On Tuesday, the Uttar Pradesh police received three sets of complaints about a scuffle that had broken out at the Aligarh Muslim University in the afternoon.
One was filed by Republic TV journalists who said they were reporting from the campus when they were heckled by students who also snatched and broke their equipment.
Another was filed by Mukesh Singh Lodhi, district president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s youth wing. He said he was driving past the campus and chanced upon a crowd of “Muslim students attacking journalists and Hindu students”. He stopped to check, only to became a target himself, he alleged.
The third set of complaints was filed by the university and the students against the Republic TV journalists and others. The university filed a complaint against the TV news channel for trespassing while the students alleged assault.
While the police promptly acted on the first two sets of complaints, they ignored the third. They filed a case based on the TV crew’s complaint without naming any student. Lodhi’s complaint resulted in 14 students being booked, including for sedition.
According to Aligarh’s Superintendent of Police Ashutosh Dwivedi, the sedition charge was added because Lodhi alleged he heard the students shout “Pakistan zindabad, Bharat murdabad” – Life to Pakistan, Death to Bharat – as he fled from them.
“We have sought all CCTV footage and are examining all the videos,” Dwivedi said, adding that no student will be arrested until the investigation is completed.
Asked why the police have not acted on the complaints filed by the students, he said they “have asked the university to investigate that internally first”.
By Wednesday evening, the university had suspended eight students pending inquiry.
‘They want to create a distraction’
Among the 14 students booked are the AMU students’ union president M Salman Imtiaz and his predecessor Mashkoor Ahmad Usmani. Imtiaz vehemently denied raising any such slogans and said most student union members were attending a meeting at the social sciences faculty when the scuffle broke out.
Usmani said he was not even in Aligarh. He left the campus on February 11 to join the ongoing protest against sexual harassment at the Jamia Millia Islamia University, and claimed to be still there when Scroll.in contacted him on the phone.
According to Imtiaz, Republic TV staff arrived on the campus on Tuesday morning to interview students. That day, the students’ union was holding a meeting with “some Muslim political parties and some activists who are working with oppressed classes and marginalised classes”. Some news reports say the union had invited the MP Asaduddin Owaisi to the meeting which led to a protest by a section of the Hindu students. This section included Ajay Singh, grandson of the local BJP legislator, Dalveer Singh. Ajay Singh is among the eight students who have since been suspended.
Imtiaz said the journalists were asked to wait until the meeting was over but they insisted on conducting the interviews right then. The interviews done with, the union’s programme began at around 12:10 pm, but the reporters stuck around.
On the sidelines of the meeting, at around 3 pm, Republic TV reporter Nalini Sharma allegedly said on air: “We are standing in a university of terrorists”, or words to that effect. This angered the students, who objected and finally forced the news team off the campus. At least one student has alleged that a Republic TV cameraman attacked him. Sharma has denied making such a statement.
Imtiaz claimed the Republic TV team had with them a few students from AMU who are Hindu and support the BJP. “They are the ones who caused this nuisance, tried to stoke communal tension on campus,” he alleged. “They fired guns and were violent with AMU students but the police is not acting on our complaint.”
Usmani added, “This is clearly the BJP trying to frame all the people who oppose its policies and politics. The police, without knowing anything at all, filed a case under this draconian sedition law which is being openly used to distract attention from unemployment, the problems of farmers, the neglect of education and the destruction of bodies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Reserve Bank of India.”
‘There was no provocation’
On her part, Sharma has claimed “there was no provocation” from the Republic TV crew and she “didn’t even speak to anybody inside the AMU campus until we were surround by this crowd of hooligans who continued saying how they’re not going to let us report because we were from Republic”. She also alleged she was “heckled”, her cameraperson was “pushed around by students” and their equipment “manhandled” only because they were from Republic TV.
As Sharma was reporting, a security officer also tried to get her to stop; university officials said they had not granted permission for a live telecast from the campus. Campus security and students gathered and the television team was forced to leave. At one point, some students had formed a human chain, surrounded the team and were trying to block their way out of the campus, Sharma alleged on social media. She added that they were heckled even while they waited for their car.
‘Heard the slogan, Pakistan zindabad’
Lodhi just happened to be at the “AMU Circle”, also called the University Circle, as this scene unfolded a few paces away. According to his statement – to the police and later to Scroll.in – he was crossing the circle going from Dodhpur to the collectorate when he noticed the disturbance. Lodhi, around 30 and the owner of a small business, said he saw “Muslim students attacking journalists and Hindu students”. He said he knew some of those journalists and students and they sought his help, “asked him to see what was going on” because his car has flags and stickers announcing his political affiliation.
Lodhi said he was attacked as he stepped out of his car. “The students fired guns, some bullets glanced off me and one hit my car,” he said. “I just about managed to save myself, get back in the car and went straight to the police station.”
Asked why this merited a sedition charge, he said: “When I was trying to save myself, students were shouting ‘Pakistan zinabad’. They always support Pakistan and had invited Owaisi to campus.” He added that if the students are not arrested within a week, the BJP Yuva Morcha will enter the campus and protest.
‘It’s the election’
The university’s students as well as teachers are convinced the constant goading of AMU by the BJP and its Hindutva affiliates is calculated to distract attention from unemployment and corruption in the government before the 2019 general election.
In December, Singh had demanded a temple inside the university which, unless the Supreme Court decides otherwise, is a Muslim minority institution. A teacher wondered if Singh is angling for a BJP ticket in the upcoming election. “If this government could not give development, they should just apologise and promise to do better next time,” said a teacher. “I have been here for 27 years and before that, as a student, and I have never seen the type of situations I have seen on campus over the past two years.”
The university community is also tiring of having to constantly prove their loyalty to the nation and the sedition charge, they said, is a fresh insult. “It is not just an insult, it is painful,” said a teacher.
Students received copies of the FIR late on Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning, the university administration met to discuss the situation. Classes have not been officially suspended but they stopped by noon and students gathered at the main gate, the Bab-E-Syed, and at the Vice Chancellor’s lodge, to protest.
They demand that the students who invited the Yuva Morcha on the campus and “repeatedly create nuisance” be rusticated. They also want the administration to file an FIR against those students.
The officials, however, are treading carefully. “We will meet the local administration, we are negotiating and trying to pacify the students as well,” said the university’s spokesperson, M Shafey Kidwai. “Tempers are running high – we have also read that there are demands that the students be booked under the National Security Act.”