On the evening of December 15, the Delhi police entered the campus of Jamia Millia Islamia. They vandalised the library and rooms, they beat up students and loosed tear gas shells on them, they detained many people.

Afterwards, the administration claimed that the damage was a consequence of the police chasing“outsiders” – people living in the surrounding locality of Jamia Nagar, who had crashed into our campus that evening after protests against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act came to be marked by violence.

I was on campus that evening – I am a final-year undergraduate student at the department of English at Jamia living in one of the girls’ hostels. I, and others who were there, know that the protesters that evening included students as well as people from surrounding areas.

Not many know that the protests of December 15 had started largely because of police action on December 13. That day, the police had used tear gas on protesting students at the engineering campus. On December 15, the people from the surrounding areas turned up to support the protest of Jamia students, not disrupt it. When the police allegedly came for these outsiders, they took shelter in the campus because they see it as their extended home.

They were not “infiltrators”.

Campus and community

To many of us, the protests of December 15 cut to the heart of what the institution is. To many, it is a microcosm of the dream that we call Hindustan, where everyone is allowed to just be, as Aamir Aziz, one of my fellow students, said.

After December 15, I have noticed a recurring narrative, put forward by the university administration and picked up by the media, where the blame is put on outsiders. But in Jamia, the line between insiders and outsiders is blurred.

Jamia Nagar is Jamia, Jamia is Jamia Nagar. Every second person studying at Jamia either lives with their families in Jamia Nagar or in paying guest houses and rented flats in Jamia. So to say the “outsiders” did the damage is to put the blame on Jamia itself.

The area is home to mixed communities, predominantly Muslim, either working class or employed in clerical jobs. “And yes, Jamia is very close to the locals here,” said Mantasha, a student at Jamia and a local resident. “The people see the attack on students in a way that their children are under attack.”

A protest against the new citizenship law outside the Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi on December 22. Credit: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

If you go to Jamia Nagar, you will still find men and women, many of them middle-aged, sitting in protest. They have been joined by people from nearby localities such as Shaheen Bagh, Abul Fazal colony, Ghaffar Manzil Colony and Batla House, the infamous Batla that has always been a favourite scapegoat for claims that it provides shelter to shady Islamic radicals.

The protest is primarily against the police violence on December 15, but also against the “unsecular steps” taken by the Bharatiya Janata Party, Mantasha explained. Many fear that the act, when used in tandem with the planned National Register of Citizens, will be the weapon that allows Muslims to be stripped of their citizehship.

These people have kept up a massive protest over the past 10 days or so, along with students of the university. Can you really identify an insider from an outsider here? You cannot. And you need not.

No outsiders

Admitted, it was people from outside the campus who had set off chaos and not Jamia students. The police justified violence on students claiming that uneducated outsiders had created it. But these people have have been part and parcel of the university’s everyday life.

The point is, they were supposed to have been educated and made aware about the core reasons for the agitation when they came out to protest. They should have been mobilised in a way that would not lead to a riot-like situation. They would have understood the importance of protesting peacefully if they knew how high the stakes were.

When the administration transferred the blame on outsiders, it slid into the narrative of the insiders versus infiltrators that Jamia had been countering in its protests. The administration’s statement cast these so-called outsiders as unwanted, which they have never been in Jamia.

Of cours,e there is a line that has to divide the inside from the outside but we know the people from surrounding areas were out on the streets because Jamia was set on fire by external forces – the police. In the fight to attain freedom from exclusionary forces in the government, let us not end up sowing the seeds of exclusion within ourselves.