On Friday, around 2,000 students of New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University marched from their campus to Parliament to highlight a host of grievances: the seemingly arbitrary removal of departments heads, cuts in the number of seats for some courses and new rules on compulsory attendance. They also demanded the immediate suspension of a professor accused of sexually harassing at least eight students.
Near INA Market in South Delhi, they were stopped by the police. In the confrontation that followed, police officials were seen assaulting scores of students and teachers. Camera captured officials tearing the clothes of at least one woman, while eight others claim that their garments were also ripped. An officer of the rank of inspector is alleged to have molested a journalist on the pretext of pushing her back from the area where the incident took place. Another group of officers were witnessed snatching a photojournalist’s camera when she refused to delete photographs of their actions.
The police have so far said nothing about these allegations but, after being criticised by journalists, were forced to announce an investigation into the molestation claims. For their part, the police have said that 41 officials were injured during the confrontation.
On Friday night, the Delhi Police issued a statement attempting to explain what had transpired. “During protest by JNU students, a section of the students became aggressive and tried to push down police barricades,” the statement said. “Police had to resort to use of water cannon and few protesters had to be removed from the spot. In this situation, one female journalist has given a complaint of molestation and the same will be enquired into by the vigilance branch for further action.”
Hours after the incident, the Delhi Police registered a case against the protestors in the Sarojini Nagar Police Station, whose jurisdiction includes the area where the clash took place. The case is being investigated by an inspector-rank officer, a police official said.
But the police are yet to register a First Information Report in connection with the molestation incident. Instead, they have initiated a departmental inquiry.
While the police have so far refrained from disclosing details about the First Information Report they have registered against the protesters, they have taken to social media to present their version of what happened and to try to identify protesters visible in video clips.
Around Friday midnight, Madhur Verma, the public relations office of the Delhi Police, posted a series of tweets.
All three tweets by Verma were retweeted by the Delhi Police handle.
Soon after Verma’s tweets started doing the rounds, a person named Gaurav Jha disclosed the private details of a research scholar in Jawaharlal Nehru University, who he claimed to have identified through the videos on Twitter. Jha is a member of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and was a candidate for president in the JNU students’ union elections in 2015. The person he has identified is a student activist associated with one of the Left organisations.
Jha’s tweet circulated like wildfire in the next few hours, forcing the scholar to deactivate his Facebook account and go into a hiding.
Some fear that this new method that the police have opted to use could lead to vigilantes attacking people identified in the videos. But senior officials refrained from commenting on the matter. On Saturday, Delhi Police spokesperson Dependra Pathak did not respond to phone calls about the matter.