JNUSU President Aishe Ghosh is seen injured after being attacked at JNU
JNUSU President Aishe Ghosh is seen injured after being attacked in JNU Image Credit: PTI

It was an unprecedented attack in the history of the university. Masked miscreants entered India’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University campus in the capital with sticks and iron roads and beat up students and teachers with impunity, injuring more than 30 people, including girls. The attacks were seemingly aimed at students from the left parties who were protesting against an arbitrary hike in hostel fees at the university.

JNU Students Union (JNUSU) President Aishe Ghosh was hit over her eye, with an iron road and was taken to the hospital.

Some teachers including Sucharita Sen, professor at the Centre for Studies of Regional Development, were also injured in the violent mob attack, in which outsiders were also allegedly involved.

How did it happen?

For the last few days, minor, sporadic incidents of violence were being reported from the campus and JNU Teachers Association (JNUTA) had called for a peace meeting to be held at the campus.

The gathering for peace and democracy was held at JNU’s Sabarmati T point on Sunday at 4.30pm.

According to reports, the gathering was addressed by JNUTA President D K Lobiyal, former JNUTA President Sonjhariya Minj, JNUSU President Aishe Ghosh and JNUSU vice president Saket Moon. As the meeting concluded at around 6:30 pm, a huge mob of masked men and women were seen approaching them.

They threw stones at them and when the gathering dispersed, they were chased and attacked with sticks and iron rods.

Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Professor Suchitra Sen
Jawaharlal Nehru University Professor Suchitra Sen attacked by goons wearing masks at the campus, in New Delhi on Sunday. Image Credit: ANI

Former JNUTA president Atul Sood was quoted by the media: ‘The stones that were thrown at us during our peaceful meeting at Sabarmati T-point were the size of half a brick. They first threw stones at us... after people started panicking and running around, the mob of about 50 came with rods and sticks with an aim to destroy everything that came in their way... students, teachers, vehicles...”

Aishe Ghosh addresses the media
JNUSU President Aishe Ghosh addresses the media persons during a protest against the attack on her as well as JNU students on Sunday night, at JNU campus in New Delhi on Monday. Image Credit: ANI

Who were the attackers?

JNUSU alleged that the perpetrators were members of ABVP, (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) the student wing of the ruling BJP, and ABVP said students from Left parties were behind the attack.

Masked miscreants armed with sticks roaming around campus, at JNU, New Delhi, Sunday.
Masked miscreants armed with sticks roaming around campus, at JNU, New Delhi, Sunday. Image Credit: PTI

However, independent probes by Indian media organisations did point to the involvement of various Hindutwa outfits, especially the ABVP, in the planning and execution of the attack.

Here’s a look in to how it all happened and what it means when a large number of the nation’s youth are on streets protesting India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Registry of Citizens (NRC).

JNU protests
A supporter holds a placard during a protest against an attack on the students and teachers at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus in New Delhi a day before, outside the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Ahmedabad on January 6, 2020 Image Credit: AFP

Pattern in the attack and police collusion

It was not a random attack, there was a pattern to the mayhem unleased, said witnesses. Some of the students fled to Sabarmati hostel and the assailants chased them. Media reports suggest that the attackers tried to pinpoint Muslim students for attack and even called their name from outside to check if they were inside. In some cases they straight away rushed to the rooms of Kashmiri students.

Masked goons wielding sticks and iron rods conducted a well-planned, targeted, brisk and brutal attack on the students and teachers. The police, which have detained protesting students by the hundreds in recent weeks, showed its complicity in the violence by its inaction, not intercepting or detaining even a single assaulter, point out some teachers.

The intruders entered from a gate at the back side of the campus. They entered hostels and attacked students inside Sabarmati and Koyna hostel, according to some reports. Witnesses say students at the tea stalls were also attacked and the rampage continued for hours.

Surya Prakash, a visually challenged student of JNU
Surya Prakash, a visually challenged student who was attacked by masked men on January 5 at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), speaks to a media representative in his hostel room at the JNU campus in New Delhi on January 6, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

What did police do?

Nothing. While unprecedented violence was going on in the campus, the police, stationed outside the main gate of the campus did nothing to prevent it. Police didn’t even try take any one into custody while the assailants walked out of the campus after the attack, said onlookers. There were also allegations that street lights were mysteriously turned off during the assault.

JNUSU president Aishe Gosh said that she informed the police that unknown assailants are roaming freely inside the campus but they chose to remain mere spectators.

The attack on JNU was not an attack in isolation, said Aishe Ghosh.

“AMU, Jamia and other campuses have been facing it as well. Sunday’s attack was an organised attack. They were identifying people and attacking them. General Secretary of JNUSU was attacked a day before as well. Never has there been violence in the past 50 years of this campus," she said.

“I messaged the SHO (Station House Officer) of VK (Vasant Kunj) Police station saying that they were outsiders entering campus and I was assured that they had removed the outsiders. But only half an hour after that the mob came and attacked. Someone from a car near Sabarmati T point singled us out and 30 people surrounded us. I was hit with an iron rod on my head... they had hammers in their hands.”

Police personnel stands guard at JNU as the students stage a protest against the attack on JNU students in the University campus
Police personnel stands guard at JNU as the students stage a protest against the attack on JNU students in the University campus Image Credit: ANI

It all started with protest against fee hike

Students in JNU have been agitating over the past two months against a hefty hike in hostel fees. The hike, imposed on them mid-semester, threatened to make living in the university untenable for many students. Their peaceful protests have been violently suppressed by Delhi Police a couple of times where even physically challenged students were beaten up mercilessly by the police.

It has been alleged that Delhi Police, which unlike other state police units, comes under direct supervision of the Union Home Ministry and thus Amit Shah, the home minister, has been particularly harsh on the protests.

The past few days saw the introduction of violence into the campus by the right wing elements as a tool for dealing with student protests, some teachers said. Protesting students have been alleging physical assaults by security guards and Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP) students, supported in certain instances by some teachers. Minor skirmishes and heated arguments between the ABVP men and protesting students were taking palace all over the campus since Friday.

Then first incidence of major violence occurred in the campus on Saturday. A group of masked intruders entered Central Information System wing in the campus and damaged the servers at the university.

The attack on the student gathering by outsiders occurred the next day.

Bollywood celebrities Dia Mirza, Taapsee Pannu, Richa Chaddha, Ali Fazal, Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bharadwaj, Anubhav Sinha take part in a peaceful protest to express their solidarity with the students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University
Bollywood celebrities Dia Mirza, Taapsee Pannu, Richa Chaddha, Ali Fazal, Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bharadwaj, Anubhav Sinha take part in a peaceful protest to express their solidarity with the students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Image Credit: PTI

Did anyone take responsibility?

Yes, in the latest development, Hindu Raksha Dal, a far-right fringe group of Sangh Parivar has claimed the responsibility for violence in JNU.

"JNU is a hotbed of anti-national activities, we can't tolerate this. We take full responsibility for the attack in JNU and would like to say that they were our workers," said Pinky Chaudhary, Hindu Raksha Dal chief.

Claims made by Chaudhary are being investigated, say government sources.

To identity masked men who attacked JNU, the Delhi police is taking the help of video footage as well as face recognition systems, sources added.

The legacy of JNU

Prime ministers, top diplomats, scientists and artists, Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, has produced them all. It is one of the nation’s premier educational institutions and an internationally renowned centre for education and research.

Named after India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru University was established in 1969 by an act of parliament. There was a great influence of left-liberal and socialist thinkers who shaped the university. JNU is credited with an active political life inside the campus which is referred to as left-of the centre. Its notable alumni include 2019 Nobel Laureate for Economics Prof. Abhijit Banerjee, Baburam Bhattarai, prime minister of Nepal, and P. Sainath, journalist and Ramon Magsaysay Laureate

JNU is traditionally seen as a haven of leftist parties and liberals, ideologies that right wing BJP is completely antagonistic to. However, at least two ministers in the current union cabinet, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, hail from JNU, enough to show the diversity of political views accepted here.

The university has been a constant target ever since Narendra Modi’s right wing BJP stormed to power on a wave Hindutwa sentiment. The students of JNU have been dubbed ‘anti-nationals’ and ‘urban naxals’ by groups and social media armies affiliated to the ruling party. Students have been charged with sedition and arrested for making speeches in the campus. With the BJP coming to power for a second term with Amit Shah as Home Minister, the attack against the university and its students have intensified.

What the minister said after the assault

“I can certainly tell you that when I studied in JNU, we did not see any ‘tukde tukde’ gang there,” External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said on Monday when asked about the situation in the premier university.

“Have seen pictures of what is happening in #JNU. Condemn the violence unequivocally. This is completely against the tradition and culture of the university,” he tweeted later.

What is 'tukde-tukde' gang?

‘Tukde-Tukde’ is a Hindi term often used by the Indian right-wing parties to attack the Opposition, particularly the Left and Left-backed outfits as well as those who support them. BJP has been using it to drive hatred towards JNU left groups with the unfounded allegation that the left parties are working for dividing India into bits and pieces (tukde-tukde).

What is police doing now?

They have filed a charge sheet against the victim for attack.

The Delhi Police has filed an FIR against JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh and 19 others for allegedly attacking security guards and vandalising the server room of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on January 4, reports IANS.

The police registered the FIR on January 5.

In the complaint filed by the JNU administration, the University alleged that the accused were involved in physical violence and pushed the women guards, verbally abused them and threatened them of dire consequences if they opened the lock of university's communication and information (CIS) office.

"They illegally trespassed the University property with the criminal intention to damage the public property. They damaged servers and made it dysfunctional. They also damaged fiber optic power supplies and broke the biometric systems inside the room," the University officials alleged.

This incident allegedly occurred a day before Aishe Ghosh, other JNU students and teachers were attacked by a masked mob inside the campus.

More on Aishe Ghosh

Aishe Ghosh, who hails from Durgapur, West Bengal, is pursuing MPhil/PhD in Inner Asian Studies from the School of International relations, JNU. She belongs to the student wing of Communist Party of India (Marxist), Student Federation of India, which she joined during her undergraduate days at Delhi University’s Daulat Ram College. A graduate in Political Science from Delhi University, she became the president of JNUSU in 2019, beating ABVP’s Manish Jangid with 2,303 votes while Jangid got 1,128 votes.

At the JNU campus, she was heading the protest against the hike in hostel fees. Aishe’s father is Debasish Ghosh, works with Damodar Valley Corporation in Durgapur. “I am not worried about my daughter. She is a fighter. Her cause is right and her methods are peaceful. My daughter cannot be stopped with physical attacks by goons,” Debasish told media when he came to know of the assault on his daughter.

Why BJP is against universities, particularly JNU

BJP doesn’t see the main opposition Congress as its main adversary in the long-term. It is no secret that BJP’s long term aim is to wean away students from the influence of Leftist ideology.

The alternative it has to offer is a form of ultra-nationalism and the party’s think tank RSS hopes this will help advance its Hindutva agenda among the country's youth.

Why against JNU? What booker prize winning author and social activist Arundhati Roy wrote could give an insight: "The RSS recognized that if what was going on in JNU was not stopped, it could one day pose an intellectual and existential threat to the fundamental principles and politics of Hindutva. Why so? Because such an alliance proposes, even if only conceptually, the possibility of a counter-mobilization, a sort of reverse engineering of the Hindutva project," she wrote in My Seditious Heart.

'Urban Naxals'

BJP's aversion to intellectuals and liberals is well known and documented. Understandable from a party whose votaries are still wallowing in the power of cow urine as a panacea to all evils of the world.

Urban naxals is an umbrella term used by the right wing groups to indicate alleged sympathizers and promoters of the Maoist ideology amongst the urban citizens of India.

The term came to prominence in recent years when, in 2018 August, Pune Police arrested five activists and social workers - Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira in connection with a probe on the Bhima-Koregaon riots. Its means anti-national in right wing glossary, if not worse.

BJP's aversion to intellectuals and liberals is well known and documented. Understandable from a party whose votaries are still wallowing in the power of cow urine as a panacea to all evils of the world.

Is JNU the only university on BJP’s target?

No. There are more. What comes immediately to mind are Jamila Milia Islamia (JMI) and Aligharh Muslim University (AMU), both at the forefront of recent agitation against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act and National Citizen Register?

New Delhi’s JMI and Uttar Pradesh’s AMU had been witnessing even since the controversial CAA has been passed early December 2019. The law featured relaxed terms for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh seeking citizenship in India while being silent on Muslim refugees. Critics say this provision violates India’s secular credentials and equality before law promised in constitution.

During one of these protest, the police entered JMI and attacked students arrested some of them. A video showing police beating up students was shared on social media which caused widespread outrage, prompting students and public from all over the country to join the agitation giving fresh life to the protests.

And what happened in JNU the other day is certain to fan more protests in the coming days.