Around 6.30 pm on Sunday, a Kashmiri student at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University was sitting in his room in the Sabarmati hostel with a few friends. One of his seniors alerted him on phone that a group of masked people wielding sticks and iron rods had barged into the hostel premises and were attacking students.
The Kashmiri student, who did not want to be identified, said he heard a commotion on the ground floor. He immediately latched his door shut and switched off the lights. A few minutes later, the attackers started banging on his door, asking him to let them in.
“Some of us inside jumped from the balcony to escape,” the student said, who lives on the first floor. But not everyone was able to do that. When the mob got in, they ransacked the room, smashing everything in sight. One student was assaulted. He was injured seriously enough to be taken to the hospital.
The Sabarmati hostel was the epicenter of the violence that broke out on the JNU campus on Sunday evening. Masked men and women wielding sticks and sledgehammers thrashed the students. The police merely watched as the attackers went from room to room, several students said.
The attack, however, was not indiscriminate. In Sabarmati hostel, Scroll.in found rooms with posters of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad had been spared, while those with posters of other student organisations had been targeted. The ABVP is the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Several students and teachers at Sabarmati hostel alleged that the masked attackers were members of the ABVP. Scroll.in has traced WhatsApp messages planning and celebrating the attack to ABVP activists who were former students of JNU.
But current JNU students who are members of the ABVP distanced themselves from the mob attack. They alleged the violence was initiated by the Left unions. Residents of Periyar hostel who are associated with the ABVP said their rooms were attacked and members of the group were injured.
Here is a comprehensive account of the events at JNU on Sunday, pieced together through conversations with members of political groups as well as unaffiliated students.
How it began
For nearly three months, many JNU students have been protesting against the decision of the administration to increase hostel fees. The protests had gathered momentum over the last few days as the registration process for the winter semester began.
On Saturday, members of the JNU Students’ Union, which is dominated by Left student organisations, tried to block the registration process that was taking place at the Communications and Information Services Centre. A student not associated with any organisation told Scroll.in that a scuffle broke out as the protesting students attempted to disrupt the WiFi internet connection to stall registrations. Video footage shows members of the Left groups clashing with those belonging to the ABVP.
On Sunday, around 4.30 pm, the Left groups decided to take out a march on the campus to reiterate their opposition to the fee hike and registration as well as to protest against the attempt by members of the ABVP to beat them up on Saturday.
As the students led by the Left groups assembled near the Periyar hostel, ABVP members pelted stones on them, they allege. They retaliated after the police on campus failed to intervene, they said.
After a while, the police came in and asked the students to disperse. Some of them moved to the Sabarmati hostel area.
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A lull followed. According to a postgraduate student who did not want to be identified, while they gathered near the Sabarmati hostel around 5.30 pm, the protesting students noticed a group of masked people wielding iron rods and other weapons coming from the direction of the administrative block.
The protesting students dispersed and ran for shelter into Periyar and Sabarmati hostels, located 200 metres of each other. But the mob followed them into the hostels.
“They started assaulting every one,” the student recalled. The president of JNU Students’ Union, Aishe Ghosh, sustained lacerations to the head and was taken to the trauma centre at All India Institute of Medical Sciences. She was attacked opposite the Sabarmati hostel, a research scholar said.
Indeed, the fiercest assault took place at Sabarmati hostel – video footage shows women students confronting the masked attackers.
Scroll.in checked the security register of the Sabarmati hostel and found that no guard had signed for the “B” shift between 3 pm and 11 pm on Sunday. The guard on duty on Monday morning said he was not aware who was on duty the previous evening. He claimed that he was told the guard on duty was also beaten up, though he refused to give name the person.
The security guard on duty on Monday morning also claimed there are no CCTV cameras inside the hostel.
Broken glass and damaged furniture were strewn across Sabarmati hostel on Monday. Most of the rooms that had been damaged by the masked attackers were identified by students as either those occupied by members of Left organisations or by Muslim students. A visually impaired Sanskrit scholar was probably attacked because his door had an image of BR Ambedkar.
A political science student told Scroll.in that when the goons tried to forcibly open the door of the room where the Kashmiri student lived, they hurled the abuse “Babur ki aulad” – son of Mughal emperor Babur, a slur used against Muslims.
“We are pretty sure given how they targeted specific rooms that there were JNU students among the goons,” said the political science student, who claimed he was not affiliated to any political organisation.
Just a few feet away, other rooms with ABVP posters were left untouched.
Two teachers, including professor Sucharita Sen, sustained bleeding injuries. Multiple students in Sabarmati hostel told Scroll.in that the mob included women.
As the assault was taking place, students frantically called the police on phone but no help came for almost an hour. Instead, lights were switched off on the campus.
An international relations student said he saw several of the masked people walk out of the university through the eastern gate. Other students said cars with the masked goons were allowed to exit the university without any intervention from the police or the campus security. “They had the rods and sticks in their hands,” one of the students said. “The police just did not bother.”
ABVP students deny charges
On Monday morning, a video of JNU Students’ Union president Aishe Ghosh allegedly leading a group into the Periyar hostel went viral on social media. Some members of the group had covered their faces but none were wielding sticks like the mob that was photographed outside Sabarmati hostel.
The ABVP has cited this video to claim that Left groups entered Periyar hostel and attacked their members.
The JNU Students’ Union, however, denied these charges. In a statement, the union said Ghosh was responding to the assault on students by masked men and was trying to protect the students inside the hostel.
Like Sabarmati hostel, Periyar hostel too bore the marks of a rampage. However, it was not clear whether the mob had attacked rooms based on the political affiliation of their occupants. The hostel was largely empty and this reporter was unable to speak to many residents. Some students associated with the ABVP stood outside the Periyar hostel. They claimed rooms with ABVP posters displayed on the doors had been specifically targeted by members of Left groups.
A resident of the Periyar hostel spoke to Scroll.in outside the hostel. He said the group seen in the video had entered the hostel and assaulted ABVP sympathisers around 5.30 pm. “I was sleeping inside my room when they started banging the door,” the first-year graduate student alleged.
The resident shared a screenshot of a WhatsApp exchange that purportedly showed members of Left unions discussing plans to get outsiders from Jamia Millia Islamia University into JNU “to show the Sanghis their place”. However, the time stamp on the alleged conversation was well after midnight, when Delhi Police, on the request of the JNU administration, had already entered the campus and held flag marches. No clashes were reported on campus subsequently.
The ABVP-affiliated students said they had no idea who the masked people were. “Whoever they are, they should be punished,” one of them said.
They claimed several ABVP members had been injured in the Sunday violence, including Manish Jangid, who had contested the JNU student union presidential election last year. Jangid was on campus on Monday with his arm in a sling.