Story, Video and Photographs: PIYUSH NAGPAL AND DEBALIN ROY.
As is well known by now, a seminar organised by the English literary society of Ramjas College, Delhi University titled “Cultures of Protest” on Tuesday the 21st of February was disrupted by a huge mob of ABVP students. They threw stones/bricks into the seminar hall, shattering windows and injuring students, and in full view of Delhi Police, manhandled and beat up student participants. Delhi Police was barely able to control the situation and refused to offer protection to the invited speakers who were told by ABVP members,”We will disfigure your face in a way that you will be unrecognisable”. Mainstream news media has added little to our understanding of the harrowing day-long siege of a college campus space by bloodthirsty goons by presenting it as a “clash” that “broke out” (like a case of hives?!) between two student groups. Thereby implying that left hooligans and right hooligans engaged in their hoologanism while we as neutral public can sigh at the declining public behaviour of students and get back to our lives. Thankfully there are eyewitness accounts and videos that counter this ridiculous and dangerous false equivalence and drive home the point that once again, the opportunity to engage in speech, reason and words was violently cut short by those who wanted to hurt and maim.
DEBALIN’S EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT:
As I got off at Vishwavidyalaya Metro Station and called my colleague Piyush, I could hear slogans of Azadi in the background as he spoke to me. He was already at Ramjas College to attend ‘Cultures of Protest’, an event organized by Wordcraft – the literary society of the college. He told me that students of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) were trying to disrupt the event on the issue of Umar Khalid being one of the speakers. The seminar was meant for exploring dissent in works of literature. Sanjay Kak and Bimol Akoijam were the other two speakers scheduled to speak at the event. Umar Khalid decided against turning up for the event to prevent escalation of violence by the ABVP protesters.
I made a run for the college and upon reaching noticed around ten to fifteen ABVP protesters trying to rough up the students and professors who were organizing the event. In no time the ABVP contingent turned into a crowd of about thirty to forty people and they began heckling the crowd of students and professors. It needs to be noted here that the students were not just from Ramjas College, but various other colleges and Universities across Delhi.
By the time police reinforcements arrived, the ABVP students had cordoned off the entrance to the conference room (where the event was supposed to take place) preventing the proceedings. This was despite the fact that Umar Khalid was not coming, which was supposedly their primary and only demand. Police took almost an hour to take some control of the situation – in the meantime a few students, including myself, were roughed up by the ABVP members and some of them also tried to break my camera. Thankfully, the SHO of Maurice Nagar, Arti Sharma, came to my rescue. I ended up with a torn shirt and some bruises on my back and neck. But the camera didn’t stop.
Meanwhile I had managed to enter the conference room on the first floor, capturing the ABVP members trying to make their way to the venue on camera. The police finally succeeded in creating a barricaded passage for entry into the room – which was constantly being attacked by ABVP members from all sides. While some were throwing stones at the queue of people trying to make their way into the hall, others were shouting expletives. The ABVP crowd had for sure expanded beyond just students.
The conference finally began at around 4 pm (the scheduled time was 1:30). Fifteen minutes into the conference, Sanjay Kak’s speech was interrupted by glasses shattering all around the conference room. The ABVP crowd gathered outside was pelting stones. Mayhem ensued as students, professors and the guests scurried about trying to take shelter under chairs and other furniture. Police barged in and tried to control the situation. After two more rounds of stone pelting by the crowd outside and the people inside spending a harrowing forty five minutes trying to protect themselves, the police once again created a barricade, from the gate of the conference room to the back gate of the college. Students and professors had to run out since they were being constantly heckled throughout the barricaded passage, with calls like – “We will disfigure your face and make it unrecognizable”.
Debolina Dey, assistant professor at the Department of English at Ramjas, who was stuck with us inside the conference room throughout the forty five minutes, said, “The police refused to provide us with any protection from the onset of the event, at such short notice. When they finally came-in, I thought they were here to diffuse the situation, but I don’t know what they were doing.”
Such cases of students belonging to the right-wing attacking freedom of speech and expression have been on the rise since the Bharatiya Janata Party has come into power at the Centre. Recent attacks on students and professors at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Hyderabad Central University and Jadavpur University justify the same.