Masked men wielding sticks, rods and sledgehammers terrorised Jawaharlal Nehru University for close to three hours on Sunday evening, entering hostels, attacking students and teachers and leaving 26 injured.
Eyewitnesses and many of those injured said the men, who as per some estimates numbered around 100, were mostly outsiders and belonged to the ABVP — a charge the RSS student outfit denied. Eyewitnesses also accused police of failing to stop the mob from entering the campus or ending the violence sooner, despite calls from JNU as well as frantic students and teachers.
Among those injured were 22 students, including JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) president Aishe Ghosh, two teachers and two guards, who have been admitted to AIIMS and Safdarjung Hospital.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah ordered the Delhi Police to hold an inquiry, as the HRD Ministry condemned the incident, blaming outsiders for it, and said “anarchy will not be tolerated”. Several Union ministers and JNU alumni, such as Nirmala Sitharaman and S Jaishankar, criticised the violence.
The chaos started around 6:30 pm when a ‘peace march’ called by the JNU Teachers’ Association on campus was wrapping up. Teachers had gathered to call for calm a day after the campus had seen a scuffle between activists of the ABVP and Left outfits. The campus has been seeing protests against hostel fee hike for around three months.
Police finally arrived outside the campus only around 7.30 pm, and said it held flag marches inside at regular intervals. By Sunday night, over 700 policemen were present on the campus.
The ABVP claimed it had no link to the violence and its members were, in fact, attacked by Left outfits. While all Opposition parties condemned the violence, blaming “fascist” forces, the BJP called it “a desperate attempt by forces of anarchy, who are determined to use students as cannon fodder, create unrest to shore up their shrinking political footprint”. Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra visited the injured students at AIIMS.
While tweeting his “pain and anguish” over the injured students, Vice-Chancellor Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar attached a press note by the Registrar talking about the protests over the fees hike and expressing regret that “a group of students with their violent means of protests are preventing thousands of non-agitating students from pursuing their academic activities”.
According to eyewitnesses, the crowd of masked men first gathered at Periyar Hostel, a couple of hours before the attacks started. Soori Krishan, an SFI activist, was among the first to get hit. “A large crowd with covered faces abused us in Hindi. When I started retorting, they hit me with a metal rod on my head. I’ve received two stitches and my hands are injured too,” said the MA student who was taken to AIIMS.
The teachers said on seeing the group “of around 100 men with their faces covered, sticks and stones in hands” marching towards them, they approached them in a bid to placate them, but were attacked instead. One teacher said “the stones were big enough to crack a skull”.
Professor Shukla Sawant said she was hit on the head and back. “They just starting pelting huge stones at us and beating everyone,” she said. Professor Atul Sood said, “Police were at the JNU gate while all this was happening and nobody stopped this mob. For the next two hours they went from hostel to hostel.”
A Masters student told The Indian Express over the phone around 9.45 pm: “When the mob began attacking, many of the women ran towards the women’s wing of Sabarmati Hostel. Around seven of us have been locked inside a room for three hours now. There are people with head injuries here.”
Students said at least seven hostels — Periyar, Sabarmati, Tapti, Mahi Mandavi, Lohit, Koyna and Kaveri — were targeted. Doors were broken, windows smashed and students’ belongings were trashed as the men went from one corridor to the next, ignoring pleas by women hostellers. One video showed a group of women asking the mob to back off, and the men rushing at them with weapons.
A resident of the men’s wing of Sabarmati Hostel said the attackers asked him if belonged to any Left group. “At around 6:30 pm, around 20 masked people entered the hostel. They were carrying sticks, iron rods and some liquid in glass bottles. I live on the second floor and could see what was happening… I waited in my room and they pushed me and asked me if I belong to any Left party. I said I’m not, even though I am. They looked around my room for a while and then left,” he said.
He spoke to The Indian Express around 10:30 pm and said no security guard or police personnel had come to the hostel till then.
JNUSU president Ghosh was injured near Sabarmati Hostel and taken to AIIMS. Nikhil Matthew, who was with Ghosh and her sister at the time, said they “begged” the mob not to hit them. With blood flowing down her head, Ghosh said, “I am not in a condition to talk.” Doctors said she had lacerations on her forehead.
In a statement, the JNUSU blamed “ABVP goons, mostly from outside campus” for the violence. “The Bajrang Dal and members of other such outfits outside the main gate are asking for students to be shot. Why is police not ensuring that JNU remains a safe space for all students?” it said.
HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal called the incident “unfortunate” and urged students to maintain peace and protect the dignity of the university. His ministry tweeted, “a group of masked people entered the JNU campus today, threw stones, damaged property and attacked students. This is very unfortunate and highly condemnable, such acts of violence and anarchy will not be tolerated.”
Higher Education Secretary Amit Khare told The Indian Express the violence was a “serious matter” and the HRD Ministry had sought a report from the Registrar. Khare, who was in Bhopal Sunday, came back to Delhi late night.
Khare’s predecessor R Subrahmanyam, who was transferred out last month amidst the protest by JNU students against the hostel fee hike, was the first from the government to condemn the violence. Subrahmanyam, who is also an alumnus of the university, wrote on Twitter, “#JNUViolence completely unacceptable and shameful… demand immediate action against the hooligans.”
Subrahmanyam was one of the main drivers of the dialogue with JNU students over the hike. His transfer order of December 13 came less than two hours before the officers-elect of the JNUSU were scheduled to meet him for a third round of talks.
Soon after Subrahmanyam, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman tweeted. “Condemn the violence unequivocally. This is completely against the tradition and culture of the university,” Jaishankar said on Twitter. Sitharaman said, “Horrifying images from JNU — the place I know & remember was one for fierce debates & opinions but never violence… This govt, regardless of what has been said the past few weeks, wants universities to be safe spaces for all students.”
NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant also tweeted, saying, “#JNU has always been a centre of lively & vibrant debate, discussion & co-existence of different viewpoints. What has happened today is extremely sad & tragic.”
In a reaction late Sunday night, K Vijayraghavan, Principal Scientific Advisor to the government, said, “Campuses are places for learning, discussion, collegial debate amongst diverse opinions, and research. There is no place at all for violence. What has happened in JNU today is unhesitatingly and unequivocally condemned.”
Denying charges of not acting adequately, police said that initially, around 20-30 of its personnel were on the campus due to the planned march, and on receiving information of the violence around 5 pm, it deployed 20 personnel from every police station in the South-West and South districts. At around 8 pm, 50 more personnel were called.
JCP (New Delhi) Anand Mohan said, “We were informed that there was a clash between two groups of students. The JNU Administration approached us and then we entered the campus to control the law and order. The situation is now under control.”