We knew. We knew what we, as ‘citizens’ (before NRC) of India, were rushing into.
Its been long since every morning we have opened our eyes to the chilling videos of students and protesters being brutally beaten up by police in broad daylight. The bloodstains on the concrete roads and inside campuses in the capital of India blemished our secular democracy and its spirit of dissent. There were police lathis and tear gas in the Jamia library which crushed the hands holding pens, books and notebooks. Students lost their eyes. And it was Delhi, not Kashmir!
We knew that the flames were reaching our colleges. They would soon reach our hostels, our homes. We knew that the country was set to be wrecked.
However, since human beings breathe on hope, we were also doomed to hope.
Classes at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) in Delhi started on January 1, 2020. However, many students were not in the hostel. The protracted struggle here earlier against the fee hike did not grab nation’s attention. By and large, it was a disturbing start of the year for the students, the young and the people of India, given the brutal attacks on every dissenting voice against CAA/NRC.
It was around 8 pm on January 5, 2020. I was reading a magazine when I checked my WhatsApp. It was flooded with horrifying videos coming from JNU. I was taken aback by those visuals. It did not seem like a university campus where people have come to gain knowledge and higher education, and share collective dreams, comradeship and aspirations.
The masked goons were entering the hostels with stones, bricks, iron rods, lathis, sledgehammers. What I saw, sent a chill down my spine. The goons were organised and undisturbed, they were carrying bricks and iron rods and were vandalising the hostels, including girls’ hostels. There were glass pieces all over the floor. Students were beaten with rods and lathis and were screaming for help.
Aishe Ghosh, President, JNUSU, was bleeding profusely from her head. She was hit with iron rods. Her hair was drenched in blood. Prof Sucharita Sen was hit on the head and she was bleeding. She could not even stand.
Even after the video stopped, I could still hear the screams. This did not seem like my own country. This was certainly not a safe place to be. With my heart pounding and my fingers crossed, I called my friends in JNU. They were petrified and were sobbing hard. They said that the police there are operating as a mute spectator. The guards were absent from the hostel. No words could have comforted them. I stayed quiet.
I called my friends in Delhi University (DU) to check if there was a protest against this organised violence backed by the police. I was told that there would be a protest at 9 pm outside the Police Headquarters in Delhi.
Students from DU, Jamia and people from other organisations and civil society were coming to the JNU campus in solidarity with the students of JNU. I decided to be a part of this solidarity protest. One of my friend from IIMC decided to join me.
It is now a war between books and lathis, dreams and iron rods, peace and sledgehammers, libraries and graveyards, harmony and hatred, between hugs and kicks, love and hatred, between life and death. History knows who will win!
While we were on our way to the JNU main gate where the protest was scheduled, I met my friends from Jamia. The night was dark but I saw a tiny ray of hope. We exchanged smiles. We sat for a couple of minutes while waiting for others to join.
We lit cigarettes and I still remember those words. My friend said, “Comrade, a cigarette will be the last thing that could kill us.” “Thanks to Fascism,” we said to each other.
I looked at the sky. In the dark, hope was still shining. I took the last drag and left for JNU.
Around one kilometre before JNU, all the street lights were off. We met a few people on the way and they asked us to go back. When we reached near the JNU main gate, we could hear the slogans, “Goli maaro saalo ko” (Shoot them with bullets). The last steps were heavy. Together, we walked on.
What I saw soon after, was even scarier. Around 25-30 people were shouting, “Bharat Mata ki Jai.” Many of them were so drunk that they were actually staggering. The goons (as I would prefer to call them) were celebrating the attacks on JNU students. They were shouting, “Kashmir ko de di azaadi, Jamia ko de di azaadi, ab JNU ko denge azaadi. (Kashmir has been given freedom, Jamia has been given freedom, now it is the turn of JNU).
Clearly, their idea of ‘azaadi’ did not match mine. It did not match the idea of azaadi where peace stood tall. I had never seen violence being so blatantly and publicly sheltered, displayed, encouraged and allowed, in the presence of the Delhi Police.
The cops were standing by the side, not uttering a word, totally oblivious to the situation. Suddenly, the goons pulled a student standing on my right with his hair. The student was dragged and slapped by others. Few of us pulled the student back and tried to save him. The goons were shouting, “Jis ghar se Afzal niklega, us ghar mein ghuskar maarenge,” “Na Maowaad na Naxalwaad, sabse upar Rashtrawaad.” (We will enter the house and kill from where Afzal will come out; Neither Maoism, nor Naxalism, the highest is nationalism).
They were looking at us with hate and calling us terrorists. I joined the few women students from JNU who were raising slogans against these goons. They were looking at us and whispering among themselves, “Dekh lenge ise.” (We will see you).
They were every woman’s nightmare in this city where women who raise voices are “taught lessons”. One of them pointed at us and said, “Don’t come this side.” We held hands more tightly and continued to raise slogans. The women beside me were my strength. One of the goons threw a shoe at us. A man behind us raised slogans in our support but he was called “hijra” (eunuch). “What are you doing with the women,” they shouted at him.
All of us continued to raise slogans. According to them, we were “hijras”, we were “randis” (prostitutes). But we were also the people of this country, women who belonged to this nation.
Suddenly, we heard loud noises from the other side of the road. Everyone rushed there. The goons were manhandling Yogendra Yadav and his fellow protestors. People were being slapped and hit. They were shouting, “Send back the Naxalites.”
We were pushed and kicked. I and another girl was standing next to Yadav while a man came and groped me. I was molested by him in front of everyone while they were raising slogans, “Bharat Mata ki Jai”.
We were pushed and kicked. I and another girl was standing next to Yadav while a man came and groped me. I was molested by him in front of everyone while they were raising slogans, “Bharat Mata ki Jai.”
Yadav asked us to sing Jana-Gana-Mana, thinking that probably that would stop them. They came back with more aggression and I was pulled by my hair and dragged to the side of the road. I somehow managed to stand and find my spectacles. Luckily, they were not made of glass. My chest was wounded. I fell on the edge of the footpath.
My friend from IIMC came running when she saw me. The moment she hugged me, I burst into tears. My hands were numb and I was crying. I was crying for I had seen their version of Bharat Mata. There were goons laughing at us. They had molested and assaulted a peaceful, unarmed woman protestor. They had worshipped their Bharat Mata.
I was crying that night. However, I am convinced that hope will still smile at us and make me stand for the upcoming protests. My parents were not able to sleep that night. One day, surely, I will have to fight for my daughter so that she can sleep and dream peacefully. And fight for her values and justice.
History knows who will win!
The writer is a student of IIMC, Delhi.