By Sanjana Chettri:
On February 23, 2017, it wasn’t a usual walk to the Moolchand metro station, for a fear had been instilled in me, of the anticipatory violence, post the disruption of a seminar at Ramjas College, University of Delhi and the retaliatory protest on February 21 and 22 respectively. As much as it was for standing up for an academic space, my emotions were equally invested, for my sister was made the victim of a ‘riot-like’ situation that the police could only pacify in rhetoric. My sister, who was beaten up and detained in the protest, made me involved at a personal level.
On February 23, a crowd of around 400 people gathered near the ITO metro station. It was a composition of students, faculties and journalists, sloganeering for a common demand; a demand for an FIR to be lodged on the account of violence by members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) upon a crowd of peaceful protesters at Ramjas College. The way towards the ITO police headquarters was barricaded and heavily guarded by policemen and water cannons were present there. They tell us about the gravity of the situation.
It was a peaceful protest, with students sharing incidents of grief, briefing updates about the attacks on students, while reiterating their demand constantly. Post this, the police commissioner convened the gathering which progressed to be a positive update temporarily, especially after not sending delegations to the police station for negotiations, due to the fear of being intimidated by the police.
Few student representatives indulged in a one-to-one session with Mr. S.B.K. Singh, the commissioner who tried to justify the police’s actions. Upon being asked the question of why an FIR was not lodged, he blatantly spoke of how 10 complaints regarding the same incident caused a hindrance to lodging a common FIR.
This is how the conversation went:
Student: “Sir, Ramjas mein jo peaceful protest chal raha tha usmein lathi charge ka order kisne diya?” (Sir, who gave the orders for lathi charge during the peaceful protest at Ramjas College?)
Commissioner (reluctantly): Wo mujhe nahin pata. (That I don’t know)
If we are really taking into account the lack of his knowledge on the subject, then the topic stretches to some other course; but even if we avoid the sarcasm, the answers given by the commissioner were not justified. The commissioner looked weak, with responses on being questioned about several other alleged incidents that have taken place since the past two days – women students being detained after 6 pm on February 22, police’s reluctance to disclose the FIR number (as they claimed of lodging an FIR), of their apathy towards violence against students by identified ABVP members, open rape threats to women students, witch-hunting in residences on February 22, of the restricted safety measures at Ramjas College, the detention of students and the use of police vans by ABVP member.
The protesters at ITO were kept waiting for two hours, for the FIR which was lodged to be produced and read out in public. This FIR was to be produced from the police headquarters, located about 100 steps away from the site of the protest. The protesting students also demanded a public notice to be issued by the police to welcome students to a legal space of sharing their grievances and producing evidence for the same.
However, the strategic turn to this waiting was greeted with a public order producing the transfer of the case to Crime branch and to be investigated by the DCP, Crime Branch. In addition to this, was a bizarre and chucklesome content framed in the form of an FIR under FIR number 28/17. The FIR was forwarded online, and aligned in poetic lines like “right side mein right wing aur left side mein left wing, donon ek dusre par ande phekh rahe they, aur police samjhane mein lage they” (on the right side were the right wing students; on the left side were the left wing students. Both the sides were busy in throwing eggs at each other), while the police were trying to explain and stop them. The FIR was a complete distortion of facts.
The case was being projected as a clash between the All India Students’ Association and the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad. The police filed an FIR based on the complaints filed on February 22, 2017.
Unsatisfied with the outcome, some students with a team of lawyers went to negotiate with the police, only to come out to confirm that they would not file another FIR. The lawyers have said that we will have to challenge this in the court. There is a team of students drafting a petition to the National Human Rights Commission, Delhi Commission for Women and to the Vice-Chancellor, University of Delhi.
Also, there is a conversation happening about organising an event at Delhi University along with teachers and students across colleges in order to reclaim our academic spaces, without being vulnerable to violence.
The struggle leads on, but it proliferates our mind. Shrinkage of academic spaces implies restricted use of knowledge, which the student community of this country isn’t ready to accept.