On December 15, 2019, when details of the Delhi police’s brutal attack on the students of Jamia Millia Islamia started coming in, the first thing I was reminded of was an incident of police brutality on Jamia students from April 2000. On the night of April 9 that year, the Delhi Police had brutally assaulted, arrested and abused more than a hundred students, including minors.
There were several reasons why the April 2000 attack came to my mind when I got to know the details of the December 2019 attack on the students. The first was the similarities between the two. Secondly, that was the year I had arrived in Jamia for the first time from my hometown in Bihar to appear in the entrance test for Class XI. Though I had arrived nearly three months after the incident, it was still afresh in the memories of the students and they were yet to recover from the mental and physical trauma. I remember seeing posters and wall writings demanding justice in different parts of the campus.
From seniors who were victims of the attack, I heard horrific stories of the attack. I was told students were thrown out of the balcony of the third floor of the Shafiqur Rehman Kidwai (SRK) hostel, where some students from my home district (Supaul) were staying. According a fact-finding report by the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), it was perhaps one of the worst ever incidents of police terror against students since the Emergency.
As per another fact-finding report, the police had came to the university library on April 9, 2000, to pick up two students. In protest, the students blocked the road. The police called reinforcements and resorted to lathi-charge on the students. Meanwhile, the provost intervened and persuaded the students to go back to their hostels. However, “once the students reached the hostel, all of a sudden the police attacked them and unleashed the trail of terror with full vengeance.” Even the school students – studying for their exams in the Central Library were not spared.
The fact finding teams which visited the university noted in their reports that the attack was so brutal that even after policemen were deployed to clear up any signs of the attack on the morning of April 10 and bloodstains were washed off, when they visited the campus, the SRK hostel (where much of the attack was focussed) was “in shambles with glaring evidence of destruction.” Bloodstains were visible to a fact-finding team in rooms, corridors and staircases, five days after the attack.
At the time of the attack, several students were in the mosque of one of the hostels. “I was called a criminal and an ISI agent by the policemen,” a student recalled. “The police officers started beating me brutally and pulled me out of the mosque. In the process, I was also assaulted with rifle butts, due to which my leg was broken and I was writhing in pain. Then I was stuffed into the police Gypsy car and taken to AIIMS. On the way, I was continuously beaten and my beard was pulled,” he wrote in his complaint to the National Human Rights Commission.
The PUDR report states that many of the injured students spent the night in the hospital and were brought back to the police station the next morning. It is only then they discovered that they had been victims of a cruel trick as “all those who had got medical attention, and for whom Medico-Legal cases had to be registered, were charged with a number of offences including section 307 of IPC (attempt to murder).”
Thereafter, 66 of them were produced in the Patiala house court. When they were presented before the magistrate in the evening, he reportedly enquired the students, “Kisi ko kuch kehna hai (Anyone wants to say something)?” To which some of them said, “Sir, imtehan (exams) hain…” But instead of releasing the students, the judge sent them to the Tihar jail.
An acquaintance of mine, one of the students who was beaten and sent to jail, recently told me, “It was the worst night of my life.” He was then a student of BA final and his exams were going on. “I nearly missed my exam since I was sent to Tihar. I don’t want to discuss those horrifying days of my life but it would be a lie if I claim that I have moved on and don’t remember anything. I still remember everything and they will be part of my memory as long as I am alive,” said he, requesting anonymity as he feared backlash even 21 years later.
Fortunately, the cases against the students were withdrawn. However, this also meant that the police officers who unleashed violence on the students were also let off. Though a magisterial enquiry was ordered by the then Lt Governor Vijai Kapoor, its result was the same as one often sees and hears about in these enquiries. The enquiry was headed by the then deputy commissioner (South). According to him, several innocent students were caught up in the conflict and wrongly beaten up by the police and the local ‘land mafia’ was responsible for fanning the violence.
By now, the striking similarities in the pattern of both attacks are evident. In both cases, students were brutally attacked without any provocation and communally abused, with an intention to debase and humiliate the Muslim community and an institution belonging to them. Moreover, in both cases, the police acted like a criminal marauding force, in brazen violation of all the established norms and procedures.
It cannot be a mere coincidence that both in April 2000 and December 2019, the Central government was run by the NDA, which is led by the BJP. In 2000, the Union home ministry which commands the Delhi police was under L.K. Advani and in 2019, it was headed by Amit Shah. The attacks were carried out with a gap of nearly two decades, but when one takes a closer look at them, it seems the Delhi police used the same ‘toolkit’ both times and got away with impunity.
In a sense, what happened in December 2019 was a repetition of April 2000. Such an assault on a university could happen again because the culprits of the April 2000 attack were not punished. Today, a majority of people might have forgotten about or do not know about the April 2000 attack. But the fact remains that those who faced the police’s violence still have a fresh memory of the brutality unleashed on them, as my acquaintance recently remarked.