Protests against compulsory attendance, autonomy and “lack of administrative action” against JNU Professor Atul Johri turned violent Friday, with a ‘long march’ of over 1,000 students and teachers from the campus to Parliament Street running into a police lathi charge and water cannons near Laxmi Bai Nagar.
Johri has been accused of sexual harassment by eight women students. Roughly 20 students were detained at Defence Colony police station, amid allegations that police personnel had manhandled protesters. They were later taken to AIIMS for a medical check-up, before being released. “I was beaten up by the SHO; they slapped us. We were spared only after politicians reached the police station,” alleged JNU student Sunny Dhiman, who was among those detained.
JNU students’ union vice-president Simone Zoya Khan said, “Students came for a historic long march, which was peaceful. Police have made it their agenda to shield a sexual harasser and beat up common students. They should be ashamed.”
When contacted, Delhi Police spokesperson and Special Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Depender Pathak said the lathicharge and other allegations of police excess were a result of police trying to “maintain law and order”. “There were thousands of people in the protest and it was a major law and order situation. Police were trying to protect life and property in the area and make sure people are safe,” Pathak said.
As students and teachers neared Sanjay Jheel, they were met with barricades. Police used water cannons to disperse the crowd, and after a brief scuffle between students and police, the lathi charge began. Later in the evening, politicians such as Brinda Karat from the CPM, Manoj Jha from RJD, Ali Anwar from JD(U) and Ashok Tanwar from the Congress reached the spot.
“A professor accused of sexual harassment is still holding administrative posts and being protected by the V-C,” said Karat. Jha focused on the protests against privatisation of education and said, “Autonomy is for commercialisation of education. They are threatened by the fact that knowledge in India has an egalitarian attitude. The right wing authoritarian is making sure privatisation is the order of the day, by which marginalised communities will perpetually remain on the margins.” Anwar said he would bring up the issue in Parliament.