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JNU attack

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JNU attack
Date5 January 2020 (2020-01-05)
Between 7–10 PM (IST)
WeaponsIron rods, sticks, stones, acid[1][2]
DeathsNone
Injured39[3]
VictimsStudents and teachers of JNU
PerpetratorsMembers of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad[4]
Assailants50–70
InquiryOngoing
ConvictedNone
JNU attack is located in Delhi
JNU attack
Location of the JNU in Delhi

On 5 January 2020, more than 50 masked people armed with rods, sticks and acid attacked the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, and injured more than 39 students and teachers.[3][5] Many students received serious injuries.[6] Professors who tried to intervene and protect the students, as well as ambulances carrying injured individuals, were attacked. Eyewitnesses stated that policemen within the campus did not intervene to stop the mob.[6][5][7] After attacking residents of the university campus for three hours, the mob escaped; none of its members were arrested or detained.[8] All 36 students who were injured and admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi (AIIMS) were discharged within 24 hours.[9]

Eyewitnesses, including students injured in the attack, as well as opposition parties and left-wing organizations, accused the members of the BJP's student wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) of orchestrating the attacks. The ABVP, a Hindu nationalist organization, initially denied involvement and accused left-wing organisations of carrying out the attack.[5][10][11][12][6] On 6 January, ABVP's joint secretary for Delhi, Anima Sonkar, admitted on television that two armed men seen in videos of the incident were members of ABVP.[13][14]

Police have said that three of the masked attackers have been identified but no arrests have been made, and complaints have been filed as a single FIR (First Information Report) on unknown people.[15] On 15 January, police confirmed the identification of the masked woman, seen in the video recording of the attack, as a member of ABVP.[4] Police have issued a notice to the woman and two other men. According to police all three have switched their phones off and are yet to be located.[4] As of 28 January, 23 days after the attack, the police have not arrested any suspects in the attack.

Background

The Jawaharlal Nehru University has been associated with student activism for many years.[12] Since December 2019, the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students' Union (JNUSU) had been participating in Citizenship Amendment Act protests.[16][17] On 13 November, the JNU administration raised the university's hostel fees, making it the most expensive Central University of India. in India.[18] Since 28 October 2019, students of the JNU had been protesting against the fee hike.[19][20][21][22] As part of this protest, students boycotted the final semester examinations. After protests, the university partially rolled back the fees increase by reducing the fee only for students from families with extreme poverty (BPL category) who do not have a scholarship. The move did not convince the students, as there was no rollback in the fee hike for non-BPL category students or for BPL students with a scholarship.[23] To press the administration for a complete rollback of the increase in fees, JNUSU had continued the protests.[24][25][26] The semester registration with the increased fee was started by January 1.

Incidents between 1 and 4 January

JNU administration filed two FIRs (First Information Report) on 5 January at 8:39 and 8:43 p.m.[27] against JNUSU chief Aishe Ghosh and 19 others. The First FIR was for allegedly attacking JNU security guards and vandalising a server room on 4 January 2020 at 1:00 p.m., a day before the attack on campus.[28][29] A second FIR was registered based on events that had happened on 1 January.[27] On 10 January, police disclosed the names of those suspects who were involved in the incidents on 4 January. Police announced seven of them were members of left-wing organisations. The names included JNUSU President Aishe Ghosh and two people belonging to ABVP.[30][31]

Incidents on 5 January

According to a professor, around 50 teachers and 200 students were holding a meeting on the campus to discuss their opposition to the increase in hostel fees when the attack started.[12] The attack has been associated by some as a way to prevent students from raising their voice against the fee hike and CAA.[12]

Attack on the campus

On 5 January, at around 7:00 p.m., a masked mob consisting of dozens of people and at least one woman[12] armed with iron rods, sledgehammers, sticks, and bricks attacked the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, and injured the students and teachers, as well as vandalising its hostels. The assault lasted for three hours, as the mob moved from one hostel to another, attacking the people.[32] They chanted slogans calling the victims "Naxalites" and "anti-national".[5][10] Attackers shouted "Jai Shri Ram" (Hail Lord Ram!), a slogan that has been often used as a battle cry by far-right Hindu groups.[10]

The witnesses stated that the attackers broke windows and attacked the medics.[10] In a video of the incident, attackers were seen charging down the hostel hallway raising sticks, bats and broken bottles to attack while the students shouted "get out".[10] The leaders of student bodies with liberal views and those who spoke against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist policies were attacked. Some students locked themselves inside rooms to escape the attackers.[10]

Sabarmati Hostel, with 400 students residing in it, was reported to have faced the worst attack. Two students residing in the hostel jumped from their rooms on the first floor in an attempt to escape the attackers, fracturing their legs in the process.[32] The hostel was badly damaged in the attack. Every floor in the hostel had shattered glass, as well as broken doors, windows, and furniture.[32]

The assault left more than 39 students and teachers injured.[3] When an ambulance arrived at 9:00 p.m., carrying two doctors and two volunteers to attend to the victims, the mob surrounded the ambulance with rods and sticks, and prevented the doctors from assisting the injured. The attackers also injured a volunteer and broke the windows and punctured the tires of the ambulance. The attackers said, "There was no need to provide medical assistance to any one on the campus."[33][32]

Streetlights were shut off by the authorities during the incident. The mob roamed around the campus freely without any police intervention.[32] Students accused the police of intentional inaction.[5] Videos of the incident show that students were beaten by the attackers, while police officers were seen doing nothing. While the students escaped through the gate, the police officers asked them to shout "Hail Mother India." The students not only accused the police of intentional inaction but being complicit with the attackers.[10][5][34][6]

The mob assaulted journalists and social activist Yogendra Yadav, who attempted to enter the campus on receiving news of the incident.[5] JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh was also pictured bleeding due to the injuries sustained in the violence.[35] Cars were completely vandalized as well as some hostel rooms in the Mahi Mandavi, Sabarmati and Periyar hostels.[36] The School of Social Sciences was also affected.[37] The crowd of attackers were seen in videos walking around the campus with sticks.[10]

After vandalizing the campus for around three hours, the mob went out without facing arrest or detention by the police.[8] Police said they received 50 SOS calls between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m., however, they were only given written permission to enter the campus at 7:45 p.m.[38]

Aftermath

The 36 students who were injured and admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi (AIIMS) were discharged within 24 hours.[3][9][39] 32 people had suffered injuries such as fractures, lacerations, abrasions and soft tissue injuries, while four had suffered minor head injuries.[3] Three of the people injured were admitted to the Safdarjung Hospital.[3]

The warden of the Sabarmati hostel resigned, stating that he tried but failed to provide security to the hostel.[32] Several students left the campus calling it unsafe.[10]

Left-wing organisations and several students accused the members of the BJP's student wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) of orchestrating the attacks. ABVP, a Hindu nationalist student organization denied involvement and accused the left-wing organisations.[5][10]

Screenshots of chats from WhatsApp groups named "Friends of RSS" and "Unity Against Left" were shared on social media, where the group members were seen planning to attack the JNU students. The group's members were found to belong to ABVP.[40] NDTV published pictures of the members of ABVP with sticks and batons before the attacks began.[41]

Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal held a meeting with ministers in the early hours of 6 January, to discuss the "serious condition" prevailing at JNU.[9] After the meeting, Sanjay Singh stated that, "The assault on students and professors is really shameful. This is happening in the capital of India. The world is watching us. What message are we sending to the world?" He added that the Central government (to whom Delhi Police reports) must "act immediately and restore peace in Delhi".[42]

On 6 December, Swati Maliwal, the chief of Delhi Commission for Women, issued summonses to the police over the assault on female students in the attack.[43] The Congress party appointed its own committee to investigate the violence at JNU and report in a week.[43]

Calls for removal of the Vice Chancellor

The JNUSU statements after the incident said, "The Vice Chancellor... is behaving like a mobster who perpetuates violence [...] For nearly seventy days now, the students of JNU have been fighting a courageous battle to save their university from the clutches of privatization and greed [...] Today on 5 January they imported goons from outside, especially DU."[37] The Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers' Association (JNUTA) wrote a third letter to the President of India Ram Nath Kovind regarding the "urgent need for the removal of professor M Jagadesh Kumar from his position as the vice chancellor". The letter stated that, "Yesterday's unprecedented events at the University have served to highlight once again the extremely grave consequences of delay in heeding to our appeal."[44]

On 9 January, former HRD Minister and BJP senior leader, Murli Manohar Joshi, sought the removal of the Vice-Chancellor (VC). Joshi found the attitude of the VC "deplorable", as he was adamant and failed to implement the ministry’s proposal to settle the fee increase issue. He was advised to resolve the issue through a mediation process involving the teachers and the students.[45]

Acceptance of involvement

Live television discussion

On 6 January, during a panel discussion on the Times Now, ABVP Delhi joint secretary Anima Sonkar accepted that ABVP members were armed.[46][47][48] Sonkar said that the armed men seen with rods on the JNU campus on viral videos displayed during the discussion are ABVP activists, including a former student named Vikas Patel and a first-year student named Shiv Poojan Mondal. She said that they were asked through WhatsApp to move in groups and carry rods, pepper spray or acid for self defense. She also claimed that the whole Brahmaputra Hostel was asked to be armed.[49][50]

The sting operation

On 10 January, the India Today aired a sting operation on the JNU attack. Two first-year students, named Akshat Awasthi and Rohit Shah, seemed to have confessed to leading the attack on the Periyar hostel.[51] Awasthi confessed to carrying a rod in his hand, wearing a helmet, and channeling and mobilising the attack with the help of students who were members of ABVP, as well as members from outside the campus. He also confessed to calling an organisational secretary of ABVP to organise the outside support.[52][53] The aired videos also raised questions over the involvement of the administration and the police in the attack.[54] The reporter asked Awasthi, "Who had shut down the light?", and on reply he said, "Admin.....I think police". The reporter further asked him, "So the police helped the ABVP?" In reply he said, "Whose police is it, sir?". He claimed that police were also present inside the campus and a DCP (Deputy Superintendent) of Delhi police asked them to "hit [students]". He also claimed to have been committing acts of violence inside the campus for the last six months.[55][56][57]

Through investigative journalism

A video of a masked woman student who could be seen vandalising hostels went viral on social media after the 5 January attack.[58] The video named the women as Komal Sharma of Daulat Ram College, University of Delhi. On 10 January, fact checking website AltNews.in published an article fact-checking the reality and identity of the photographed woman. It was found that the woman in the photograph and the video was indeed Komal Sharma. The website revealed through their investigation that Sharma herself had confessed her involvement in the attack through a WhatsApp conversation with one of her seniors.[59] The identity of the student was also confirmed by Aksath Awasthi on the sting operation by India Today.[51] Newslaundry also previously identified the woman in the photograph and the video as Komal Sharma.[60]

Claims of responsibility

Hindu Raksha Dal, or the Hindu Defense League, a right-wing group, claimed responsibility for the attack on Jawaharlal Nehru University students. The group leader claimed that the people who conducted the attack on the students and teachers were volunteers of Hindu Raksha Dal and threatened more such attacks on people who are involved in so-called "anti-national activities" in India. To date no action has been taken by police against the group.[61][62]

Petition to preserve evidence

On 10 January 2020, three JNU professors filed a petition in the High Court seeking a direction to Delhi Police and the government to preserve data, CCTV footage, and all evidence associated with the attack. The request included retrieval of evidence and data from WhatsApp INC., Google INC. and Apple INC. The data, such as messages, pictures, videos, and phone numbers of the members of the WhatsApp groups 'Unity Against Left' and 'Friends of RSS' were sought to be preserved.[63] The petition said that the Delhi police have not responded to the requests for preservation of data. The petitioners noted their apprehension that without a direction from the court, it may not be preserved. Petitioners claimed that as far as they knew from news reports, the police have not yet retrieved CCTV footage, which is crucial evidence. The petition is scheduled for a hearing on 13 January.[63]

On 13 January, The Delhi High Court directed Delhi police to summon and seize the phones of all members of the two WhatsApp groups—'Friends of RSS' and 'Unity Against Left'—who allegedly planned and executed attacks on the campus. The court directed JNU administration to provide all the CCTV footage and also directed Google, Whatsapp and Apple to provide any information requested by the Police.[64]

Congress fact-finding committee

On 12 January, the Congress fact-finding committee released its report on their investigation into the attack against students and teachers of JNU calling the incident "state-sponsored".[65] The report accused Vice-Chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar of planning the attacks. It asked for his sacking and the initiation of a criminal inquiry against him. The report noted that despite SOS calls from the students, Kumar did not allow police to enter the campus till 7:45 p.m. The report also demanded the investigation of other faculty members (who planned the attacks) and the security company hired to ensure safety on the campus.[65]

A committee member called the attack a planned criminal conspiracy and stated that there was sufficient evidence that proved that the attackers were affiliated with right-wing groups. The actions of the administration and police during the attack were questioned.[65] She said that the power supply was disconnected, and the police facilitated the attackers. After the attack, the police did not attempt to press attempted murder charges against the attackers even though the victims had received head injuries. The negligence and involvement of the Home Ministry were also suspected in the report. It stated that the Home Minister's remarks against the CAA-NRC protests and his calls for punishing them had encouraged the attackers.[65]

According to the police report, the students had disconnected the internet servers on 3 January and again on 4 January. While the Vice-Chancellor had mentioned in his press statement that the servers were working on 4 January and some students had registered for the new semester that day. The report questioned why the servers could not be made to work on 5 January, the day the attacks had happened, if the servers could be made functional earlier. The report asked if the administration already knew that an attack was going to happen and alleged that the servers were not made functional so that the CCTV cameras failed to record the attacks.[65]

The committee demanded the withdrawal of the fee hike and initiation of an independent judicial inquiry into the attacks.[65]

Investigation

Police have said that some of the masked attackers have been identified and complaints have been merged and filed as a single FIR.[15][66] On 11 January, the police claimed they had identified 37 out of a total of 60 members of the WhatsApp group that included 10 outsiders, named 'Unity against Left'. The group members had assisted the armed goons in entering the campus.[67][68] No arrests have been made in the case as of 28 January.

Questions raised over the police investigation

Since the attack, there have been several questions raised over police involvement and police inaction during the attack. Shutting off the street lights, allowing armed mobs to move freely, and allowing attacks on journalists in front of the police are among many such instances which raised questions in the media and on political platforms.[69] Along with the inaction of the police, questions were also raised over the investigation. One such instance is that the details in the FIR do not match the police press briefing of 10 January.[70] The police even described a organisation, Students' Federation of India as Students "Front" of India. In that press briefing, the DCP of police shared photographs of the identified students. On 11 January, the fact-checking website AltNews.in released an article regarding those photographs.[71] It has investigated the authenticity of the photographs, finding that the design, captions, markings and prints of the photographs exactly matched the photographs tweeted by Ashish Chauhan, a national organising secretary of ABVP.[72] The article also questioned whether police were conducting a fair and unbiased investigation.

Reality of FIRs and CCTV footage

Response of two RTIs unearthed several infomation on the incidents, specifically server room vandalism and raised further questions on VC Kumar's claims and the FIRs by JNU administration. One FIR claimed that a group of student entered the Centre for Information System (CIS) office by breaking open a glass back door at around 1:00 p.m. on January 4. The FIR mentioned, “They illegally trespassed the University property with the criminal intention to damage to the public property once inside they damaged the servers and made it dysfunctional and severely damaged the fiber optic cables power supplies and broke the biometric systems inside the room.” and asked for action against those students, including JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh. Another FIR, alleged that the vandalism by students on 3 January severely affected a number of administrative functions, including “biometric attendance and CCTV surveillance system”. In a statement, JNU vice-chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar has claimed that the violence on 5 January had its origins in the vandalism which occurred on 3 and 4 January. He also alleged that the broken biometric systems affected winter semester registration.[73][74]

One of the RTI asked for information on the “total number of broken/destroyed biometric systems at CIS office from 30 December 2019 to 8 January 2020”. It has also asked for details of all vandalised CCTV cameras from 30 December till 8 January. In response to both of the question, the CIS responded "none", which means that the said biometric system was not destroyed and CCTVs were not vandalised. The RTI asked whether the CIS Office (that was vandalised) contains the servers of the CCTV cameras. Tthe response said that the server are “not located in CIS office but located in data centre”. With regard to the fibre-optic cables used in the CIS servers, the response said, 17 such cables were damaged around 13:00 on 4 January.[75][76]

The RTI responses again raised questions on Police and their CCTV footage claims. Initially, Police responded to media that CCTV footage were not available for which it was difficult for them to identify the perpetrator, and instead they were using screenshots from viral social media posts. But one of the RTI response says the CCTV footage are "withheld with law & enforcement agencies for undergoing investigation into recent incidents at JNU", which shows Police have CCTV footage with them. Though a response to another RTI says that "no continuous and entire CCTV footage" of the north gate cameras between 3:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. on 5 January was available with JNU. It adds that "no CCTV camera footages are uploaded continuously to the JNU Cloud Computing Platform". However, the response says, the JNU website continued to function during this period as it is important and "running from alternate backup arrangement during this period" (during the incidents). The RTI response does not give any clarity on whether there was any alternative backup arrangements for CCTV cameras.[73][75] One of the FIRs detailing vandalism has a "date of occurrence" listed as 1 January. However, in its response, CIS said there were only two incidents when JNU’s main server was shut down during that week, at 1.30 p.m. on 3 January and the same time on 4 January "due to power supply disruption".[76]

Identification of suspects

On 15 January, Delhi police confirmed the identification of the masked woman as a member of ABVP and a student of Daulat Ram College in Delhi University. She had been seen wearing a check shirt, a light blue scarf and carrying a stick, in the video recording of the attack and several media outlets had identified her.[4] The state secretary of the ABVP Delhi acknowledged that the woman was a member of ABVP.[77] Police have issued a notice under IPC Section 160 to the woman and two other men. According to police all three have switched their phones off and are yet to be located.[4]

Reactions

A placard in solidarity with the JNU students at Shaheen Bagh, during the 22nd day of CAA protests at Delhi on 7 January 2019

The Central Government that controls the law and order of Delhi faced "massive criticism" from the opposition party leaders, film actors, students, activists and business leaders.[43] The Minister of External Affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, and Nobel Prize winner Abhijit Banerjee, both alumni of JNU, condemned the attacks.[78][79]

Gautam Gambhir, a BJP MP from New Delhi stated that "Strictest punishment has to be meted out to these goons."[9] Various people condemned the violence including Anand Mahindra and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Congress Party member Priyanka Gandhi blamed the right; Kapil Sibal asked for a probe.[80] The Congress Party described the attack on JNU as "state-sponsored terrorism", resembling that during Nazi rule.[43] All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) president Asaduddin Owaisi expressed his opinion on the JNU attack, saying that it was meant to "punish the students as they dared to stand up".[81]

The journal Nature in an editorial published on January 14, 2020 stated that the "government and state authorities must step in and stop violent attacks on academic campuses...Some of the peaceful protests are being met with violence, and university campuses are not immune ... Delhi police failed to provide protection" to the students who were being attacked. India's authorities must take the necessary steps to protect their nation's universities and their people's freedom of speech."[82]

Protests

University and student protests

University of Hyderabad, Aligarh Muslim University, the University of Jadavpur, Assam University and Gauhati University students staged protests on the night of the attack in solidarity with the JNU students.[9] Protests were also seen in the capitals of Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Bihar.[83] On 7 January, IIT Bombay, the Film and Television Institute of India,the National Law School and foreign universities including Oxford University and Columbia University also held protests in solidarity.[84]

"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."

— The famous quote attributed to Italian poet Dante Alighieri (from Divine Comedy: part I Inferno), flashed through placards by St Stephen's students as they felt their moral responsibility against wrongdoings.[85]

On 8 January, a huge march was held on the North Campus of the University of Delhi, where the students from the university and colleges affiliated with the university gathered to march in support of JNU students and teachers who were beaten during the incident. They demanded bringing the masked perpetrators to justice, the removal of M. Jagadesh Kumar from the post of vice-chancellor of JNU, and also demanded the scrapping of the CAA-NRC-NPR (Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register of Citizens and National Population Register).[86] In a rare instance on 8 January, for the first time in the last 30 years, students of St. Stephen's College held protests on their college campus to show their solidarity with the students and teachers of JNU and Jamia Millia Islamia (Jamia), to criticise the Government's failure to provide protection to the students of this country and the police inaction during the incidents, and also to protest against the CAA and NRC.[87][88] They boycotted classes, gathered on the campus lawn, and read the Preamble to the Constitution of India. The protesters recited various poems, songs and slogans and delivered speeches where they describeded the Modi government as "fascist and oppressive".[89][90] Poems like "Hum Dekhenge" (We will Witness) by Faiz Ahmad Faiz, "Kagaz Nahi Dekheyenge" (We'll Not Show Our Documents) by Varun Grover were read, and phrases like "Kal bhi tum haare the, aaj bhi tum haaroge, kal bhi hum jitenge" (You'd lost yesterday, you'll lose today also. We'll win again tomorrow), "Is baar nahin hum chhodenge, itihas ki dhara modenge" (We'll not let go this time, we'll change the direction of history), "Zulmi jab jab zulm karega satta ke hathiyaron se, chappa chappa goonj uthega inquilab ke naaro se" (The tyrant will be countered with the chants of revolution) and the famous chants of "Azadi" (Freedom) were recited throughout the protest.[85][91]

Protest march to HRD Ministry office

On 9 January, around 1,000 JNU students and teachers held a protest march to the HRD Ministry office in Delhi demanding the resignation of the vice-chancellor. The chancellor, M. Jagadesh Kumar, was accused of allowing the attackers to vandalise the university dormitory and attack the students.[92] After reaching the office a group of students decided to continue their march up to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official residence of the President of India. The protesters were stopped by police who chased them and struck them with batons. Several students were detained and later released.[93][94]

Film fraternity reaction

A crowd of more than 1000 students gathered overnight at the Gateway of India.[66][12] Several celebrities including Sushant Singh[43], Anurag Kashyap[95], Dia Mirza[96], Taapsee Pannu[95][96], Vishal Bhardwaj[95], Zoya Akhtar, Swara Bhaskar, Rahul Bose, Sushant Singh Rajput, and Konkona Sen Sharma also joined the protests in Mumbai.[97] They expressed to the media, "We want to tell them [students of JNU, Jamia, AMU], we are with them and we will stand for them everytime."[98]

Actress Deepika Padukone[99][100] visited the JNU campus and stood with the students in solidarity with the victims.[101] Though she did not give a speech, she met with the JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh, who was attacked by the masked mob.[102] Padukone was subjected to massive criticism by members of the ruling BJP party who also asked people to boycott her upcoming movie Chhapaak.[103] She was praised for standing up against a crackdown on dissent, as Bollywood actors usually avoid making statements, fearing backlash and negative consequences for their films.[101] Actor Varun Dhawan talked about similar calls for a boycott of his film Dilwale, and said that the boycott may hurt the business, so it is used as a scare tactic meant to prevent people from expressing their opinion in public. He supported Deepika and stated it was wrong to remain neutral and not condemn the sttack.[104]

See also

References

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