At 7.03 pm on Sunday, a message was sent to a group discussion over the WhatsApp messaging service: “Saalo ko hostel mein ghush ke tode.” We entered their hostels and beat them up.
Another participant of the group responded: “Absolutely, it is time to settle things once and for all. If we don’t beat them up now, then when? The ‘komiyo’ [communists] have spread filth.”
Around 6 pm, a masked mob had entered hostels inside the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus, armed with rods. Video footage shows students fleeing in panic from the masked attackers. Several injured students and professors were later taken to hospitals.
The students’ union blamed the violence on the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The ABVP accused Left groups – the Students Federation of India, the All India Students’ Association and the Democratic Students Federation – of creating the trouble.
What do the WhatsApp exchanges suggest?
Scroll.in examined screenshots of WhatsApp messages that were shared by social media users. Using Truecaller, an app that enables the identification of mobile phone users, and Facebook, the identity of some of the people exchanging messages about the violence was traced.
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The number associated with the message – “We entered their hostels and beat them up” – was traced to Saurabh Dubey over Truecaller. His Facebook profile shows he is an assistant professor at Shaheed Bhagat Singh Evening College of the University of Delhi. He manages a group called “JNUites for MODI”.
Scroll.in called Dubey but his phone was not reachable.
Earlier, at 5.39 pm, in another WhatsApp group called “Friends of RSS”, a person messaged to say: “Please join this group for unity against left terror. These people should be beaten up. That is the only treatment.”
In response, someone said: “Get the people from DU to enter from the Khajan Singh swimming side. We are 25-30 of us here.” DU is likely to be a reference to Delhi University. Khazan Singh Swimming Academy is situated inside JNU, and has a separate entry gate. At the university’s main gate, however, visitors are checked before they enter the campus.
The number associated with this message was traced using Truecaller to Vikas Patel. His Facebook profile states he is an executive committee member of ABVP and former vice president of ABVP at JNU.
Scroll.in contacted Patel but his mobile number was switched off.
These messages became public after non-ABVP and non-RSS activists managed to join the WhatsApp group using an invite link that was circulated and took screenshots of the conversations that had taken place. However, their presence was detected soon.
At 8.41 pm, in a WhatsApp group called “Unity Against Left”, someone messaged to ask: “Has the police come? Brother, leftists have joined this group too. Why was the link shared?”
Truecaller shows the number associated with this message belongs to Onkar Srivastava, state executive committee member of ABVP in Delhi and former vice president of ABVP at JNU in 2015-16, according to his Facebook profile.
Srivastava’s mobile number was switched off when Scroll.in called it.
Once the presence of outsiders was detected in these groups, the right-wing activists then exited the groups en masse. Political analyst Shivam Shankar Singh pointed out that the right-wing then used the numbers of the new entrants to these groups to claim Muslims and Left supporters were responsible for the violence.
One of the numbers belonged to Anand Mangnale who had previously worked with the Congress party. In a clarification, he said he had “infiltrated” the right-wing WhatsApp groups to collect information.
Another journalist pointed out that, in one of the screenshots that the right-wing was circulating as part of an attempt to claim that Leftist students were responsible for the violence, the message timings were from well after when the attacks had taken place.
Corrections and clarifications: An earlier version of this article misstated the analysis of Shivam Shankar Singh.