On February 19, Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) witnessed a fresh incident of violence, reportedly over the screening of a film. It was primarily reported as just another ideological scuffle between the Left and the Right groups. But, it seems, there was more to it. So, what lies behind the claims and counter-claims?
According to students belonging to the Hundred Flowers Group (HFG), a Left-leaning study circle, a movie screening was organised at 9 pm on Sunday. But the screening was disrupted after a group of students from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) barged in and started an altercation that led to a student named Naser suffering head injury.
However, ABVP members, through a pamphlet distributed in the campus, claimed that they found vandalised photos of Chhatrapati Shivaji, moments after they left the union office after paying floral tributes to the Maratha king on his birthday.
Also read: Stalin condemns ‘attack’ on JNU students, urges action against culprits
HFG member Lata (she prefers being called by her first name), who is awaiting her PhD degree in Spanish, said it is a routine practice to remove the portraits from the walls temporarily as a white cloth is attached to the walls during the screening.
But, she said, events on Sunday took a drastic turn as the group was about to begin screening of the Hindi movie Jane Bhi Do Yaaro. When The Federal asked her whether the movie was specifically chosen or it was a random selection, she replied the movie was a telling commentary on the nexus between the corporates, political class and the media.
“It is very apt especially for the times we are living in. We are living in a period where the very future of Indian democracy is under threat, whether we speak of rule of law or respect for the Constitution,” the PhD scholar said.
On Sunday’s scuffle, Lata said: “The moment we began removing the portraits, they barged into the room and began to abuse us and hit us and started breaking the portraits of Lenin, Karl Marx and Periyar. Instead of stopping the initial altercation, Delhi police personnel and security guards from the campus asked for our IDs. There seemed to be a bigger conspiracy at play,” she said.
The HFG conducts reading session, debates and movie screenings. As the campus offers a very congenial space for learning, such groups are always formed by the students, explained Lata.
ABVP, however, counters these claims through circulated posters which, it claim, tell the truth. The poster reads: “Between 7.30 pm and 8 pm, ABVP-JNU activists and other students paid floral tributes to the portrait of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj ji on his jayanti. At 8 pm, the portrait of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj ji was placed on the wall of JNUSU without touching any other picture. Around 8.30 pm, communist goons assembled and attacked ABVP activists while celebration was going on and vandalised the portrait of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj ji.”
Swati Singh, a research scholar and a member of the Democratic Students Federation (DSF), attributed the recurrent altercations in the campus to a possible mobilisation drive led by ABVP.
“With upcoming elections and a fairly apolitical batch of new students — since the campus did not witness active politics during the pandemic years — there is a concerted attempt by the other group to mobilise students. It is also an attempt to make their presence felt from time to time. As instances of vandalism, followed by altercation that eventually lead to violence, gain traction, it is a method employed by the Right-wing groups from time to time,” she said.
The injured student
Narrating his ordeal, Naser, a research scholar of molecular medicine, who was treated for a head injury at Safdarjung Hospital following the clash, said: “Following a WhatsApp message that an altercation broke out in the union office, we reached there. When I tried to question the ABVP members regarding the vandalised portrait of Periyar, there was a sudden attack on me. I was hit with a sharp object on my head which led to severe bleeding.”
Naser, who belongs to Tamil Nadu, told The Federal that whenever students from South India question such untoward incidents, they are targetted even more. “As I questioned them about the broken portrait, it acted as a trigger and the violence followed. I can never forget those harrowing moments. Not the physical scar, but the mental agony will stay with me for years. ABVP members even tried to pull me out of the ambulance,” recounted Naser.
Condemning the attack on Tamil students by ABVP activists, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin on Monday expressed his solidarity with the students and urged the Vice-Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit, to initiate strict action against the culprits.
The university administration has, meanwhile, taken what its calls “precautionary measures”.
“We have taken precautionary measures like prior registration and approval from the administration if student bodies want to use the union office. The administration will look into each such registration carefully and only after its satisfaction will offer the space to the students. University officials have received a complaint regarding the incident which took place on Sunday night. We are looking into the veracity of the case,” said Ajit Kumar, the university’s public relations officer.
The Federal sought to obtain more information from the administration, but did not get a response.
No FIR yet
Speaking to The Federal, Advocate Manoj Kumar, who is providing legal aid to Naser, said that they are following up daily with the station house officer, Vasant Kunj (North), and have been assured of a fair inquiry, though the police is yet to lodge an FIR. “When I followed it up yesterday, the officer in-charge told me that they are still trying to verify the chain of events and post that an FIR will be lodged,” he said.
Also read: JNU students union claims attack on students, ABVP denies charge
When The Federal visited the Vasant Kunj police station on Wednesday evening, a police personnel in the general inquiry department said the FIR will only be lodged after ascertaining the case in detail. “The police wants to ensure that this is not just another case of a minor college clash between two politically active groups,” said the police person on duty.
The Federal tried to get in touch with the officer handling this specific case, but he could not be contacted.