ to mobilise residents of localities surrounding the campus in opposition to the new law.
Several students at the forefront of the march said it was not supposed to be a “major event”, but a mobilisation exercise building up to a larger march to the Parliament in the near future.
The marching students went from the nearby areas of Zakir Nagar and Batla House, and moved to Shaheen Bagh, shouting slogans in opposition to the Act. As the march moved forward, it began to swell in size as residents of the localities began to join in.
“We are urging people to join us in our protest. We are trying to light a spark of movement for our self-respect,” said Muhammad Rizwan, a BSc Physics student who had spoken to The Indian Express before violence broke out.
According to Akhtarista Ansari, a student activist of the university, as the crowd grew in size, pressure also began to grow from some to take the march to the Parliament.
Around 2:30 pm, over 1,000 protesters moved from the university’s gate number 12 in an attempt to march to the Parliament. “When we reached Surya Hotel, we found that the passage had been blocked by barricades. So we turned back and marched towards Mata Mandir in New Friends Colony,” said Ansari.
The group then began to splinter. While a section moved to the four-way intersection at Sarai Jullena to block traffic there, another section moved towards Mata Mandir in New Friends Colony.
According to protesting students, when they reached Mata Mandir, police began a lathi charge against them around 4:30 pm and deployed tear gas to disperse them. “The police started the violence after which the locals who had joined the protest began to get restive. They began throwing rocks at buses and the police, and setting fire to buses. Had we tried to stop them, they would have attacked us. Plus, we were being attacked by police at the same time. At the beginning itself, all students had decided we don’t want pathar-baazi,” said a student.
DCP (South East) Chinmoy Biswal said, “Around 2.30-3 pm, a crowd of 1,500-2,000 people marched from the university area towards NFC, crossing Holy Family hospital, and Sarai Jullena to reach New Delhi. They were stopped near NFC’s Surya hotel and asked to do a peaceful protest there and not jam the Ring Road. Some groups, however, reached the Ring Road from another route as well as Mata Mandir road. Police personnel went there to request them to leave from there, and to keep the protest peaceful. But they didn’t listen and the mob started violence. Some came prepared to do violence, and set ablaze DTC buses.”
As the protest erupted into violence by 4:30 pm, protesters were pushed back from Sarai Jullena and New Friends Colony, and Jamia’s campus came under siege by 6:30 pm with teargas shells being thrown inside and police raiding the canteen and mosque.
Around 6 pm, a large crowd comprising locals and a few students gathered near Sukhdev Vihar Metro station, which prompted the police to shut the gates of the station.
By 6.15 pm, the entire stretch from Sukhdev Vihar to Jamia Millia Islamia station, which is located right outside the campus, was taken over by protesters. The gates of the Jamia Millia station were also closed and trains stopped halting there.
Within the next few minutes, a series of loud bangs, of teargas shells going off, rocked the area. The protesters retaliated by hurling stones at the police, triggering a crackdown which brought the university campus under its sweep. Some personnel were also seen hurling bricks and stones back inside the campus.
Police personnel who had entered the campus soon started dragging out people, with several students claiming they were assaulted despite having nothing to do with the protests.
At the time police stormed the campus, some students were offering namaz at the mosque. They claimed they were dragged out of the mosque and attacked by the personnel.
Private security guards on campus also backed the version of the students. They said police also beat up the guards who resisted their action. A security guard posted at Jamia said, “I told police not to hit Imam saab and that I am on duty, I will ask him to go. But they beat him up, then they beat me up on the road. Ten of them beat me with lathi on my legs and hands.”
Around 6:20 pm, The Indian Express witnessed police personnel pull out at least five persons from the university and beat them with sticks. Around 6:45 pm, a police bus left the area carrying students from the campus.
Around 7:00 pm, over 100 students were brought out of the campus in a line with their hands in the air. These students said they were studying in the central library and had been brought from there by the police.
In the meantime, smoke could be seen billowing out from pockets of the neighbourhood. Around 7.30 pm, the police managed to push back the protesters, but within minutes, police personnel could be seen being chased towards Sukhdev Vihar by the crowd.
Ambulances were allowed inside the campus around 8 pm. The vehicles filled up within minutes and rushed towards nearby hospitals. A total of 50 people were detained through the day and taken to Kalkaji police station.
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