Bhag Modi Bhag: Three eyewitness accounts from a protest in Delhi University
Guest posts by CHANDAN GOMES, AKHIL KUMAR and an ANONYMOUS student; photographs by CHANDAN GOMES, SHAFAQ KHAN and MUKUL DUBE
No Space for Dissent
by CHANDAN GOMES
On 6th January, 2013 the usually quaint Delhi University transformed into a battle ground of ideologies. The road leading to Sri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) where Narendra Modi was invited to speak at the Sri Ram Memorial Oration stands witness to all that went wrong day before yesterday.
The heavily fortified road was quiet until 3 pm, when a group of students marched through the faculty of Arts towards the gate opening right across SRCC. They were intercepted by a Delhi Police Unit close to the gate where every effort was made to contain them. In the brief tussle that followed, the DP Unit was overpowered and the protesters spilled onto the road raising slogans against the ‘Hriday Samrat’. Three rows of barricades were placed on either sides and in the middle stood a large number of Delhi Police personals armed with lathis and tear gas shells. By 3:30 the crowds had swelled and one knew that these young men and women will not go down without a fight.
Barricades were rattled and black flags were waved. It was heartening to see so many women at the forefront of the protest. But it was equally disheartening to see them being subjected to sexist remarks by members of the very police force that claims to protect them. I noticed so many police men smirking, cracking indecent jokes and passing lewd comments in murmurs and whispers. And soon they were joined by ABVP/BJP activists who left no stones unturned to intimidate and humiliate those who were protesting.
While Modi supporters merrily loitered in the area where the police forces were stationed, those protesting against him were being subjected to water cannons and lathi charges. Many protestors were detained by the Police, some of whom were dragged over the barricades and shoved into a police van that was surrounded by Modi loyalists who attacked these unarmed, injured men. A young lady was also detained who too bore the wrath of their hatred – she was abused, mocked and subjected to a barrage of obscene comments. And all this was happening right in front of the press who chose to ignore this facet in their coverage of the event.
Yes the protestors were fiery and yes their body language was aggressive, but they did not resort to violence. Most of them were trying to push the barricades to move a little closer to the SRCC main gate. It is sad and shameful that there is no space for dissent for these young men and women in the very University that they belong to.
But there is a silver lining to the darkest of clouds – as these young men and women bore the brunt of mindless police action, they did not forget to help each other. They gave shoulder to those who were injured, they formed human chains. They shared stories and memories. For they knew they were bound to each other by compassion and empathy. Unfortunately our friends with lathis and guns are oblivious to this emotion. And I feel sorry for them.
The same holds true for the Modi loyalists, who touched a new low yesterday. Unfortunately for them, yesterday was also the day when the young men and women of this city touched a new high.
What Went Down at the Anti-Modi Protest at Delhi University
by AKHIL KUMAR
[An excerpt from Akhil Kumar's eyewitness account as published in Youth ki Awaaz.]
…The police did not even bother to conceal their support and tolerance for the hooligans of ABVP who even climbed on the water cannon and openly indulged in sexual harassment and violence. They passed lewd comments and made vulgar gestures standing right next to the policemen, I would have clicked pictures had my phone not been rendered useless by the water cannon. I was shocked to see that many teachers from Delhi University also openly threatening the protesters, abusing us with the most horrific expletives while their students brandished pointed sticks saying “khoon kar dunga”! We felt helpless and outraged at the police working hand in glove with the goons. When we broke through the first barricade, the police started bashing us ruthlessly with their lathis in full swing and they enjoyed every moment of it. They laughed, mocked us, hurled vulgar abuses and passed derogatory comments while hitting us. It was clear that they had no intention to disperse or control the crowd, they chased us down and dragged some of our protesters to their side of the barricade and left them at the mercy of the ABVP goons. A few girls fell down in the rush and the police trampled them, one of them was unconscious when we rushed to help and had to be taken to the hospital. The ABVP students openly threatened girls with comments like “Jo Gujrat me hua tha wahi tumhare sath bhi karenge”…
…The police trained their water cannon at us and I cannot forget the smirk on the face of the person who was operating it just before he started aiming at the defenseless protesters. I was caught in the jet and fell face down as it hit me straight on my legs, struggling to get up from the mud. I lost all faith in non-violent protests that very moment. I was hurt, shocked and infuriated; not that this was my first encounter with water cannons but because of the smile on the policemen’s faces as they enjoyed the brutality. When I again went to the barricade, I was beaten up and hit where it hurts the most; the excruciating pain in the knuckles and ankles stand testimony to that. Some of the policemen passed snide remarks and laughed at us all the while…
The Anatomy of a Protest
by an ANONYMOUS Delhi University student
To say that Narendra Modi is a very divisive figure would be an understatement. A dear friend, who is an SRCC Alumnus, suddenly informed me a couple of days back on 2nd February that Mister Modi has been invited to visit her college to speak at the annual Shriram Memorial Lecture and the annual business conclave. She wanted to know what I thought of it when it was her own anguish that Icould sense in her words at not being able to do anything about this visit. I could not say anything; perhaps my silence conveyed enough of my sadness and helplessness at this. Then today in the morning of 6th February, the day of the visit, I was informed by another friend who is associated with AISA, they are going to register their protest against this visit which was going to take place today at 3 pm, asking me to come and be a part of it. The visit was something that I had conveniently put to the back of my mind, thinking maybe it would go away and was rudely reminded that reality does not afford you such luxury. So I went to attend the Protest and here is a brief account.
I made my way to the front of SRCC gate and found that there were some media personnel, with their paraphernalia of cameras and other stuff and some other sundry people loitering around and a huge presence of Delhi Police personnel. I was wondering whether how many of these were there to protest this visit. Overhearing some of the conversations, it was clear that some were clearly fanboys of the coming visitor but some were curious to see the visitor and it is here i overhear for thwarting a shoe hurling incident, everyone’s been asked to take off their shoes before going into the auditorium at srcc. Alas, had no means to cross-check it. I am considering whether it would have been more prudent to protest inside SRCC. Some people who appear to be from Bihar by their accents are speaking how it is necessary to make Modi the Prime Minister to save the country from being destroyed by the Congress.
Delhi Police gets into action and in a jiffy puts up layers of barricades which were already there and fastens up the barricades with a heavy rope on both sides to the university walls. It traps everyone who were till a moment ago thinking they had a good vantage point and are asked to vacate the area quickly, even those who were trying to go home. People are forced to climb over the walls of Arts Faculty and jump to safety on the other side
Suddenly a group of people under AISA’s banner arrives on the scene, shouting slogans to the effect that Modi should go back and are met by the first barricade. The media persons present get into action trying to cover this but it is clear these are the small units, who have been denied entry inside the hallowed portals to cover the visit. The protestors group gets ranged against the barricade and the might of Delhi Police on the other side. This group is joined by more people soon of other leftist groups and slogan shouting, waving of black flags and placards, ensues.
The restive group starts to push forward, wanting to go ahead, in this melee a female protester tries to get through the gap in the barricade and is manhandled and brutally pushed back by all male contingent of Delhi Police. The Police want to shove batons at the protestors and are continuously reminded by the protestors, they cannot do this. A quick aside, yes all the police personnel on duty were male and no female constable could be sighted till the end of the protest. The female protestor finally manages to push through and is immediately caught hold off by her hair and hauled off for her temerity to do such a thing. I am worried and fearful of her safety.
This had a ripple effect and suddenly the crowd starts pushing at the barricade but is pushed back by the police by shoving their lathis and manhandling protesters. The barricade which seemed secure, beyond breaching is suddenly getting tilted towards the police. Sensing that they might not be able to hold on for long and it could cause some injury to them, i see a policeman untying and letting go of the rope tying the barricades. The police bandobust decides it wise to move back behind the second barricade. The slogan shouters move forward while very efficiently sidelining the fallen barricades for their fellow protestors. When all this protest started, a female got injured and fainted, had to be carried to the sidelines and it was a while before she was normal.
Some more protestors join in, the slogan shouting reaches fever pitch. I spot a middle-aged gentleman wearing a devils mask and the famous Modi mukhauta pasted on his chest signifying his real character. His is quite a novelty. Somebody passes me a placard, which says killer Modi Go Back. It is my own for displaying till its end comes when it gets wet and wasted. The right flank of the protesters has females majorly, shouting slogans, holding onto the barricades. These female protestors i learn later took some of the worst abuse from the police and the pro-modi supporters group. People want to cross-over the barricades but cannot do much, except shout slogans to condemn Modi. The Police is saturated around the barricade, so much so that not an inch of light can pass between them it appears and is eyeballing the protesters. Some are abusing, some are asking the protestors to be in limits, some are telling them to go home but all this unsolicited advice has no effect.
Suddenly a motley group of middle aged people under the banner of some organisation called NDTF arrives on the sight of the protest shouting pro-modi slogans. The protesters realise it is a well designed ploy to distract and divert attention, when the pro-modi protestors were allowed to assemble on the other side of the barricade from where his cavalcade was to come and not on this side. Suddenly a group breaks up and forms a wall of protestors to stop this group from going ahead and a slogan shouting war to out-shout the other ensues. Suddenly this group of NDTF, sees a kashmiri in the midst of the other camp and then the slogans progressively degenerate into ” babar ki auladon wapas jao”, ” Muslims are Terrorists” and much worse and targeted at that kashmiri protestor. Another surprise for me was to spot this group of IAS aspirants who are in delhi to prepare for this exam, who i knew from before and are not part of the university to suddenly emerge and join pro-modi slogan shouting with the NDTF group. There was a Sardarji distributing a pamphlet addressed to the Khalsa College Principal. There was placard asking for justice for Soni Sori too. There were placards asking why there were fixed salaries in academia.
An anti-riot vehicle comes and stops at the sidelines and then a fire-brigade vehicle fitted with cannon for firing water comes and stops in front of the barricade. It appears inevitable that a drenching was in the works for those who were protesting. So as sudden as was the presence of the water cannon in the midst, so did it let loose a volley of water on anyone who chose to stay in its way or dared to protest. All this happening without provocation from the crowd. The checking of the water nozzle and then getting it ready to fire, seemed like something happening in ultra slow motion in a film, while in reality it was pretty swift. And so we had been all soaked in water for daring to protest.
The protestors now started getting restive. They had been non-provocative but the police had replied with water cannon to get them to shut-up. Suddenly the cavalcade of Modi was visible and a crowd of ABVP supporters running after it. They obviously had a free run for they were supporting him. If this farce of allowing a protest was not enough, the NDTF got reinforcement in the form of SaveIndia.Org. They soon descended upon the scene with fancy placards and posters made out of flex, seemed like they were well prepared for this. This group then tried to make its way to the front of the barricade, continuously pushing and shoving. When they could not, they climbed up the walls which were forbidden for others to climb and made their way to the front from the right flank, manhandling and abusing the female protestors who were already present there.
The protestors now did not want to wait behind the barricades. They had been patient but it had been tested by the uncalled for water cannoning the first time. Suddenly a group of ABVP protestors appears on the side of the police, unfurling a big poster of their poster boy and egging on the protestors to cross the barricade. These people appear to be special invitees to the protest by the police. No one is stopping them and they are going on, trying to provoke the protestors. Then a pro-modi supporter climbs upon the water cannon, unfurls a poster of mister modi and gives the finger to the protestors behind the barricade before he is asked to come down.
Some people start pushing at the barricade and want to bring it down but the police will have none of it. All the policemen are holding on to the barricade as if their life depends on it. There is a tug of war happening. The protestors are pulling at the rope holding on to the barricade, hoping to bring it down. Then all of a sudden somebody from their ranks decides it is enough and charges in from the left flank with a baton in his hand. I spot somebody i have known from college in the front and it seems he is hurt, his very pained expression saying it all. This rampaging policeman is surrounded by protestors and sensing danger he stops, he is divested of his baton and is sent back across the barricade to be with his tribe and the baton safely put beneath a car before it can cause more damage.
The water canon returns. The police have had it with these impudent protestors, who do not appear to have learnt their lesson. They spray and spray and some people again are running to save themselves, while some are facing it on. Now the anti-modi protestors all occupy the front line of protestors. The SaveIndia.Org people have mysteriously slinked back. It is back to sloganeering for registering protest. A pro-modi protestor is confused about the man protesting with the devil’s mask, whether he was on his side or on the other. A sardarji is patiently explaining to him, what his protest is all about, to show modi as a real devil behind the mask. The pro-modi protestor appears quite dazed on hearing this.
I bump into my AISA friends, hoarse from all the slogan shouting and drenched completely. We are happy to see each other and relieved that they are un-hurt. I also manage to bump into this person who I knew, having seen him with a pained expression and it turns out to be true, he was hurt with a baton just below the eye. Then spot this female, who is limping without footwear as if she has hurt both her feet. I speak to her and ask her what has happened, which leaves me horrified. She was one of those people who were in the front of the barricade on the right flank and they were constantly beaten on their feet by the shoving of batons by the police and hurled the choicest of abuses and had been joined in by pro-Modi supporters. The police never change’s its stripes. Now a group of people from SIO have also arrived and waving their flag and shouting anti-modi slogans.
Suddenly a contingent of policemen in riot gear has arrived behind the protestors and is standing at a distance. If facing the police from the front was not enough, there are more waiting behind their backs.
People have started leaving now, having registered their protest vociferously and in a dignified manner. The police contingent in riot-gear is closing in now and is standing very close for comfort all of a sudden.
The protest is officially over and all the protestors are hauled and taken in a procession to the Maurice Nagar Police Station. They are surrounded on all sides by the police and the ABVP protestors as they go to the police station shouting slogans.
A total of 18 people have been taken for a Medical Test( a medical test to ascertain if it is a Medico-Legal Case) because they are injured and Seven people were detained for trying to cross the barricade, who are all released in the end.
It was a smooth protest, done peacefully but how much of an impact it will have, I am not sure. Making our voice heard, registering our protest, yes we did. After all that is what democracy is all about, the right to be heard, the right to protest peacefully, without the fear of molestation or of violence by mobs of men ranged against your protesting. As a friend remarked at the protest, even if we could not make it inside the college, we did show that we did not agree and were not complicit in legitimizing Modi’s visit. Finally, I am left with a question in my head, whether Delhi University will ever be saved from its right-wing moorings.