Despite the absence of a union on campus, the students of Jamia Millia Islamia have been rallying each other and the local community to hold what have been unprecedented protests that have stretched on for over a week.
It began with the Lok Sabha approving the new citizenship law on December 9. “The anger was palpable. There were four protests called by different student organisations on campus over two days. And then a general body meeting (GBM) was called on Wednesday (December 11), when the Rajya Sabha too approved the Bill,” says Arjun Ramachandran, a first-year student of MA (Mass Communication) and a member of the Dayare Shauq Students’ Charter (DISC), a student body on campus.
All students and campus organisations, including AAP’s CYSS, the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind’s Student Islamic Organisation (SIO), DISC, the Muslim Students Federation affiliated to the All India Muslim League and the Congress’s NSUI, were then invited to the library lawns for the GBM — through posters circulated on social media and word of mouth. The organisations could not reach a consensus during their meeting but agreed to a joint call for a Parliament march the next day, December 12. “We thought the Parliament march should happen at any cost because the winter session was concluding on December 13 (Friday),” says Shaheen Abdulla, a final-year student of MA Convergent Journalism and a member of the SIO.
But that march took a violent turn with unruly elements among the protesters hurling slippers at the police and bringing down the barricades, triggering a lathicharge and teargas shelling on campus — a few shells allegedly landed near exam halls. “It was horrible. The Jamia Teachers Association also approached us. Students who were supposed to write exams were injured. And we decided to call for a boycott of exams in view of the police violence and the citizenship law,” says Chanda Yadav, 20, a final-year student of BA (Hindi) and a member of AISA.
The university administration then decided to postpone exams and announced holidays till January 5. A joint coordination committee, with representations from each of the student bodies, besides those without affiliations and the alumni association, was also formed on December 14 — it is this body that has managed protests since then — and another meeting was held “on popular demand” on Sunday morning, December 15, for better management and coordination. “We then decided to go around the Jamia Nagar locality and rally support for a march,” says Arjun.
The crowd swelled, with locals and outsiders joining the march to where the campus road ends. The crackdown on the campus that followed the arson a kilometre away sparked a national debate.
The events of December 15 further galvanised protests outside the university the next day, with increasing local support.
Imran, 47, a resident of Batla House and a businessman who is now distributing biryani, says, “There is no better way to make the protest stronger than serving people biryani”, as he waits for another cauldron of the dish to arrive. “These youngsters are fighting for a noble cause, I am ready to pay for their food for as long as this movement continues,” he adds.
Mohammad Mukarram, 27, a resident of Zakir Nagar and a dairy owner, has been distributing water bottles every day among the protesters. “It is the least I can do. I can’t be here all day but I can come here twice or thrice with my share of help,” he says.
Students have been joined by local residents in managing traffic and controlling crowds on the road outside the university. “People should not be inconvenienced. We can’t force our protest on anyone,” says Faisal Alam, 29, who has just returned from his office in Nehru Place. He and few others now help an autorickshaw pass through the crowded road.
The protests come with their share of litter — disposable utensils and half-finished eatables strewn on the road and pavements. A spontaneous act by a group of five on the night of December 16 set a moral code for the agitators.
“We saw the road was dirty in the evening when the protest got over.
Three students were walking around with brooms, and my friend and I decided to join them. Within minutes, cars passing by stopped and their occupants joined the effort. It took us two hours to clean the whole stretch,” says Shiraz Babu, a research associate at Jamia. A video of the clean-up was widely circulated on social media networks in the locality. “After that, everyone pitched in and the road got cleaned up every night. Even at the other end of Jamia Nagar, near Kalindi Kunj, where protests are being held during day time, the agitators have been cleaning up before they leave.”
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