At 4.45 pm on February 9, organisers of an event to mark the death anniversary of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) were told that they could not go ahead with the programme.
Barely 15 minutes before the event, the organisers, former members of the Democratic Students’ Union, were told that the JNU administration had withdrawn permission to hold it.
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Over a dozen people had gathered to attend the event and an equal number of guards had been posted at the venue.
“Please don’t hang your photographs and posters here, you are not allowed to do so,” a security guard told Umar Khalid, one of the organisers.
“But they gave us permission earlier, how can they withdraw it now? We had signatures of the chairperson and the dean… you are telling us five minutes before the event that we can’t hold it. Why?” asked Anirban, another organiser.
Minutes earlier, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) had announced that the students’ union had written to the administration and requested it to cancel the “anti-national” event.
“Some students are organising a cultural evening to commemorate Afzal Guru. To stop this programme, I have written to the Vice-Chancellor, the Registrar, the Proctor Office, the Dean of Students and the Chief Security Officer of JNU,” said JNU students’ union (JNUSU) joint secretary and ABVP leader Saurabh Sharma.
In another 10 minutes, the crowd had swelled considerably; members from organisations like the All India Students’ Association (AISA), All India Students’ Federation (AISF), Democratic Students’ Federation (DSF) and Students’ Federation of India (SFI) were among them.
“I have come here as a JNUSU office-bearer, to call up the administration and ask why the permission was withdrawn,” said JNUSU General Secretary and AISA leader Rama Naga.
As the organisers and security guards continued to argue, a group of ABVP activists gathered across the road.
“We are not going to start our protest till they start their programme. And nobody will go over to their side, we will shout slogans from here,” Sharma told them.
Whistles, meant to be used in a performance, were distributed to those who had gathered at the venue. In a spontaneous gesture of protest, many started blowing their whistles.
“I think we will have to settle for a whistle protest,” said an AISA leader.
On the other side of the road, an ABVP activist said, “While we won’t allow this programme to take place, we also won’t be provoked… we have sent our people to record the whole event”.
The programme finally began at 5.30 pm, with slogans on Kashmir’s “self-determination” and in support of Afzal Guru, countered by ABVP activists who shouted slogans against them.
The sloganeering from both sides soon took a turn for the worse, replete with derogatory terms and offensive statements. A section of students also shouted slogans against India.
At 7 pm, when participants of the protest event began marching towards Ganga Dhaba, ABVP activists blocked their way. Some of the students got embroiled in altercations and police were called in to maintain law and order.
After the protesters reached Ganga Dhaba, JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar delivered a speech, in which he criticised the ABVP for “attacking students” and “branding all of them anti-national”.
The sloganeering continued from both sides. Finally, the crowd dispersed at 8.30 pm.