Aligarh, India – The sprawling campus of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) – India‘s largest minority institution founded in the 19th century in the northern Uttar Pradesh state – wears a desolate look, a week after it witnessed unprecedented violence.
“AMU never shuts,” read a defiant handwritten poster, dangling from the steel fence around Bab-e-Syed, the imposing sandstone gate that opens to campus housing nearly 25,000 students.
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A group of women demonstrating there wanted to take their protest closer to the gate, a demand rejected by university officials who kept a close vigil on the demonstrators.
Dozens of policemen in riot gear and holding batons stood on the other side of the gate.
About 200 metres away, another crowd of AMU teachers held a silent protest as they marched in files along the two ends of the university’s main road, holding placards that said: “AMU against CAA” and “We reject CAA”.
The law allows Indian citizenship to “persecuted” minorities – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians – from India’s neighbouring countries – Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan – but blocks naturalisation for Muslims.
Since CAA was passed on December 11, massive protests have been held with demonstrators decrying it as violating India’s secular constitution and aimed at marginalising its 200 million Muslims.
December 15 police attack
At least 25 people have died so far in nationwide protests against CAA, with most deaths happening in the BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh state.
One such protest was being held in AMU, with thousands of students gathering at Bab-e-Syed every day and raising slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party, demanding an immediate withdrawal of the legislation.
In the evening of December 15, dozens of policemen stormed into the AMU campus, chasing students into their hostels and other buildings, firing tear gas and stun grenades, and launching a baton attack on them as they ran for cover.
In the police attack, launched simultaneously with a similar raid at New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia university, dozens of AMU students were wounded, some seriously, with at least one student losing his hand.
Doctors at the AMU’s Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College (JNMC) Hospital told Al Jazeera that more than 70 injured students were brought to them on December 15.
Mohammad Tariq, a 26-year-old doctoral student of chemistry, was hit by a smoke shell on his right hand.
Pictures of his damaged hand, which looked like a bloodied piece of flesh, went viral on social media.
“When I was hit, I fell on the ground and went unconscious. I don’t even remember who took me to hospital,” Tariq told Al Jazeera.
His injury was so grave that the doctors at JNMC Hospital had to amputate his hand. “He won’t be able to write or do any work with his right hand,” said his doctor, Shahnawaz Iqbali.
Tariq, who belongs to Uttar Pradesh state’s Firozabad district, about 100km (63 miles) from the university, frequently looks towards his right arm as he acknowledges dozens of visitors in the hospital ward.
His hand is covered in white plaster up to the elbow, his eyes betraying the helplessness of losing a limb.
Tariq’s father was with him in the hospital, but his mother had no information about the amputation.
“I don’t want to share this horrific news with my mother for now. She is a heart patient and will die,” Tariq told Al Jazeera. “I’ll tell her everything once I go home.”
On Tuesday, AMU spokesman Omar Peerzada told Al Jazeera that the university administration, in a “humanitarian gesture”, has offered Tariq a temporary job as an assistant professor of chemistry.
In another room of the hospital lied 20-year-old Tazeem Khan, who also suffered multiple injuries. Two of his fingers were badly damaged.
The plaster covering his arms have been scribbled with “We will fight” and “AMU rejects CAA”.
‘Is it because I am Muslim?’
When the violence began, Tazeem Khan told Al Jazeera, he along with his friends ran towards a guesthouse, nearly 100 metres from Bab-e-Syed. He said they locked the gate of the guesthouse from inside, hoping the policemen would not be able to enter.
Khan and eight others hid inside the toilet, from where they could hear the police entering the guesthouse and beating students hiding in the rooms.
“We heard the students screaming and crying for help, but the police kept beating and abusing them,” Khan told Al Jazeera.
Two hours later, policemen broke the doors of the toilet. “They beat us mercilessly as if we were criminals,” he said.
Later, the police detained dozens of protesters and allegedly tortured them in custody before they were released the next day after Aligarh residents demonstrated outside police stations.
Khan alleged policemen threw communal slurs at the students as they took them to a police station.
“What is your problem with CAA, you anti-nationals? Why don’t you go to Pakistan?” Khan alleged the cops asked them in the police vehicle.
“A cop even threatened to urinate in my mouth,” he said. “Is it because I belong to AMU or I am a Muslim?”
Feroz Khan, another student, said the police wanted to punish them for holding their protests.
“If the police’s intention was to disperse the protesting students, what was the need to go inside hostels, drag students, break windowpanes and hurl smoke shells into the rooms,” he asked.
Police denied the allegations, saying they entered the campus on the request of the AMU authorities and followed standard operating procedures.
Senior superintendent of police in Aligarh, Akash Kulhari, told Al Jazeera: “We resorted to mild baton-charge and tear gas shelling in a very limited way just to disperse the violent crowd.” He claimed 19 policemen were also injured that night.
‘They cut power in our hostels’
Indian media reports said the university administration admitted it had called the police, claiming “anti-social elements” had penetrated the crowd of thousands of students protesting against the CAA.
The next day on December 16, authorities closed the university till January 5 even as students from the locked-down Indian-administered Kashmir or the tense northeastern states feared they would not be able to reach home.
“The administration disconnected electricity in our hostels,” Mohammad Abu Bakar, a master’s student of physics, told Al Jazeera.
Bakar, who was living with his friends outside the campus, said the administration locked the hostel’s gate and denied him entry. “They want us to leave so that there are no CAA protests in AMU,” he said.
A doctoral student from Kashmir, on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera that she felt stranded since air tickets to the main city of Srinagar were expensive and the Jammu-Srinagar highway was closed for traffic due to landslides and snowfall.
She said she was threatened by the AMU authorities for not vacating the university.
“Shall I call your supervisor? You will forget about your degree,” the research scholar said she was told by the deputy proctor.
“I kept requesting her, but she grabbed my hand and dragged me out of the hall in the presence of several students. It was very humiliating. I went to my room, packed my stuff and quietly left.”
She said she stayed with another student at a professor’s house before leaving for Kashmir on Thursday.
The university authorities, however, said they did not force any student to leave campus, but only advised them due to the security situation.
“Considering the situation in the country, it was resolved that students should go home where they are safe with their parents. We made elaborate arrangements and provided buses to anybody residing within 350km [217 miles] of the campus,” Afifullah Khan told Al Jazeera.
While the official admitted there was a section of students asking why they should be sent home, he said they did not leave because they had “an agenda to follow”.
But the former president of AMU students’ union, M Salman Imtiaz, told Al Jazeera that the officials “in nexus with police” organised the attack and subsequent closure of the university to “muzzle our voices”.
“They didn’t want our side of the story to come out,” he said.