‘We Only Asked Them to Talk to Us Politely – They Were Screaming at the Top of Their Lungs’

Two students of Jyoti Nivas College Autonomous, Bengaluru, talk about the viral video of their confrontation with BJP workers who hung a pro-Citizenship Amendment Act banner on the college wall. They clear up rumours from both sides, and explain why they defended their college, ‘their second home’, from being used for political propaganda.

Names have been changed for their privacy and safety.

Sahana Bhatt: It was about 3:45 pm when we were leaving college, and we noticed there was an “India Supports CAA” banner on the college wall. Auto drivers, street vendors and pedestrians were being asked to sign the banner.

Misha Khan: Then they asked us to sign. I just said sorry, I don’t want to – but one of the political workers came to argue, gave us his political opinion about CAA, and why I should sign.

Sahana: I had seen the banner earlier, after class. I knew it was a political issue, and our college as an institution has never made a comment about this Bill. I asked them to remove it because it was on college property. When I was on my way home I saw that they had still not removed it. So I asked again, politely. That was when they started shouting.

Not on our wall

Sahana: I asked if they had permission from the college in writing. Because it’s a college protocol. Because usually when we go for protests, we require a permit… They shouted that they wouldn’t get one, they would not get a permit for everything.

A crowd started to form, and a few more students joined in to try and diffuse the situation. 

Misha: I had to return to the scene because I saw my friends and teachers there. The BJP workers were screaming at the students. I felt like I had to support them and back what I believed was right. Despite their yelling, the students were being polite.

Sahana was at the front and then I joined her. All we were asking was that they remove the banner. They kept asking us why we don’t want CAA – even though none of the students there had stated any opinion on CAA-NRC.

Sahana: They started calling us ‘uneducated’ and ‘illiterate’ because we didn’t want to have this on our wall. They called us ‘anti-nationals’. The workers started to call the Muslim students ‘Pakistanis’ and asked them to go back.

Misha: We were just waiting for the banner to be taken down and suddenly one of their slogans started: “GO TO PAKISTAN.”

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They said they had also studied in the same college as us? But it’s an all-girls college!

Sahana: They asked us questions about why weren’t saying anything to the street vendors who block the footpath.

Misha: Of course we wouldn’t. The street vendors are not promoting any political propaganda. When it got aggressive, the college authorities came. This was not captured on video. Our Sister of St Josephs of Tarbes came and she also wasn’t treated with respect. The management asked us to move away for our safety. We were asked to go back home and leave the matter to the management.

Sahana: They finally took it down after about an hour and a half because the police showed up.

The viral aftermath

Misha: Afterward… To be honest, we were really scared.

Sahana: When we reached home, we were really disturbed and everything was a blur. We had a really hard time going to sleep, coping with everything.

Misha: Obviously, when we were confronting them, we didn’t see who we were talking to. We just fought for what we thought was right. Only when we came home did we realise what we had just dealt with.

Sahana: That night, the video went viral, and rumours started to go around: That we were forced to sign, or that they tried to threaten us, or they said they would ‘slaughter’ us, or do the same thing as Jamia and JNU… They didn’t say any of that.

Misha: We worried how it might affect our college and students. So we want to clarify that those rumours are not true.

We were also overwhelmed by support from all across Bangalore. It was a potpourri of emotions: We felt proud yet at the same time, there was this sense of constant fear. 

Controlling the narrative

Misha: The next day was also scary because it was all over the news and social media. That’s when we saw the interviews with the BJP workers and what they had to say. We want to talk about that.

Sahana: In an interview with TV9, one BJP worker named Mohan Kumar, who was there, said he’d asked us not to use “unparliamentary words”.

Misha: He says that “five or six girls, used the four-letter word which starts with F”. There were no such words used. Actually, on the video, you just hear them call us ‘uneducated’, ‘illiterate’ and say we are not ‘Indian’ or are only concerned about ourselves.

Sahana: Our teachers were there. There’s no way we would use such language in front of them!

Misha: In the same TV interview, he says that management should have stepped in. But management did come and they were also disrespected.

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Sahana: Then they said they spoke to the management extremely nicely and the management understood. Nothing like that happened.

Misha: In the video, you can see a teacher trying to reason with them, but the guy on the left keeps screaming and ignoring them.

Sahana: Teachers were talked down to in the same way as the students.

Misha: They portrayed themselves as victims. In the interview, he seems like a gentle, tolerant man. He says, “That girl in the helmet started blasting and came and said to us, ‘Why the hell you are putting up this board?”

We never said that. We asked them each and every time to talk to us politely while they were screaming at the top of their lungs.

The guy on the left said, ‘Do you want an argument or a debate’, and we said, ‘There is no debate.’ We just don’t want a banner on our college property when our college has never claimed it supports or opposes the Bill.

Sahana: In the same interview, he talks about how the college belongs to them and how it is public property. But our college is a private, autonomous institution. It does not belong to the public. They have no right or authority to put up their banners.

He says they needed a space and couldn’t disturb commercial establishments. But he seemed very willing and eager to disturb the students of a private institution.

In another interview, the deputy chief minister said that students do not have the right to question political workers. He said we should have just approached the police instead.

But the police, when they arrived, were taking videos of the situation instead of asking the men to take down the posters.

Misha: After everything was under control, we saw the BJP workers and police drinking tea together. There’s a video of that. So how do we go to the police when they seem to be friends?

In the interview, the men said that there was no “sloganeering”. They completely negated how they said “go to Pakistan”, and the tone they took with us and with faculty. It was downright disrespectful.

Sahana: None of the students there were speaking against their campaign. We were against their banner on our college wall. They asked us for other arguments or other reasons apart from this, but we stuck to this. We defended our institution.