What could have been an enlightening and constructive seminar, turned bloody in the blink of an eye. Is it wrong to invite a scholar to speak on his PhD topic? Is it wrong to peacefully protest against violence, brutality, disruption, rape, death threats and intolerance? Why have we reached a point where hooliganism is answering intellectual discourse? Where is the freedom of speech? Where is our space to discuss?
Where is the police – why do they laugh with Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) goons, thump them on the backs when they think nobody is looking? Why don’t they arrest those who openly, loudly and proudly, abuse, threaten, and manhandle professors? Who will control them if the police don’t? Despite India being a democratic country, the student community is being clamped down upon.
On Wednesday, February 22, what should have been the second day of the seminar, we were forced out by ABVP goons who were ‘keeping a check on us’ to ensure nobody ‘incited’ others to protest further – even as they made our videos, either to concoct a story around it and use it against us in front of the police, or single out a person from the footage for future reference. At the advice of the Principal, we all dispersed calmly, only to be confronted by a frenzied mob of ABVP supporters a few hours later.
Threats of using blade, razors and iron rods were doing the rounds from around noon when there was a sudden numerical surge of people from the ABVP. At approximately, half an hour past noon, they started marching down sutta lane in Ramjas College without warning, snatched our posters, physically assaulted the person holding it and threatened to get us ousted from the college.
This led to a confrontation between us, and them. However, unlike the offensive slogans they opted for, we retaliated by singing songs of friendship and peace, along the lines of “Hum Honge Kamiyab”, “Roobaroo”, etc. Of course, expecting brutal rebuttals, neither the police nor the goons appeared ready for this reaction. ABVP, however, soon caught up with our strategy and began to show more agitation. With the police forming a chain around us, we hoped for a minimal clash with those who clearly refused to see the insanity of the situation.
Soon afterwards, in our attempt to flee from goons and to join the ongoing protest march right outside the college, we found ourselves near the college back-gate, which the security refused to open on grounds of ‘student security’. Interestingly, while there were about five or six female protesters trying to convince the college security staff and police officers outside to unlock the gates initially (the rest were being physically assaulted a few meters away from us), there was one ABVP member who stood his ground. With his hand on the gate, he had the arrogance to behave rather territorially. He was heard warning the security staff posted inside the college to keep the gates locked, before our dialogue with the latter. Police insisted they did not have the authority to unlock the gates, with an air of self-importance while addressing a bunch of female students.
What followed was a four-hour long siege – with the police forming a disjointed circle around us. As and when they relaxed their ‘watchfulness’, ABVP workers attacked unprepared students. This happened multiple times. Not once, did we feel protected. They insisted they were trying their best – but with teachers and students getting attacked mindlessly and repeatedly, was that really the best they could do? Did they think we did not notice them as they laughed with ABVP members or thumped them on their backs for reasons only they are aware of?
As we struggled with disjointed updates coming in about the situation right outside the college, it soon became evident that we were responsible for ourselves and those around us. The police provided minimal protection, girls attempted to cover up for that absence by forming a human chain around our male counterparts, for they were the ones who were being singled out mostly.
Eventually, at half-past five in the evening, after nearly five hours, we were evacuated by the police, and all we could think of was – how could they let those thugs run scot-free? It was our college, our seminar, our people, our building. Yet, we were the ones who had to, time and again, produce our college ID cards to prove we were Ramjas students and not outsiders.
What is wrong with protesting with peers from different colleges or universities? Why did we have to flash out our cards at the entry gate? Why were we asked to show proof to the police and ABVP goons, when they were the ones who invaded our private space? Why did ABVP, ‘jokingly’ insist that the ‘red coloured’ ID cards did not belong to Ramjas? Who are they to call us outsiders, liars? Clearly, because they did not know what Ramjas ID cards looked like, they proved how superficial the ‘protection’ we had from the police, was. So, while many students were being sieved out and barred from entering college premises, goons had a free entry into Ramjas.
It is not easy to see your friends and professors getting abused right in front of you. Perhaps, this violence is something that we will never get used to. As a final year student, many of us have come a long way from sticking to our peer groups in the first year, to extending a helping hand to all those who needed it, in the third year.
It has been a wonderful journey and I am sure many are thankful for the exposure we got through this seminar. The ABVP thinks it achieved great heights by getting our seminar cancelled and turning our lives upside-down, but the violence only brought our classroom debates to the forefront. So, thank you for that, ABVP. You helped us garner a lot of support.
Having said that, the way each hour unfolded in front us, we hoped further contact with protestors would not be made by ABVP thugs after our evacuation. However, a midnight manhunt on Campus proved us wrong. With several people getting dragged out of their flats and hostel rooms and being beaten, panic soon spread to other parts of Delhi. Away from friends and mentors, those living off campus sat helplessly as their peers tried to find ways to escape. Many large-hearted people opened their houses to those who needed a roof on top.
Helpline numbers, personal contact information and solidarity were extended to those who had been singled out yet again. By extension of this curfew, ABVP ruffians had complete access to campus grounds, while the innocent were cornered once again. In short, police officials had the authority to impose curfew in a locality but were powerless when it came to opening college gates to prevent what could have been a mass slaughter.
The next day, on February 23, news came of ABVP, releasing a video where we, as part of ‘opposition’, were shouting ‘anti-national’ slogans about wanting azaadi. Indeed, we, as free-thinking and opinionated individuals, do not owe an explanation to ABVP or its supporters, but the video can best be explained through an alumni’s response, where she says, “…this does not specify what kind of azaadi. Maybe it is just azaadi from this endless scrutiny you (the State) subject them to“.
Indeed, ABVP-backed articles that have been getting published are trying their best to hold professors and students accountable. With no connection between their accusations and an audio-visual ‘proof’, they really have nowhere to go.
I am posting this article anonymously. Not only because I fear for my life, now that ABVP thugs have publicly threatened protestors like me with promises of rape and death, but also because my thoughts are the thoughts of all those who fought with me against these goons. I speak not only for myself, but also for those who braved stones, rods, fists and stones these last two days. I do not stand alone and there is no way they can defeat us.