Even as reporters attempt to understand what exactly took place inside Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University on Sunday, one thing seems clear: the police didn’t do its job. That was evident from the fact that it failed to prevent the entry of masked, armed men into the campus and stood by quietly as a mob roughed up journalists and politicians at the gate of the university.
This appears even more egregious when you compare the actions of the Delhi Police in several incidents over the past month, when it would not even permit peaceful assembly in public spaces.
After Sunday evening’s attacks, 34 students and teachers who were treated in the trauma ward of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
Here are four questions about the actions of the police in Sunday’s JNU incident.
1. Why were the street lights off?
For a large portion of Sunday evening, the entire length of Baba Gang Nath Marg, a 1.7-km street on the edge of the JNU campus which includes several gates including the main one, was in complete darkness. The street lights had mysteriously been turned off.
Some students who had managed to get out, fearful of the violence in the campus, were using their phone lights to walk to the main road. A student doing MA History was asking a policeman why there was total darkness and why couldn’t they get the lights on. “We just follow orders,” the man said.
This raised the obvious question: how does the cover of darkness help the police?
From the policing point of view, lighting would have greatly aided any efforts at preventing violence. It would have allowed the police to see who was entering and exiting from the campus gates.
The stretch includes a number of gates that could let people in and out of campus. The mob that had gathered outside the campus gates and was harassing journalists and others got away with violence in part because it was hard to identify the people in the crowd.
It was only after most members of the right-wing mob outside the main gate had dispersed that the street lights came back on again.
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2. Why were police letting some people in and not others?
The main gate of JNU was heavily fortified. No students, teachers or media being were allowed in, not even a concerned family member who had received messages of help from his sister at Sabarmati hostel.
But a group of men did get in. From the side gate on the right, as late as 11.22 at night, I shot a video of at least 25 men being allowed in by the police. The police would not explain who these men were. The men entering the gates were laughing at any questions directed at them.
The police was not checking the identity of these men as they were letting them in. Later, after persistent questioning, the police claimed these were men they could recognise as they were policemen in plainclothes.
Which again raises the evident question, in a campus where masked men had beaten up students and faculty, how would the entry of plainclothesman help when men in uniform had stood aside and failed to act?
3. Why did the police not detain those with weapons and those being aggressive?
The police was out in force at JNU. By 8 pm, it was clear that something violent had happened inside the campus. Over the last few weeks, Delhi Police has acted with alacrity, immediately detaining anyone that they believed might disrupt the peace during protests against the Citizenship Act. Earlier in the day, as a citizen’s meeting was taking place in Delhi’s Defence Colony, the police had said that Section 144 – which prevents the assembly of even small groups – was in force across the entire South District, which includes the JNU campus.
Yet, a mob standing right outside the university with hockey sticks, cricket bats and other weapons were able to simply walk around. One video shows them casually walking away from the campus, with no intervention from the police.
Considering the very reason police had been deployed to the campus was because of violence inside, why weren’t these aggressive men holding weapons detained and questioned?
4. Why did the police not attempt to control the violent mob at the gate?
At the main gate, a large group of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad men were chanting slogans, prominent among them: “Naxalwadiyo ko sabak sikhana.” Teach a lesson to Naxalites. The ABVP men were happy to identify themselves to anyone who asked about their affiliations. The ABVP is the students wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the group that is the ideological parent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Meanwhile, the police were also around in large numbers and riot gear, enough to control the crowd if they were so inclined – though the darkness aided the mob. As a results, journalists, politicians and others were attacked and roughed up by many members of the crowd.
If the police was not willing to intervene to prevent violent men from attacking journalists and politicians at the gate, why were they there? The actions of Delhi Police at the gate seem to suggest their orders were simply to prevent people from entering campus after a call had gone out for media and JNU alumni to gather at the main gate. Eyewitnesses claim that men with weapons were permitted to enter from other gates.
If that was the case, what exactly was Delhi Police doing at JNU’s main gate, instead of attempting to enforce law and order?