A day after intruders from a Hindutva outfit on Wednesday disrupted an event at Aligarh Muslim University to which former Vice-President Hamid Ansari had been invited, the university staff said they felt vulnerable and were worried about an escalation in violence.

On Thursday, university spokesperson M Shafey Kidwai said that the Uttar Pradesh police’s response was alarming. “The surprising part was that university guards had handed five to six goons over to the police but they were let off,” said Kidwai. “But when students went to file a FIR [first information report], they were lathi-charged and tear-gassed.”

Over two dozen students, including students union president Mashkoor Ahmad Usmani emerged from the attack bruised and bleeding. “The intruders brought and fired kattas [locally-made guns] in front of the police with the ex-vice president just a few metres away,” said Usmani. “This was a breach of national security.”

Furious at the violence, on Wednesday night itself, university students decided to rally the support of alumni, complain to the National Human Rights Commission and demand the transfer of the Aligarh’s Senior Superintendent of Police. On Thursday, they launched fresh protests on campus.

A protest at Aligarh Muslim University on Wednesday. (Source: Aligarh Muslim University Students' Union).
A protest at Aligarh Muslim University on Wednesday. (Source: Aligarh Muslim University Students' Union).

‘Police did nothing’

The event on Wednesday afternoon had been organised to confer university alumnus Hamid Ansari with life membership to the students’ union, a university tradition. The first recipient of this honour was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, followed over the years by the scientist CV Raman, and politicians Jai Prakash Narayan and Ram Vilas Paswan.

According to Usmani, Ansari was waiting at the university guest house for the event to begin when men who were not students entered the campus and got within 10 metres of Ansari’s location. They were shouting slogans, said student union president Usmani. “A few senior students stopped them and tried to drive them out, but shots were fired and there was violence,” he said.

Students alleged that the intruders were from the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a militia established in 2002 by Adityanath, who is now the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister.

This was the first time that a Hindutva group had barged in and disrupted an event at the Aligarh university, said teachers. On Wednesday, they also discovered they were on their own. Both students and teachers say that the police’s behaviour had shaken their faith in local law enforcement.

Students alleged that the police did nothing to stop the crowd from shouting slogans and from getting close to where Ansari was. The alleged firing of pistols also happened on the police’s watch, they said, and later, the police also beat the students with lathis.

The teachers’ association met on Thursday afternoon and resolved to petition the Union government for a judicial inquiry into the incident. Aligarh Muslim University is a central university, funded and managed directly by the Union government.

Spokesperson Kidwai said that the university administration was “deeply concerned” over Wednesday’s incidents and had filed a first information report with the local police.

Najamul Islam, a member of the university’s teachers’ association, said that the students “were treated like they are from an enemy country”.

Islam confirmed that the police were not called in response to the disruption as they were already present to provide security to Ansari. “That is the protocol,” he said. He added: “We have asked students to maintain calm and have faith in the university, the administration and the enquiry.”

Constant provocation

But students will not be so easily placated. At Wednesday night’s meeting, they resolved to stop academic activity for five days. Some of them see a larger design behind the attack.

The former students’ union president, Faizul Hasan recalled that the university’s students have been suffering a smear-campaign for several years. “They [Hindutva groups] constantly provoke us,” he said. “They give statements to the local media saying that all AMU [Aligarh Muslim University] students are Pakistan supporters or terrorism supporters.”

Ghazala Ahmad, a former member of the students’ union who graduated last year, said that Hindutva groups have previously burnt photos of university founder Syed Ahmad Khan, and have also told the local media that they wanted to hold a sabha, or meeting, on campus. “But this is the first time they have entered campus,” she said. “Just a few days ago, the SSP [senior superintendent of police] was transferred and a new one brought in. This shows all of this was planned. They knew Hamid Ansari was coming and it gave them an opportunity to enter and disrupt the functioning of the university.”

Jinnah portrait row

The latest provocation came just a few days ago. Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Aligarh, Satish Gautam, had written to the university objecting to the display of a portrait of Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah in the students’ union building. The portrait has been there for decades.

Although the union insisted that Hamid Ansari was the target of the disruption, according to some reports, Hindutva groups maintain the protest was over the portrait. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, which is affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, objects to the portrait too.

Kidwai pointed out that the Jinnah portrait is “of historical and archival value” and has been kept because the Pakistan founder was conferred lifetime membership of the union in 1938. On Wednesday, it was Ansari’s turn to be inducted into their ranks. According to Kidwai, the former vice-president was going to speak on India and pluralism. The event was cancelled after the violence.