“They have entered the library, they are beating everyone. I am scared,” a student said over the phone. I had to put the phone on speaker because his voice wasn’t clear.
I quickly walked to the other room, so that my parents wouldn’t hear him crying. On the phone, I could hear tear gas shells bursting and screaming students. A moment later, someone shared a video clip of the library in shambles. Desks were broken, chairs were upturned and students were hiding under a table.
Ansari Auditorium, Julena, CC, Gate No. 8, Central Library – names all too familiar to me were flashing on the news. My college, Jamia Millia Islamia, was burning. My college which taught me to always stand up for myself, the art of dissent and the ability to question everything, was burning. My friends in the area were scared, running to save themselves. My juniors were being beaten up.
And I couldn’t do anything.
It was around 8 pm, and all I wanted to do was to dash to my college and see what was happening. But I wasn’t allowed.
“You don’t have to go there. Everything is fine,” my father said. “Distract yourself. Go to your room.”
I felt helpless. I couldn’t even call my friends because my parents were around. Meanwhile, more videos and details started pouring in. A video of three female students confronting the Delhi police was shared on Twitter.
“They have switched off the lights in the girls’ hostel. We have been locked inside. How can we escape? We are not criminals,” one student tweeted.
A first-year student from Aligarh Muslim University was constantly calling me. It was 9:30 pm. I couldn’t pick up his call. How could I?
My parents were glued to television, watching visuals of the burning bus outside the college. On one channel, our prime minister was shown addressing an election rally in Jharkhand. “Congress and its allies are stoking fire over the Citizenship Amendment Act, but people of the Northeast have rejected violence,” he said.
My parents were watching the speech on full volume.
Each and every word stung.
Next, I heard about an emergency protest at ITO, which is very close to my home. “Can I go? Please! Paas me hai,” I pleaded.
As expected, I got a blunt ‘No’. They said that they would turn off the router and take my phone if I didn’t go to sleep that very moment.
I shut the door of my room and started texting friends who live near the university. “We can hear the sounds of the tear gas guns and we are scared,” said my best friend, who lives in a PG hostel near the main campus.
What could I say? What could I do?
That student from Aligarh Muslim University was still calling. Perhaps he wanted to share something important or wanted some help. But I couldn’t pick up his call yet, and instead wrapped myself in a blanket.
“Your views are biased and you have been brainwashed, beta. You are reading one-sided stories. Why are you so sympathetic towards Muslims?” my father had asked me just two days ago, while scrolling through his Facebook feed and WhatsApp messages.
I remember how he sent me a YouTube video where a middle-aged man tried to explain how liberals spread lies. “Ye afwaah faila rahe hain,” the man in the video said.
Immediately after, I showed my father Amit Shah’s video from parliament where he repeatedly said that the National Register of Citizens would be implemented across the country. I showed him pictures of detention centres in Assam. I told him how BJP has been constantly targeting Muslim communities with their policies. I asked him if it was right to hit students reading in a college library.
“Modiji will make all the arrangements. You don’t have to worry. And if students will create ruckus in a university space, they will get beaten up. They should be,” he said.
“What if I had been in the library?”
This is ‘New India’ where dissent of any kind is unacceptable. This is ‘New India’ where your own views on any policy don’t matter unless they align with what the majority believes. Otherwise, the internet will be shut down – either in an entire state or at your home.
This is ‘New India’, where ardent followers of the prime minister and his party, like my parents, have started mirroring his acts. It’s now an India where it is a-okay to beat up college students.
And if your child wants to go out and protest, you shut them down.
Why has this normalised hatred seeped into our living rooms? Why have we become so ignorant and in denial?
It is suffocating. This is not the India I grew up in. This is not what democracy looks like. This is not what I was taught in school.
I curled up in my bed, watching more horrifying videos emerge from my campus as these thoughts buzzed in my head. I heard the siren of a police van going past my room’s window.
I checked my phone again.
The AMU student had stopped calling.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty