New Delhi: A fact-finding report on police action in Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) accuses the Uttar Pradesh police of severe brutality against students who were in fact protesting against the crackdown on students of Jamia Millia Islamia who were opposing the recently passed Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.
The report also holds the university administration, district authorities and the state government responsible for not only failing in their duty to protect the campus and its residents but also inviting armed police personnel into the campus. Titled ‘The Siege of Aligarh Muslim University,’ the report was released in Delhi today, December 24.
A team of concerned civil society members including lawyers, human rights activists, journalists and academics visited the AMU campus on December 17 following reports of police action on students of AMU on the night of December 15.
Led by human rights activist Harsh Mander, the team says its members have spoken to 100 members of faculty, students, doctors and several members of the university administration including the Registrar and the Proctor.
Based on testimonies of all the people the team spoke to, they say that indiscriminate action by the UP police and the Rapid Action Force left many of them “with shattered bones, grave injuries, deep bruises, and severe psychological trauma”.
Having reconstructed the sequence of events from December 15 through multiple testimonies, the team believes that permission to the police to enter the campus might have been given post-facto to legitimise the violence that followed.
“The University leadership (the Vice Chancellor, the Registrar and the Proctor) maintain that incidents of stone-throwing and other violence led them to ask the RAF and police to enter the university campus to restore peace and safeguard life and property in the campus. But if this was indeed the case, it is unclear why the Bab-e-Syed gate itself had been broken into four pieces, with a corner of the heavy iron gate cut out with precision, while the locks were intact.” the report says.
Students told the team that many civilians in plain clothes with masked faces who were not part of the student community were throwing stones from both ends of the gate, suggesting foul play to legitimise police entry into the campus. The police reportedly chased the students and started baton charging indiscriminately. The report also says that they fired teargas shells, stun grenades and bullets.
The report also accused the police and RAF of denying medical assistance to injured students, even attacking one ambulance driver. “We visited the heritage Morrison Boys’ Hostel, where soldiers beat up guards and fired teargas into the rooms of the students to smoke them out. The room caught fire, which was doused on time by the students. Doctors from the university medical college rushed more than ten ambulances to pick up the injured students, but the soldiers refused to allow them to rescue the students, and even broke the bones of one ambulance driver,” it says.
The team also found it “shocking” that a serving police officer on deputation from the UP cadre is appointed as Registrar of the university. “His attitude seemed that of a trigger-happy police person rather than a custodian of the students,” it says. Mander is himself a former officer of the Indian Administrative Services (IAS).
At the report launch, Mander and former IPS officer Chaman Lal both condemned police action saying students were treated as “terrorists” and the methods used by the police and RAF were uncalled for.
“Stun grenades are used only in war situations, or militarised police action such as against dangerous terrorists, never to quell student protests. Their use does not form part of the SOPs of normal law and order disturbances. And even during war, ambulances are permitted to rescue the injured,” the report adds.
Students also told the team that the police and RAF were using Islamophobic slurs and chanting “Jai Shri Ram” while chasing and beating up students.
The report also quotes one student saying, “It looked as though the police had a deep-seated hatred towards us which they wanted to vent by treating us in the most barbaric manner”.
At the report launch, speakers also alleged that the police action in AMU was communaly motivated. “What happened at AMU would never happen in JNU,” Mander said. “We must note that both Jamia Millia Islamia and AMU, where the police used indiscriminate force, are minority institutions,” Syeda Hameed said at the report release event.
All speakers agreed that religious identity of the students could be the reason for the disproportionate use of force given that protests are going on in universities across the country but no other institution has faced such severe police action.
As many as 100 students were reportedly picked up by the police and another 100 injured, 20 seriously.
The team claims that all evidence of damage to property of students by the police had been removed by the time they visited the campus. The team has also confirmed the use of tear gas shells, sound bombs, rubber bullets, stun grenades and lathis on students.
“Doctors have confirmed that the blunt force trauma and resultant brain haemorrhage of a student indicate to the use of rubber bullets. The hand of a PhD student had to be amputated from below the wrist due to the injuries sustained from a stun grenade that exploded in his hand,” it says.