Monday, 30th October 2017

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They look like Delhi cops but speak like…

Police do not name the ABVP in the news conference that they convened on Friday on the JNU turmoil

By Pheroze L. Vincent in New Delhi
  • Published 11.01.20, 3:05 AM
  • Updated 11.01.20, 3:05 AM
  • 5 mins read
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Footage of the flag scuffle (Picture sourced by correspondent)

A video of police snatching the national flag from a student leader on Janpath after a scuffle during Thursday evening’s protest against the JNU violence is now viral.

If Delhi police were planning an initiative to salvage the force’s tattered image, they should have thought up something other than the news conference that they convened on Friday on the JNU turmoil.

The police named the four main Left student groups five times each in connection with Sunday’s violence — as perpetrators — but not the ABVP although two of the nine students they named are from the RSS student arm. Several students and teachers have accused an ABVP-led mob of the violence.

Deputy commissioner Joy Tirkey, who heads the probe, said all nine would be summoned for questioning.

According to the police, the root of the violence lay in the intimidation of students seeking to register for the upcoming semester by those opposing registrations in protest against a hostel fee hike — an agitation spearheaded by the Left-led students’ union.

The news conference began with a disclaimer from the police’s public relations officer, additional commissioner M.S. Randhawa.

“Under normal circumstances, the Delhi police brief the media after the conclusion of investigations, but in the last few days we have seen that in these cases misinformation is being circulated a lot… quoting different sources,” he said.

“These cases involve an educational institution, students. Keeping in mind the future of the students, whatever we share is very sensitive.”

He and Tirkey then repeatedly pointed fingers at the CPM-backed Students’ Federation of India (SFI), the CPIML Liberation’s All India Students Association (AISA), the CPI’s All India Students Federation (AISF) and the Democratic Students Federation (DSF). They, however, mistakenly referred to the SFI as the Students’ Front of India.

None of the nine students the police named — three of whom are women — are from the AISF or the DSF, though. The police handed reporters printouts of the nine’s pictures.

Among the accused are JNU students’ union president Aishe Ghosh of the SFI, two women from the AISA including a students’ union councillor, and one alumnus who was with the AISA. The rest have no known affiliations. No questions were taken at the news conference.

The police would not name the ABVP despite several interjections by reporters asking why not.

Two of the three FIRs registered relate to the vandalism of an Internet server room, and have named supporters of the students’ union (JNUSU).

The third case is one of rioting against unknown accused who are said to have injured several people with rods and projectiles. One of the injured is Ghosh, who has a gash on her head and a broken left arm.

Tirkey began his briefing by repeating a claim by the JNU administration: “A large majority of the children want to register (for the semester) because the new year has begun…. But this particular group doesn’t want students to register, and those who are trying to register are being intimidated a bit.”

Of the university’s 8,500-odd students, more than 3,500 had registered by Tuesday. The ABVP has opposed the allegedly coercive manner of the students’ union-led strike.

Tirkey said the violence began at 11.30am on Sunday with students’ union activists assaulting four students who wanted to register, as well as security guards.

At 3.45pm, he said, “These people (four Left groups) went to Periyar Hostel and attacked (boarders). Some members of the JNUSU were there. The union president was there and was caught on camera.”

He added: “A fight took place. Police went there. There were also some officers in plainclothes. Teachers helped a lot. JNUTA (the teachers’ association) members took them (the injured) to AIIMS trauma (centre) and Safdarjung Hospital. Specific rooms were targeted in Periyar Hostel.”

JNU professor of medicine Vikas Bajpai, who attended to the injured at AIIMS on Sunday evening, had said the JNU secretary of the ABVP, Manish Jangid, had threatened him at the trauma centre for helping the Left students.

The police shared six video grabs from Periyar, including one showing Ghosh standing near a group of students, two of whom have mufflers masking their faces. The accompanying text accuses her of “leading her masked violent comrade gang in hostels”.

Tirkey said that later, students with “muffled faces” appeared at a peace meeting held by the teachers near the Sabarmati Hostel, and went on to enter the hostel. “Suddenly a group comes and they also (had) muffled faces, and they had sticks, and fought with them a bit and went to Sabarmati Hostel and this also was very, very specific — they knew which rooms to go to. Both (the) Periyar and Sabaramti (attacks) had a lot of internal elements (insiders who knew which rooms to target),” he added.

But Tirkey did not name any student group in connection with the Sabarmati attack. It was at this teachers’ meeting that professor Sucharita Sen’s head was hit with a large stone, and several other teachers and students were hit with steel rods. While Periyar has a few windows broken, Sabarmati resembled a war zone on Monday.

The police named ABVP leaders Vikas Patel, an MA language student of Korean, and Yogendra Bharadwaj, a PhD scholar of Sanskrit. But the purported photo of Patel the police shared was actually that of a student of Russian, Shiv Poojan Mandal, whose image had clearly been cropped from a larger photo of Patel and Mandal wielding sticks that has gone viral.

Patel stands accused of rioting. Bharadwaj is accused of being the administrator of a WhatsApp group, called Unity Against Left, over which the violence was orchestrated, the police have said in an indirect hint at the affiliation of some of the rioters.

In a sting operation, India Today TV has shown a first-year BA student of French, Akshat Awasthi, claiming he was part of an effort to mobilise around 20 JNU students and an equal number of outsiders to attack Sabarmati in retaliation for the violence at Periyar. The channel also beamed images of Awasthi participating in ABVP protests.

In the sting, Awasthi says a police officer he had called had encouraged him and others to complain about the violence at Periyar and to attack the students’ union. He adds that the police had turned off the streetlights just outside the campus so that goons could be brought in amid the darkness.

Asked about the police’s role, he replies, “Delhi police kiski hai (belong to whom)?”

He also says: “I attacked a bearded man... because he looked like a Kashmiri.”

Another self-proclaimed ABVP man, Awasthi’s classmate Rohit Shah, says that masked ABVP cadres broke his window too but left when he said: “This is an ABVP room.”

The JNU unit general secretary of AISA, Geeta Kumari, too admitted before hidden cameras that the students had switched off the server twice as the VC was not talking to the students about the fee hike. The ABVP denied that Awasthi and Shah are its members but admitted that Patel and Bharadwaj are.

Its general secretary, Nidhi Tripathi, said: “Anyone involved in violence should be identified and punished. An ABVP member was part of the WhatsApp group but had left the group. We want the police to investigate the entire WhatsApp group. We will give full cooperation.”

Asked about Patel, she said the veracity of the image needed to be ascertained.

Randhawa ended the news conference by repeating the names of the four Left groups.

“Whenever we try to engage them (during street protests),” he said, “they violate lawful directions. In many places they have broken barricades. Several FIRs have been filed against them in the southwest, south and New Delhi districts.”

He added: “Yesterday (Thursday), too, you saw it when they protested at MHRD where we were deployed and were cooperating with them. They suddenly said they would protest on the road. Some of the protesters from the JNUSU went to Connaught Place and the public was inconvenienced. We have filed an FIR for that also.”

This newspaper had reported that a student from Ambedkar University had received a gash with a police baton behind his head on Thursday.

On Friday, students revealed that he and a woman passer-by, who had been caned, were taken to hospital by ambulance from Le Meridien hotel, on Janpath, after the police had left them to fend for themselves.