“They built up Jamia Millia Islamia stone by stone, sacrifice by sacrifice”. These golden words were uttered by the Nightingale of India, Sarojini Naidu.
The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of this prestigious University. It’s unfortunate that this year also reminds us of a dreadful incident that happened a year ago.
December 15, 2019, was a day that embarked on a dark and horrific incident. A university that survived the brutality of Britishers fell prey to the hatred prevailing in its own country. On this day, the Delhi Police allegedly entered the campus and manhandled students. The library was vandalised and students were later asked to leave the campus with their hands up as if they were criminals.
Though it’s been a year since this dreadful incident occurred, many questions still remain unanswered. The University authorities stated that the police entered University without their permission, hitting students and guards. The unfortunate incident also led to the destruction of university property.
The university students had been protesting against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act passed by the ruling government. It was on 15th December 2019 that they decided to march to Mathura road. Coincidently, local residents also decided to protest on the same day. Students narrated that they were stopped by the police near New Friends Colony. They insisted on being allowed to carry on with the march but the police denied it. A scuffle took place and the police started hitting them. Nervously, the protesting students ran towards their university and entered the campus. They thought it was safe to be there.
Never in their wildest dreams had they imagined being beaten and manhandled in their own university.
Haris Humnafas, a Jamia student and witness of the incident narrates, “On 15th of December, I had just returned from the protest site to Jamia’s central canteen along with my friends. I was on a call with my father, ensuring that I was fine when a tear gas shell burst right in front of me making a very loud sound.
The call was disconnected. The situation then went worse as students, teachers, and workers were running towards the backside to leave the campus.
I went to the canteen to get some salt as the tear gas was affecting our skin and eyes. Some of the students went inside the library and suddenly I saw a bunch of policemen enter. They started to vandalise the campus and were brutally beating up the students. They came towards us and took our phones while abusing us.
I thought it was my last day and I started to recite kalma (Quran verse). Students were crying all around, some even begged the police saying “sir mat mariye mat mariye” (Sir, please don’t hit us) but they didn’t stop. Many fainted and many more bled.
Imam sahab of Jamia Masjid was constantly announcing “ye apke bacche hain inhe mat mariye” (These are like your kids, don’t hit them). Sadly, nothing worked and the police didn’t stop the act of brutality.”
Another student says on the condition of anonymity, “It was Sunday and I had reached the protest site of the university at around 3 pm with my friends. We were peacefully protesting and sloganeering when one of my friends learned from social media that some students were protesting near the NFC area. The crowd slowly got agitated. We didn’t know what was happening so we asked one of the guys who said that the police were approaching the university and even had permission to fire.
The protesting women and students were asked to move inside the campus. We took shelter in the girls’ reading room and could hear loud bangs from the NFC area. As tear gas shelling became more intense, we couldn’t see much because of the burning eyes. We somehow reached near the gate but were also not allowed to leave the campus.
We got to know that stone-pelting had also taken place on the road. We had no choice but to re-enter the campus. We couldn’t figure out what was happening so we rushed to the reading room. Police could be seen moving inside the campus. We were trying to figure out a way to escape when the window shattered and tear gas shells were thrown inside. We panicked and as a result, started choking. One of the guys broke another window and we escaped the building.
To save ourselves, we then entered a dark room and locked ourselves. After a lot of banging the door was opened, police came in and they asked us to switch off our mobile phones. They made us sit on the ground while some heavily injured students were carried towards the police van. The police finally allowed us to leave the campus with our hands up nearly at 7:30 pm.”
These testimonies of students who were stuck on the campus tell a different tale than what the police have been claiming all this while. In the Delhi High Court, the police negated all the allegations of brutal violence, calling them to be false.
Later, CCTV footage from the Jamia library was also released showing the police lathi charging the students. The incident intensified anti-CAA/NRC protests and people across the country joined them. Jamia became the epicentre of this movement. Students painted the university walls with slogans and graffiti representing the alleged police brutality.
Many questions still remain unanswered. The physical wounds of these students may have healed, but the emotional scars may never go away. 15th December has been written with black ink in the history of this University. Here we are remembering the day with utter disappointment, still looking for the answers.