fighting back

In two weeks, police action greets student demos across India 10 times

Lathi-charges, water cannons and detention have become routine strategies.

On Saturday afternoon, about 200 students in New Delhi began to march to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh office to demonstrate against Rohith Vemula’s suicide in Hyderabad earlier this month. The Dalit scholar killed himself after facing punitive action from the University of Hyderabad protesters after a series of events involving a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. The participants in Saturday's protest aimed to display their disapproval of the BJP's ideological fountain – the RSS – on the anniversary of Mahatama Gandhi's assassination. However, without any seeming provocation, the peaceful protestors were lathi-charged by the Delhi Police.

Even reporters covering the protests were not spared. Among them was independent journalist Rahul M. He was thrashed and his camera was shattered. “An inspector grabbed my camera by the LCD screen, tearing it apart,” he wrote. "I told the policemen that I was a journalist, but they continued to strike at me with their lathis."

Several students claimed to have been injured badly enough to require treament in hospital. While student bodies condemned the police brutality, this sort of violence now seems to have become normal across the country. Over the past fortnight alone, at least ten student demonstrations have faced violence from the police.

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Ever since Vemula committed suicide on January 17, protests have erupted around the country from student and activist bodies demanding a thorough investigation into the circumstances that led to his death and more safeguards to protect Dalit students from discrimination in educational institutions. Many demonstrations have run into police action.

“Protest is a basic right but detention is as common as attending the classes,” said a PhD scholar from Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University. “The police uses its brute force upon us in order to break our will and not just bones but we are too strong for that. The movements, fasts and strikes will continue inside the jails as well even if they arrest us. The government can’t muzzle voices of dissent just because it doesn’t like to have an intelligent discourse.”

In most of these cases, the police have claimed that they are merely responding to provocation from the protestors.

The water-cannon bursts and lathi-charges have become so commonplace, they often don't make the news anymore. Here is a list of some of the major incidents that have occurred over the past two weeks.

January 18

The morning after Vemula’s suicide, calls for protests were issued at the University of Hyderabad as well as Delhi. Students in the capital marched to the Ministry of Human Resource Development but were stopped by the police. Students claim that they were beaten up, detained for hours and met with water-cannon attacks. Several reported being injured.

Similar protests in Hyderabad ran into the batons of police armed with riot gear. At least eight students were arrested.

January 19
Students protesting Vemula’s death in Hyderabad were intercepted by police again as another 37 were detained and taken into custody as the movement intensified and reached Osmania University and English and Foreign Languages University in the city.

January 20
The police arrested 23 students in Coimbatore for shouting slogans against the Central government and protesting against the circumstances of Vemula’s death.

In Bangalore, five students, reported to belong to the Congress-affiliated National Students Union of India, were held by the police after their protest outside the office of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad turned violent.

January 21
Four law students from the Government Law College in Madurai were detained by the police for participating in a fast to protest their suspension for a demonstration held earlier. Students alleged that false cases were being filed against them in order to spoil their careers even as the police entered the campus and detained four.

January 22
More than 100 activists of the National Students Union of India marched to the office of the Ministry of Human Resource Development in Delhi to demand the resignation of Smriti Irani, Bandaru Dattatreya and Hyderabad University Vice Chancellor but were met with police brutality. More than 60 persons were detained for allegedly pushing over barricades. The police said that they acted under the provisions of the law.

In Lucknow, two students from Ambedkar University were taken into preventive custody by the police for shouting slogans against the Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he addressed their convocation.

January 23
As the standoff between the police and the students continued at the University of Hyderabad, minor skirmishes were reported from the campus because of heavy barricading. Protesters attempting to enter were forcefully kept out.

January 24
In Mumbai, protesting students filed a case against RSS members for allegedly attacking them with rods and sticks during an event in the Dharavi neighbourhood. The protesters said that the police did not intervene even though many officials were present on the scene.

January 26
Eighteen students of Hyderabad's Osmania University were detained for protesting against Vemula’s suicide.

January 27
Another 100 protesters were detained in Hyderabad after their attempt to demonstrate at the Secretariat was foiled by the police.

In Delhi, more than 60 protesters in Delhi were detained outside the Ministry of Human Resource Development office for calling for the resignations of Smriti Irani and the vice chancellor of Hyderabad University. The students promptly launched an indefinite hunger strike inside the police station to condemn the police intervention.

January 28
Twelve students from Panjab University were detained by the police on the “apprehension” that they would create a ruckus while protesting against the visit of Punjab Congress President Capt Amrinder Singh to the campus. The students claimed the event was a “politically choreographed show”.

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