In the aftermath of the International Women’s Day, March 8, when members of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) attacked those attending an event called ‘Let the Women Speak’, organised by the Bhagat Singh Chhatra Ekta Manch (BSCEM), the organisers talk about the series of events, the protest that followed and how the police watched silently as students were physically attacked.
The March 8 event was organised to draw people’s attention towards the brutal rape cases in Gurhmandi and Butana and to extend solidarity with the families of the victims. The BSCEM had invited the family members, and activist Nodeep Kaur and her sister Rajveer Kaur, to address the crowd on the occasion. However, things took an ugly turn when members of the ABVP ambushed the site of the demonstration and demanded that it be stopped.
Women’s day event
“The ABVP members barged in and started tearing our posters as ABVP’s secretary Shivangi Kharwal hurled abuses at us. However, the police didn’t take any step to mitigate the situation as the two student groups clashed. It seemed like they were supporting the ABVP,” alleged Sangeeta Geet, BSCEM’s general secretary.
Some students also alleged that their clothes were torn and they suffered injuries during the clash. “The police were mere spectators and weren’t doing anything to protect us. A few female students suffered injuries, and their clothes were torn. My leg was also injured,” said Firoz Alam, a DU student.
According to ABVP members, “anti-national activities” were being carried out inside the campus. The posters, they say, were objectionable and they also alleged that slogans were raised against the Indian army and the police.
The event organisers, however, have denied the allegations.
“Some of our posters highlighted the plight of the women of Manipur who have suffered a lot since the imposition of the deadly Armed Forced Special Protection Act (AFSPA). The posters merely carried the slogans raised by the women who took out the famous nude protest. Another poster was about the Kunan Poshpara incident, where four security personnel sexually assaulted 23 women in Kashmir’s twin villages of Kunan and Poshpara,” said Geet.
Through these posters, she adds, they wanted to show how certain institutions of the state use rape as a weapon against women.
However, the president of Delhi University Student Union Akshita Dahiya wrote a letter to the ministry of human affairs claiming that anti-national activities were carried out on the campus.
DUSU put out a Memorandum of Demand before the @HMOIndia against the Anti National Activities culminating to such an extent that violence and assault was done to the students in the Delhi University premises. pic.twitter.com/JxJy8ktZHg
— DUSU (@DUSUofficial) March 9, 2021
The letter said that BSCEM’s posters portrayed the armed forces in a bad light, and slogans disrespecting the constitution and defaming the Indian army were raised.
“No one raised any slogan against the Indian army, the question that we wish to raise is that can you change the fact? Cases are on the rise, be it the Manipur case or the Bhutana case, many cases are suggesting the same,” said Geet.
Dalit activist Rajveer Kaur, who was also present at the event, said, “If there’s violence against women and the police are covering for it and are also directly involved in it, raising questions against them is not an anti-national activity. If we can’t even raise such questions on women’s day when should we?”
She said that the police asked them to vacate the stage, but they resisted because they weren’t doing anything anti-national. “To celebrate Women’s Day is our democratic right, but the members of the ABVP were constantly asking for our IDs. The police even targeted Nodeep, and tried arresting her.”
FIRs and joint protest
The next day when Rajveer went to the police station to file an official complaint, she said that they shrugged off the urgency of the matter, and asked them to come the next day. Kharwal’s complaint, on the other hand, was registered immediately, said Rajveer.
“We were the ones who were attacked yet they were making us go round and about for a complaint,” she added.
On March 10, the members of the BSCEM filed an official complaint via an email detailing the incident and injuries they suffered.
Later, on March 16, BSCEM organised a joint protest condemning the attack with other student groups such as DISHA, DSU, MSF, SIO, Fraternity Movement DU AISA and so on. The legal cell member of the Kisan Morch Vasu Kukreja, who suffered a swollen eye on the day of the attack, was also present at the protest.
The Delhi police, however, issued a notice asking the organisers to withhold the protest as no prior permission was taken from the proctor office of the university.
“When we reached the protest site, they handed us the letter which stated that the authorities were not informed about the same and therefore they told us to not hold any protest,” said Geet.
The BSCEM members admitted that the police weren’t intimated of the protest, but they had their own reasons for not doing so.
“We did not notify the police this time because when we actually did [on March 8], the police weren’t able to ensure our safety,” said Geet. “We are also against informing the proctor, this is our university and we have the right to protest.”
The members had informed the proctor as well as the police the last time because there was a possibility of Bilkis dadi joining the event. Since she is a famous personality, it was pertinent to notify them for security reasons, said Geet. “However, after facing an attack in the presence of police, the purpose of intimation seems pointless,” she adds.
FIRs, police enquiry
Further, informing the police doesn’t mean that students are asking for permission, the students say. “Whenever we organise a protest, we submit an application at the Maurice police station a day prior to the said protest mentioning the time, the expected number of people who’d be present at the protest and the topic of the event. However, this doesn’t mean we need permission to hold a protest from the police,” said Alam, a DU student.
The authorities, too, took a rigid stance against the BSCEM members and others who were part of the March 8 event. According to Geet, the authorities had warned Rajveer that they would file an FIR against her if the protest continued. “Other organisations were also present there, yet they only targeted me, the letter issued by the police was also addressed to me,” said Rajveer.
Students ask that if the event was organised by a group of students, why would they file an FIR only against Rajveer?
“It is our right to protest and we will claim it, if you [police] want to file an FIR, go ahead, we are doing our duty and we will continue doing it,” said Geet.
“The names of the organisers were then noted including the name of the president of BSCEM Ravinder Singh,” said Sangeeta.
However, no action has been taken against the organisers up until now.
Sense of fear
The demonstrators thereafter proceeded with their scheduled event at gate number four, within a barricaded premise provided by the police. “They let us protest within a lot of barricades, a cage was created and we were asked to protest from within it,” said Alam.
He spoke about the norm of deploying police force in huge numbers and a sense of fear among students as a result. “If the protest is scheduled for noon, police will reach the venue early in the morning, and the venue then almost looks like a cantonment,” said Alam. “Students, who aren’t part of any political outfit, will probably not take part if they create such an environment.”
The members further alleged that the police not only asked for the total number of those organising the joint protest but also of those who had joined the protest.
“The police kept intervening throughout the programme – they were asking for the names of the demonstrators and were noting them down, they also asked us to give attendance, which we questioned. Why do we need to give attendance for holding a protest? And if you want to file a complaint, file it against us – the organisers,” said Rajveer. Hence, they provided only the names of the organisers.
More so, Geet said that the police already had the names of those organising the event, and therefore it didn’t make sense to ask for their names yet again. “This is their way to inculcate fear among the students, so that they be wary of taking part in such events in the future,” said Geet.
Featured image credit: Students protesting against the March 8 attack/Photo: Swati Thapa