On Monday, the roads around the central university of Jamia Millia Islamia were crowded with several policemen. Whoever passed by the area, looked at the police with surprise, even though there has been an overwhelming police presence the past two months in the area due to the protests against the amended citizenship law and National Register of Citizens by Jamia students. The heavier than usual barricading and enormous police presence in the area was owing to a march planned from the university to the Parliament House by the Jamia Coordination Committee (JCC), a group of students who oversee the ongoing protests at the university against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act.
A similar march had been planned by the Jamia students on the 13 December last year, permission for which was denied by the Delhi Police. It ended in extreme brutality a day later (on 15 December) in which a university student Minhajuddin lost an eye. Shaheen Bagh protests on the Kalindi Kunj was a direct response to this reported police brutality on the students.
On Monday (10 February), as the students gave a call for another march, following the same route as before " they had not anticipated that the police would not permit them to pass. According to students, the police is trying to curb their constitutional right to protest by not giving them permission and suppressing their protests with lathis.
According to the students, this time the police was not just armed with lathis and tear gas, but were ready in a more "strategic manner". The students accused the police of assaulting girls and hitting them on their chest and stomach with lathis. Some girls also accused the police of kicking them on their private parts with their boots on, punching them and even forcibly removing their hijabs.
Students alleged brutal police force against peaceful protests, which included punching students in their stomach and even forcibly removing hijabs of some students. AP
Mohommad Danish, an independent photographer, also an alumni of the university, who was an eyewitness to the whole incident said, "The police was trying to hide and attack the students. Saamne see nahin maar rahe the, kyunki unko darr tha camera me pakde jayengey. The police was more strategic compared to the December incident. This time, they were hitting students from beneath. They were definitely trying to suppress the protest, but not openly so. And because they hid and attacked, the police was more successful this time."
Photos of the assault taken by Danish have been doing the rounds on social media and have also been used by many media houses. "There was heavy barricading around the campus but the students still tried to go ahead with their march. It is their democratic right to protest," he added.
Safoora Zargar, a member of the JCC, accused the police of attacking the students in an "inhumane way". She said, "During the protest, three policemen stuffed me between them. I was suffocated, and panicked. The policemen didn't care about personal space, they were closing in on me. They were inhuman, they refused to back down and even smiled at me in a mean way, as if enjoying my misery. I kicked around crying, expecting them to leave me, but they did not. Instead, they said things like "aur march karo", "agar darr lagta hai pitne see to aayi kyun ho?", taunting and humiliating me."
Safoora was one of the first women taken to the hospital. The doctor, according to her, said she had severe injuries on her chest due to suffocation.
"The women police officers were even worse. They pinch and push even more severely. As if lathicharge wasn't enough. They normalised manhandling and molesting so much so that we don't dare to protest again," she added.
Apart from Safoora, several other women accused the police of 'inhumane' behaviour.
Sarah Rifai, an alumna of the Mass Communication department at Jamia had joined Monday's march in solidarity with her alma mater. But even before the protests began, she had to be rushed to the hospital.
"I was right in front of the police barricade trying to go to the other side. I tripped and fell down because of the crowd. Suddenly, I saw a woman constable jump on me. While she sat on me, a male police hit me on my stomach with a lathi. I somhow narrowly escaped," she said, narrating the incident. Explaining further, she said, "The second time I tried to cross the barricade, a policewoman tried pulling my hair and suffocated me by holding my neck. Policemen and women groped me incessantly, as well."
Sarah claimed that she isn't the only one who had to go through this. According to her, it happened to even elderly women who were part of the protest. Fouzia, a third year student pursuing Persian, was also among the women in the front. She said, "When we explained to the police that we just wanted to peacefully protest, they didn't listen to us and got violent, trying to push us back. The policeman called two other policewomen to stand in front, while they hit and kick us from behind without being seen. When I still refused to back down, one of the police officers said to me, "Tum log marr kyun nahin jaate?" From 2 pm to 6 pm I was constantly beaten up and harassed by the police."
Speaking about Iman Usmani, a protester who was severely hurt and had suffered internal bleeding in her stomach, Fouzia said, "My friend Imam was assaulted by a male policeman. Another student I saw at the hospital was throwing up what looked like foam. The doctor said he must have been hit with something sharp."
A graffiti sprayed on the walls of Jamia. students across the country showed solidarity with the students after 10 Feb attack. Image/Ismat Ara
Fouzia and Iman were among the protesters taken to Al-Shifa hospital for treatment. While Fouzia has received a muscle injury near her thumb, Iman has suffered internal injury.
Talking about the different ways in which the police had responded, Fouzia further added, "My hijab was snatched away from me by the police during the protest. It came off completely and I am somebody who rarely goes out without my hijab. I felt violated. I couldn't find my hijab it had disappeared in the crowd." Imam has also complained of the same.
Several students also complained of "chemicals" released by the Delhi Police to thwart the protests. It was not tear gas, the students said. "The kind of gas that was released was making us pukish and some people were fainting as well," one of the protesters said.
By 6 in the evening, 16 students were admitted to Al Shifa hospital due to serious injuries.
Mudassir Azeem, a doctor at Al Shifa said, "Initially, there were only 8 students. But slowly, the number reached 16. Most of the students brought here had been hurt in their stomach. Some said they were assualted by police lathis, some said that the police had punched them. Even the girls complained of the same thing." Six out of the sixteen were women.
Students accused the police of mistreatment not just during the protest, but even after some of them had been detained.
Shaheen Abdullah, a student of Jamia's Convergent Journalism course, said, "As they dragged me to the bus, I saw an armed group of police following us. The moment they threw me inside, the officers inside started punching me. They even said, "Abb tujhey azaadi deta hoon." They attacked me with batons and other things in their hands. I pushed back, which triggered one of the officers who started shouting- "goli maar do usko." When the other detainee, Izhar Hussain from the Engineering department tried to stop them, he was also beaten up."
Later in a Facebook post, Shaheen wrote, "It's not about the pain. It's the humiliation, oppression, discrimination and the dehumanisation which still burns. The other stories from Jamia also evidently show the attempt of the State to target us."
But the Delhi Police has denied all allegations. Rajiv Kumar Meena, who has been appointed as the new Deputy Commissioner of Police of South East Delhi, said he and other senior officers were present at the protests.
Meena has replaced Chinmoy Biswal after the Election Commission of India took notice of the two incidents of firing that occured on campus. Meena said, "All the allegations against the police are false. We made sure that the first layer of police was women police. The media was covering the event live from all sides. How could it be possible?"
When asked about the accusations by students, Meena dubbed them false and added that the students are trying to simply demonise the police to emerge as victims and gain sympathy for their cause. When told about the doctor's statement who had treated one of the injured students, Meena said, "If at all anything inappropriate happened, it is a matter of inquiry and investigation." According to him, the Delhi police is open to inquiry.