New Delhi: It has been more than a month since the horrifying events of December 15, but at Jamia Millia Islamia university, that night is still a fresh memory for many students.
On December 15, the Delhi police entered the campus where the students had been protesting for thee days against the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, fired tear gas cannons in confined spaces, including the library, and lathi charged students to disperse the protests. A number of students were grievously injured – one even lost his eyesight in one eye.
The horrors of the night continue to haunt the students. Huda, a student of Mass Communication Research Centre, was in the library that night. She said:
“We were just there in our campus protesting peacefully, registering our dissent. I was planning to go to ‘Rekhta’ (Urdu festival) with my friends. Suddenly, we saw a huge cloud of smoke coming from a bus that was set on fire near by. The incident panicked everyone, all the gates were shut and nobody was allowed to go outside and come inside. I thought we are safe, but everything escalated so quickly.
The worst part was that we were running from the police who are supposed to protect us. The feeling of being hunted down inside a college was terrible. No student should ever made to feel this way. Why should we face such a situation? Are we criminals? It’s trauma for life.
Now, if we come out for protest, I feel anything can happen. We can even get killed. I don’t know what to say. I can describe the whole month in one word, ‘horror’.
Aman, 21, packed his bags and headed home to Kolkata after the incident.
“I saw protesting students getting beaten up and tear gas being lobbed at them. I was near the library when I saw a tear gas canister flying above the walls of Jamia only to land near my foot. The screams of the students still haunt me. I panicked when I saw a police officer walking inside the campus. The anxiety and fear of what happened and what more could have happened never subsides.
I went back my hometown in Kolkata and was travelling in a bus when a police personal banged his stick on the bus. I freaked out. “Bas jaise ruh kaamp jaati hai na (my soul shivered).” I had to leave my friends to stay safe, this guilt will stay with me always.
Another student, Nayla Khwaja, is terrified of what will happen during other protests.
“When I look back, I can’t fathom what we went through that night… it was the longest night of terror… Now I go for the protest and think that anything can happen… We don’t know. The university was our second home.
Junaid, a student of development communication, said that he could have never imagined being attacked inside a university.
I keep thinking about how I’d escape if an attack happens again in the university. It’s been a month and I still have anxiety. I can never forget the fear and trauma I saw on my friends’ faces.
Students call December 15 a “barsi” (death-day). December 15, they say, will be remembered as the day when students faced a lockdown inside their own university. The resolution by and large on campus is to “neither forgive, nor forget”.
Even as protests against the CAA, National Register of Citizens and National Population Register continue in the university, many students are still traumatised – so much so, that even the sounds of firecrackers put many on edge.
Prabhat Tiwari, another student, said that on January 21 at 1 am, some students mistook the sound of firecrackers at a nearby wedding to be teargas.
I was sleeping in my room when my flatmate banged on my door, saying, “Pehle slogans ki awaaz aa rahi thi phir aisa laga tear gas shell daage gaye (first I heard slogans now I think tear gas shells are being thrown).” Even I heard the noise and immediately texted on my class WhatsApp group to check. Everyone spoke about hearing the same.
Later, one of my friends confirmed that there was a wedding near by and what we heard was nothing but firecrackers. But the memory of that night came rushing back and I couldn’t sleep anymore.
For 22-year-old Naila, the “brutality is unforgiveable”. The night of December 15, she says, will be written in the history of this movement.
“It’s been a month of the horrible evening in the history of Jamia. We the students who were present there will never be able to overcome the terror and trauma of December 15, 2019 inside our happy and safest campus of Jamia.”
Hammad, 23, was at gate no. 7 of the main campus on December 15, escorting fellow students out of the campus. While he was at it, he says a policeman started beating him, saying, “Maaro mulle ko, apne behno ko bacha raha hai (Beat this Muslim man. He is saving his sisters).”
Since the night, anxiety has wracked him.
The police beat me, I had no strength to even walk. I called my friend and asked him to inform my parents if he didn’t hear from in an hour. I thought we were going to get killed. Since that night, I have been suffering from insomnia.”
On the same day, students of Aligarh Muslim University faced similar brutality at the hands of Uttar Pradesh police. Hammad had studied previously at AMU for his graduation. “It felt like both my homes were on fire,” he says.
“Looking at this whole month now, we are at a stage where we have to be ready for anything and everything. Now this fight has become about our rights.”
Aafreen Khan is a postgraduate student in Convergent Journalism, at AJK Mass Communication Research Center, Jamia Millia Islamia.
Featured image credit: Reuters