On a day of videos, a reminder if we forgot: Police just can’t beat up people
Chilling footage of police brutality in what looks like a reading room of Jamia Millia Islamia university in the capital has emerged. The raw scenes echo testimonies of several students who complained of indiscriminate assault on the evening of December 15.
The CCTV footage was released on Saturday night by the Jamia Coordination Committee (JCC), an umbrella under which students and alumni have closed ranks since December 15.
Overnight and several hours later on Sunday afternoon, television channels started beaming two clips which seek to rebuild the police narrative that the use of force was not unprovoked and the uniformed force entered the campus in hot pursuit of rioters. The channels did not say who released the tapes to them.
In no way does the content of the two unattributed clips dispute the crux of the CCTV footage made public on Saturday: police approaching seated and unarmed youngsters, lifting fibreglass lathis overhead for maximum force and raining vicious blows on the cowering victims mercilessly without asking any questions.
It is absurd to debate whether the youngsters are students, protesters or rioters. Only a court of law can decide whether any of them had committed any crime.
Even if it is proved they are guilty of any crime, no Indian law (or no law in any democracy, for that matter) allows anyone to be whipped — or beaten.
Reasonable force can be used but to restrain, not to punish. The CCTV footage shows no attempt by the uniformed personnel to restrain any of the youngsters. It is crystal clear that the sole objective is to beat.
Only forensic tests can establish the authenticity of the CCTV clip but the date and time (December 15, 2019, 6pm) on the footage match that when uniformed personnel stormed the campus at a time the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act were picking up steam.
Asked about the clip, a police spokesperson said: “Delhi police have taken cognisance of it and it is being looked into.” The spokesperson neither confirmed nor denied the authenticity of the clip.
The police have been maintaining that they entered the university campus in pursuit of rioters who were pelting projectiles and had burned several vehicles after a march from outside the campus was stopped near a hotel.
The 49-second video clip shows men in the uniforms and riot gear of Delhi police and the CRPF entering the reading room and briefly searching the place.
Then the merciless beating begins.
The clip shows a huddle of youngsters in one corner.
Closer to the camera, two young persons who look like students can be seen sitting side by side at reading counters. A group of uniformed personnel move towards the huddle.
The commotion in the corner appears to startle the two youngsters closer to the camera. One jumps to his feet, shifts his bag and sits again in front of a book that is already open.
The other youngster on the left, who has a handkerchief knotted as a mask hanging around his neck, has a closed book in front of him. He opens the book and lifts the mask, all the while seated.
The youngster was late on Sunday night identified as Salman, a civil engineering PhD student, after BJP IT cell spearhead Amit Malviya laid stress on the mask and the shut book to insinuate that the boy could be a rioter trying to hide.
(The mask is not unusual. Tear-smoke shells were being lobbed by the police for quite sometime. Policemen were also sporting similar masks. Around 200 tear-smoke shells were reportedly used by the police on the campus.
Being in the reading room does not necessarily mean non-stop reading, especially with such chaos outside. Again, it is beside the point if anyone is a rioter or not. No seated and unarmed person can be beaten, especially if the objective is not to restrain a suspect.
BBC Hindi quoted Salman as saying: “The police were continuously firing tear smoke and it was difficult to breathe. Even the police in the video are seen covering their faces (with hankies).”
Salman added that the green book was for the engineering services exam, and that he had been in the library since the afternoon — stepping out only for namaz in the evening, just before the rampage. The campus has two mosques.
He added that the video was taken when students in the room were looking towards the door in fear as they could hear the rampage in progress on the ground floor.)
In the video, two men in riot gear with their faces covered with handkerchiefs calmly approach the two youngsters — as if to engage in a conversation.
All of a sudden, the uniformed personnel swung their fibreglass lathis overhead and landed blows with all their might on the youngsters.
The first blow appears to land on an unseen person on the left of Salman. Then blow after blow rains down on the unseen person.
One policeman appears to be gripped by such frenzy that sometimes he alternates the lathi blows between the youngster on the right and Salman on the left. The other policeman does not spare the unseen person either.
A third uniformed man is busy beating the youngsters in the corner who were coming closer to the camera to flee. When there is an ebb, he turns back, strides towards the other two personnel beating the two youngsters and the unseen person and lands a savage blow on Salman.
At least 13 blows could be counted in a matter of 15 seconds. Seven blows land on the unseen person, four on Salman and two on the youngster to Salman’s right.
The video clip was released on Saturday night. By Sunday afternoon, the counter-videos had begun to surface on multiple TV channels.
One clip telecast by the channels shows a youth with a handkerchief covering his face and another with what was described as stones in his hands in one of the reading rooms on the campus blocking the exit with a desk, after letting in several youths with backpacks inside. (Several students in the reading rooms had attempted to barricade themselves inside reading rooms to prevent the police from entering on December 15.)
The third video shows a youth with stones in their hands in a balcony. Some of them are seen climbing the railings of the balcony, and watching people run up a staircase through a window. Sources in Jamia confirmed that all videos appear to be of the Ibn-e-Sina block.
But in the video that shows police beating the two youngsters and the unseen person, none of the victims was seen provoking the policemen, let alone lifting a finger against the uniformed personnel.
The police make no attempt to restrain any youngsters (the police should have arrested them if they were indeed rioters) but order them through gesticulations with lathis to leave the reading hall after the thrashing.
The day after the police swoop, The Telegraph had reported that the Ibn-e-Sina block, where a reading room resembling that in the video clip is located, and the Zakir Husain Library had several bloodstains and tear-smoke shells.
Students who were present there either fled — some with their arms raised under police watch while some hid under benches — in the tear-smoke haze with their noses covered.
The Jamia Coordination Committee, which released the first video, said the source of the video was unknown.
Vishal Prasad, an economics student who shared the video on the JCC’s WhatsApp group for reporters on Saturday night, told this paper that they are yet to decide on how to take this up legally. A trial court is yet to decide on a plea by the varsity administration for an FIR against the police for the rampage.
Prasad told The Telegraph: “The footage is of the MPhil-PhD reading room in the Ibn-e-Sina block. The police had entered and assaulted students studying there. Whatever footage was available is held with the university authorities and investigating agencies. This is the first CCTV footage we have found in the public domain that shows the police attacking innocent students.”
Out of the two FIRs filed by the police, one says: “To identify rioters and to take them out of the university campus and for the security of students, a limited police force was sent into the university campus. Even then, the riotist mob continued stone pelting. They were repeatedly warned that stone pelting endangers the life and property of students inside and all demonstrators should vacate the campus peacefully. But the riotist demonstrators ignored the police warning and continuously pelted stones on the police, and were hell bent on murderous assault. On the orders of senior officers, minimum force was used to remove the rioters from campus.”
A senior Jamia official said that although most CCTV cameras were destroyed by the police before they went on the rampage, copies of footage from the remaining cameras were given to the police and other agencies investigating the incident.
“Copies of the footage on hard disks and pen drives have been given to the police, the National Human Rights Commission — which visited the campus to investigate, the ministry of human resource development — whom we requested to order a judicial probe, and our own fact-finding team — which will be releasing its report shortly. When the police asked for the original DVR (digital video recorder), we asked them to give an undertaking that certified copies of the original would be given to us, which they have not, and hence the university still holds the original,” he told this paper.
In a statement, the varsity administration said it had not released the first video that was circulated widely on Saturday night.