Two months after violence broke out on the Jamia Millia Islamia campus in Delhi, a flurry of videos from the night of December 15 have entered the public domain. Unlike the videos that emerged in the immediate aftermath of the violence, these are not shot on shaky phone cameras. They appear to be clips from footage of the closed circuit television cameras installed in the university.
On the evening of December 15, police personnel stormed the Jamia campus after protests broke out against the newly passed Citizenship Amendment Act. They did not have permission to do so from the university authorities. The police claimed they were pursuing violent protesters – vehicles had been vandalised and set alight outside the campus that day.
Jamia students claim the attack by the police was “unprovoked”. It was only when they were under attack that some picked up stones, they said. As the police unleashed lathis and tear gas on terrified students, at least 125 were injured, according to politician and activist Yogendra Yadav. Numerous student accounts suggest that the police had used excessive force at Jamia on December 15. The episode triggered protests in campuses across the country, as students expressed solidarity with Jamia.
The CCTV videos released this week set off a fresh war of narratives.
The old reading hall
On February 15, the Jamia Coordination Committee, which has organised protests over the last two months, tweeted CCTV footage that showed men in uniform entering the Old Reading Hall on the first floor, their faces covered. They start raining down blows on students reading in that section, which is reserved for postgraduates, including a young man in a dark jacket seated at a desk.
The 45 second clip bore the watermark of the Mehfil-e-Jamia account, another group associated with students of the university. It appears to have been captured by Camera number 2 at 6.08 pm on December 15, shortly after the police allegedly stormed the campus. The university authorities distanced themselves from the clip, saying it came from students.
Rightwing twitter accounts, including that of Amit Malviya, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT cell chief, started raising questions. Why did the seated student have a handkerchief across his face? Why was his book closed if he was reading? Why were students looking anxiously towards the entrance rather being “relaxed” and “immersed in their studies”. The implication: the student must have been a protester on the run from the police, taking refuge in the reading room.
BBC Hindi tracked down the student in the dark jacket. He is Salman, a civil engineering student from Patna doing a PhD, according to the report. He said he had been in the reading room since the afternoon, only leaving briefly for Maghrib prayers. He had tied the handkerchief around his face, he said, because the tear gas made it difficult for him to breathe. Sounds of the chaos outside had reached the reading room. In such circumstances, how could you keep reading your book, Salaman asked.
Another clip, consisting of three videos apparently captured on Camera 2 and stitched together, shows Salman seating himself at a desk, tying the handkerchief to his face and trying to read. As the police approach, he changes his seat. After bearing the brunt of lathis for a while, he picks up his book and leaves.
Soon after the Mehfil-e-Jamia video spread across social media, India Today claimed to have accessed “uncut” CCTV footage from Camera Number 1, which also watches over a part of the reading halls. Students said it was on a different floor from the reading hall surveilled by Camera 2.
It shows a student with an object in his hand walking into the reading room that some media reports claimed was a stone. But a fact check by Alt News disproved that. A stream of students are then ushered inside, the door is closed and reading tables pushed up against it. India Today cites crime branch officials to say these were “rioters” who took refuge in the library after they were given chase by the police. Some might have been students studying in the reading room, the sources appear to have conceded, but many were not.
This, in turn, was countered by a video posted by Maktoob Media, a media platform started in Kerala and now based in Delhi. It shows what appears to be an “extended version” of CCTV footage acquired by India Today, which it claims “omits police violence”. This footage, also captured on Camera Number 1, apparently shows what happens after the doors were barred by students. In the five-minute-long clip, police and paramilitary personnel are shown breaking down the door and barging into the reading room. Most have their faces covered.
Students then stream out of the broken door, their hands clasped in what seems to be a plea for mercy. The crowd near the door swells as students scramble to leave the room, watched over by the police, who strike the occasional blow. Then a man in uniform enters through the door and pushes back the students in a shower of blows from his lathi. Other uniformed personnel join in the beating. As the room is cleared of students, one uniformed man appears to take a swipe at the camera itself.
The video war did not end there. A second video released by the crime branch and beamed on India Today shows students gathered on a balcony, apparently carrying stones.
In all the videos, students are seen fleeing, crouching in fear and even trying to study despite the advancing chaos. If some of them are carrying stones, they are not seen pelting them.
Police and paramilitary personnel, however, are repeatedly seen using force on unarmed students. The Delhi High Court has even issued a notice to the Centre and the police on the plea of a student who lost vision in one eye in the alleged police violence that day. If some of those crouching in the reading rooms or gathered at the balcony were indeed protestors, it is not clear why the police did not detain them instead of raining down blows.
There is little in the videos, so far, to exonerate police and paramilitary personnel from the charge of using excessive force.
Corrections and clarifications: This article has been edited to add the Alt News fact check disproving the claim that a student had stone in his hand.