'We heard gunfire': Jamia students detail police attack on campus

Two doctoral students at New Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia recount December 15 police action to break their protest.

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    Police made students raise their hands as they forced them to leave the Jamia Millia Islamia campus [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]
    Police made students raise their hands as they forced them to leave the Jamia Millia Islamia campus [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

    On December 15, days after India passed a contentious citizenship law that critics say is "anti-Muslim", a major protest erupted at New Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia university campus.

    The protest was broken by the Delhi Police through a night-long police action, in which dozens of students were beaten with batons amid the firing of tear gas shells. Witnesses, including the two writers below, allege they also heard gunfire during the storming of their campus.

    Various media reports have cited hospital officials in New Delhi as saying they treated at least two JMI students with bullet injuries.

    Here is what the students told Al Jazeera:

    December 15 will be registered as a gruesome day for our university, Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI). Hundreds of students were brutally assaulted by the police that day for peacefully protesting against a new citizenship law.

    A peaceful students' rally against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) turned into a battlefield outside the campus as heavily-armed police tried to block the march.

    They put up barricades near the Sarai Jullena area, right outside the JMI campus in South Delhi to prevent the protesters from marching to the Indian Parliament.

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    As soon as some protesters tried to cross the barricades, the police resorted to a baton-charge to disperse the protesters. Soon the protest turned into chaos, with public properties vandalised and buses burned.

    Amid the arson, the policemen began to chase us towards the university and fired tear gas, brutally thrashing students as they did so.

    The police appeared to be in revenge mode as they entered the library, reading rooms, classrooms and even a mosque.

    People walk inside a partially damaged library of the Jamia Millia Islamia university after police entered the university campus on the previous day, following a protest against a new citizenship law,
    People inside a partially damaged library of the Jamia Millia Islamia university after police stormed the campus [Adnan AbidiReuters]

    We saw the policemen vandalising university property as they charged on the students.

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    We saw them storming the reading room on the ground floor of the Zakir Husain Library. They were throwing tables and chairs in the air.

    We were lucky to have escaped their rage.

    'We also heard gunfire'

    Soon, the policemen began firing tear gas shells inside the library. Some of us locked the reading room on the first floor to save ourselves.

    We heard loud banging and stamping on the door. After almost 40 minutes, the police ordered students to come out of the building, and many among us were dragged and beaten outside the library.

    They hurled abuse, calling us "terrorists" and shouting: "Thrash the bastards."

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    Police chasing protesters outside the Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

    The students were made to evacuate the campus with their hands raised, as if we were criminals.

    We heard screams from the nearby mosque, toilets and classrooms. Even the students already injured in the chaos were not spared and thrashed with sticks.

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    We also heard gunfire.

    The police chase began around 5pm and ended around 10pm, with dozens of students taken away by the policemen.

    More than 100 wounded students were admitted to hospitals in the area.

    The violence forced the university administration to postpone the end of semester examinations and declare winter break, asking students to vacate the hostels.

    Nearly 50 students were detained, some taken away while they were receiving medical care at Safdarjung Hospital, AIIMS Trauma Centre, Al Shifa Hospital and Holy Family Hospital.

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    A demonstrator in Amritsar shows solidarity with Jamia Millia Islamia university students over the police action [Munish Sharma/Reuters]

    It was shocking to see violence on such a scale being unleashed onto students at JMI. We heard of a similar crackdown at the Aligarh Muslim University, about 130km from the capital.

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    The orchestrated and carefully-executed violence at the two campuses has left us greatly disturbed and scared.

    The fear that we experienced individually or as a group certainly unites us in our collective struggle in reclaiming the university spaces and we shall overcome this ordeal soon.

    As we narrate our ordeals, the police have still not removed the barricades. The detritus of their brutality is visible on every nook and corner of the campus.

    Each bloodstain has a story to tell while shards of wood, glass and metal on the corridors of the campus are witnesses of the massive crackdown.

    The attack has changed our perceptions towards the university administration and the state, but it has not dimmed our spirits nor nixed our struggle.

    The assault is not just another "clash" between dissenting students and the government forces, but an ongoing struggle against the inhumane nature of the state.

    The JMI, which has a long history of struggle during the national movement for independence, is once again in the spotlight.

    The purpose behind the protest was to convey the Muslim community's fears over the CAA as well the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party's plans to conduct a nationwide count of citizens.

    The JMI students chose the university as a space for expressing their dissent over the law.

    Campuses are supposed to be spaces that allow our democratic right to deliver alternative viewpoints to both the people and the government.

    The intention of our movement is to express the fears and apprehensions of a large number of people, irrespective of caste, religion or gender, who are rightful citizens of this officially secular country.

    Students of the Jamia Millia Islamia university carrying their belongings leave the university campus in New Delhi, India, December 16, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    Jamia Millia Islamia students carrying their belongings as they leave the university campus [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News