Masked miscreants armed with sticks roaming around campus, at JNU, New Delhi, Sunday (PTI)
Masked miscreants armed with sticks roaming around campus, at JNU, New Delhi, Sunday (PTI)

'I kept screaming I'm blind, please spare me!': JNU students recount attack

  • On 5 January around 6 pm, masked mobs allegedly comprising ABVP members from inside and outside the university entered campus with sticks, stones, rods and hammers
  • They vandalised hostels, beat students and teachers. Lounge spoke to the inmates of Sabarmati hostel, which was attacked thrice that day

New Delhi: It is 1.30am on 6 January at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) Sabarmati hostel. What’s left of the main door is just the frame, the glass has been completely shattered and shards lie in heaps on either side. Doors and windows inside the mess are in similar condition. Outside, civil society members and students have gathered, amid swarms of police officers armed with lathis, helmets and bullet proof jackets, chanting slogans of JNU pe hamla band karo (Stop the attack on JNU)! and ABVP murdabad! (Down with ABVP!). A drone flickers overhead, and disappears just as quickly as it becomes visible.

As we enter the hostel, small groups of students are gathered outside their rooms across the ground, first and second floors--some with their windows smashed in and all in a state of fear.

On the first floor outside room 156, student Rahul Pandey points out that the door is covered in what he claims is a lethal “powder". This, he and other students say, is the room of a Kashmiri student, which is why they believe it was specifically and most brutally targeted. A student outside is frantically calling out his friend's name--worried for his safety, but the door is locked. “The reason the mob targeted this room could be many -- first that he is Kashmiri, second that he is Muslim," says Pandey. A student from Varanasi who was hiding along with 17 others in the hostel as the violence ensued, says, “They threw acid, bricks, smashed windows with rods and threw slippers or whatever else they could find. Two or three people in the room had panic attacks, the others were trembling with fear."

The students of the university have been protesting against the fee hike over the last few months
The students of the university have been protesting against the fee hike over the last few months (Asmita Bakshi)

As Pandey explains, the JNU Teachers' Association (JNUTA), a legally elected body, was holding a peace march outside the hostel around 4.30pm. As it was winding up around 6pm, a mob wielding sticks, with masked faces, started beating the teachers and students and pelting stones, eventually entering the hostels and vandalising the area, smashing windows, hurling vile expletives and causing terror among hostel inmates. These groups allegedly comprised ABVP (Akhil Bhartiya Vidya Parishad, a right-wing students' organization with affiliations to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) members from inside and outside JNU. As students and teachers were being rushed to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) after the attack--reports state that at least 34 were admitted with head and other injuries--the mob attacked the ambulances. Students claim that the police stationed both inside and outside the campus took no action.

The room next to a student's has the glass completely smashed
The room next to a student's has the glass completely smashed (Asmita Bakshi)

Now finally, with the gates locked, crowds have gathered outside to demand that members of the mob be brought to justice and the police inaction condemned.

In a room on the ground floor of the hostel is Surya Prakash, 25, who has recently completed his MA and is doing his course work in preparation for an MPhil. He has complete visual impairment. “Around 6.50pm I was sitting in my room studying, and I could hear people outside yelling the filthiest abuses. I could hear them attack the room in front of mine and then they stormed into my room," he says.

Prakash, who is from Deoria, Uttar Pradesh, put away his laptop in a safe place. “They broke down my door, and started thrashing me with rods on my back and arms," he says. “They were reeking of alcohol and I kept screaming, ‘Main blind hoon mujhe chhod do! (I'm blind, please spare me!)’." But the mob did not relent. “One person said, ‘Yeh jhoot bol raha hai isse maaro (He is lying, thrash him!)’ and they kept beating me -- until they finally stopped after one person from the group told the others that I am actually blind."

Prakash was rushed to the AIIMS trauma centre by a group of students, where he was “given an injection, a painkiller and bandaged". As he sits in his room, with a stencil of B.R. Ambedkar painted on the wall, the graduate from St. Stephens College reveals that he was thrilled until this evening--he had won a prize in an extempore speaking competition and was back in Delhi from home to compete in a sporting event at the national level. “I’ve been receiving calls saying if I tell anyone (about my attackers), I will not be safe. I’m in a state of terror, I just want to leave from here so that I can feel safe," he said. “I hope the administration will help us."

On the second floor, half-eaten plates of food are lying on broken tables in the corridor. A final-year PhD scholar in computer science who wished to remain anonymous was following his daily routine--he finished his studies at 7pm, was washing up and would then go down to the mess for dinner at 7.30pm. In the common washroom across from his hostel, wearing a towel, he was brushing his teeth, when suddenly he heard the mob enter--he could hear people screaming and the sound of glass shattering. He rushed to his room, but the mob was already on the first floor. In a state of panic, he could not manage to unlock the door.

The student, who hails from Prayagraj, rushed up the stairs and hid under a pile of boxes near a locked terrace door. “I ran upstairs to save my life. I hid there for a while and as the noise died down I went down to my room. Five minutes later the mob came back. This happened three times. They banged on our doors with sticks," he says. He would check for updates on the hostel and students’ WhatsApp groups--where members shared pictures of injured students, videos of the brutality, and kept students alert in case they heard of the mob's whereabouts.

The room next to his has the glass completely smashed. “We were a few of us hiding in here. When we heard the noise we all locked the door and held it from behind so that they couldn’t break in. These are targeted attacks. The room two doors away (from his) belongs to someone from the ABVP. He has not been here since the afternoon and the mob spared his room," he says.

The students of the university have been protesting against the fee hike over the last few months. And though JNU has been in the news frequently over the last few years for protests and the ensuing state action, students claim they have never seen this level of violence, especially inside the campus. “This is extreme; it’s not something we have witnessed before. They are trying to kill our protests and kill the university, they are trying to distract people from the state of the economy and the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests going on across the country," says Pandey.

Students downstairs, who are studying Sanskrit and Hindi literature, have swept glass from their smashed windows off their beds and into a corner. A few rooms away, Prakash worries how he will make it through the night. “I have always done everything myself, in spite of my disability -- cleaned, washed, studied. But tonight, I will have to sleep with an unlocked door. People have assured me I will be safe. But after tonight, after the trauma, how can I be sure?" He closes the door once we leave, as tightly as he can.

Earlier this morning, in a letter to the dean, the warden of Sabarmati Hostel stepped down.