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When the police picked me up from outside the university gate, I was just trying to go back home," said Mohammad Asjad, a 19-year-old student of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). Asjad said his left arm was fractured when he was beaten in a police station after the crackdown on student protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and in solidarity with the students of Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia. His shoulders turned blue. He said they kept abusing him, using what his friends later told him was a common slur against the community. “I didn’t even know what this abuse means."

“The police behaved like a fascist militia," a teacher said on condition of anonymity. “They certainly did not behave like government officials who have taken an oath on the Constitution of India."

Videos shared on social media show personnel from the RAF (Rapid Action Force) breaking down the locked gates and firing tear-gas shells on the evening of 15 December. Students were chased down towards the guest house and hostels and many picked up and taken away from the campus.

Two days after the crackdown on 15 December, a team led by human rights activist Harsh Mander met members of the faculty, administration as well as students of AMU—some severely injured, some still protesting, others trying to organize medical and legal help. I was part of this team, as was my husband, who is an alumnus of AMU.

Our team met the proctor and registrar in their offices and severely injured students in the ICU and plastic surgery wards of Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College. We also spoke to many of the students who were still on campus.

We learnt from our exchanges, both on and off campus, that on 15 and 16 December, police and RAF (Rapid Action Force) personnel attacked the protesting students with lathis, tear gas, stun grenades and sound bombs. The administration says it was forced to “invite" the police in.

“We had to take this action to ensure that this kind of protest against CAA and NRC (National Register of Citizens) is not repeated on campus," said the registrar, Abdul Hamid, who is a serving IPS (Indian Police Service) officer of the UP cadre. The university was shut down and students told to vacate hostels within 24 hours.

The sudden closure left students stranded. Those from states like Assam and Kashmir found themselves in a bind. It was difficult for them to travel home given the conditions in their home states.

Students we met in the hospital had deep wounds on their head and abdomen and one of them had had his right hand amputated. Junior resident doctors told us that some of the injuries had been caused by rubber bullets and stun grenades. But students who have had to get medical attention in hospitals are reluctant to get medico-legal records made, afraid of their names appearing in official records.

Guards and students who say they witnessed what happened in room 46 of Morrison Court Hostel in Aftab Hall narrated that RAF personnel entered the hostel and first attacked an elderly guard, using communal slurs. They knocked on the locked door of room 46, and when the two students inside did not open it, they reportedly fired a tear-gas shell through the window, forcing the boys to come out. Both students were reportedly beaten and taken into police custody. Senior teachers told us that over 100 students were picked up by the police and at least 80 of them were treated in city hospitals for injuries.

“I am a retired teacher of biochemistry and was also a proctor. My name is Nafees Ahmed," an elderly teacher introduced himself to our team at the staff club. He believes the reaction of the university administration and police action was excessive.

Like all universities, there has been a tradition of student protest in AMU too, but every time there is unrest among students, the first line of action is to call in teachers whose role as pro-proctors is to negotiate with them and keep the protests peaceful. Prof. Aftab Alam, who teaches in the department of political science, said that this step was bypassed by the vice-chancellor and the proctor. “I am a member of the steering committee and I did not even receive a message that the police was being called in to the campus by the vice-chancellor’s office," he said.

The wide chasm between the version of the administration, which defended its decision to “invite" the police force to enter the campus to control the protests, and that of the teachers and students was striking.

As Mander kept telling the students and faculty members we met, it is very important to collect evidence and create an official record of the incidents of violence and injuries. An accurate fact-finding report that includes testimonies, official documentation and visual evidence can be a powerful tool.

I asked my husband for his impressions. A student of AMU in the 1990s, he had been quiet the whole day, usually talking separately to teachers and students about people they may have known. When he finally found his voice, he tried to articulate how the campus and city have always been like a home for the thousands of students who study there. “We always felt welcome everywhere we went. How must it feel to be pushed back and beaten by those who one had hoped would protect us?" he said.

The injuries of the students will heal with time. Those who have had their laptops smashed will find the resources to write their research papers again. As students continue to protest against the CAA across university campuses and face the backlash from the state, what will be much harder to recover will be their sense of belonging to the institutions where they had felt safe to protest so far.

Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker and the author of the books My Daughters’ Mum and Immortal For A Moment.

Twitter - @natashabadhwar

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