Anti-CAA protest: report documents chilling testimonies of students

Citizens Against Hate team finds loopholes in NHRC’s probe into violence at Jamia Millia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University

Published - December 21, 2020 12:46 am IST - New Delhi

Students with their hands raised outside JMI.

Students with their hands raised outside JMI.

Students of Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University have recounted chilling testimonies of facing the police as they set out to control protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act on December 15, 2019. Even the female students were not spared. “The male police officers were pressing our feet and hands with their boots,” says a student, quoted in the 124-report compiled by the Citizens Against Hate, a Delhi-based collective of individuals and groups.

Released recently, the report also finds substantive loopholes in the National Human Rights Commission’s investigation of the incidents in the two universities.

Documenting 209 testimonies, the report, titled ‘The Dismantling of Minority Education: Police Violence in Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia’ is based on six months of fieldwork by the CAH team comprising human rights experts, lawyers and researchers.

Excessive force

The report says the police and Rapid Action Force officials made disproportionate use of force against students – tear-gas shells were thrown inside the old reading hall and Zakir Hussain Library of JMI and students’ devices such as laptops were broken. It says women students in JMI were beaten by male police officers on December 15 and police used communal slurs and targeted the Muslim identity of students, particularly Kashmiris. The officials paraded the students with their hands up in the air. In AMU, the report notes, the police, and RAF officials entered the campus on December 15 and fired tear-gas shells, rubber bullets, and stun grenades indiscriminately on protesting students, causing severe injuries. Some shells blew up in the hands of the students while they attempted to throw them away. Three students were critically injured, including one who lost his hand. Room 46 of AMU’s Morrison Court Hostel, the report says, caught fire after the police broke open the gates and threw tear-gas shells inside, asphyxiating three students. In a semi-conscious state, the students were taken to the Bab-e-Syed gate and beaten, claims the report.

Blaming the authorities for the delay in legal and medical aid, it goes on to add that the harassment of students including arrests and criminalisation have continued beyond the events of December 15 when two separate FIRs were filed against 56 individuals and 1,200-1,300 unnamed persons.

The report also takes into account the immediate and long-term psychological impact on students and family members as it has noted instances of panic episodes disrupting sleeping patterns and reducing self-esteem among students.

Taking a critical view of NHRC’s findings in these incidents, the report says the human rights body blamed the violence on students based on “questionable grounds”, providing legitimacy to police action. The report points out that it is a settled principle of law that mere lack of permission doesn’t make a protest unlawful.

The report says the NHRC didn’t take into account circumstantial evidence — fire in the room, empty tear-gas shells, the gatekeeper becoming unconscious — before concluding that due to non-availability of material evidence such as CCTV footage of the attack on the hostel and specific spaces, the allegations are neither proved nor disproved.

Probe recommended

The CAH has recommended immediate constitution of a commission of inquiry chaired by a retired judge of the Supreme Court to conduct a judicial inquiry into the incident and ensure accountability of the police as well as reparative action.

Recommending ratification of the Convention against Torture, to which India is a signatory since 1998, it has asked the Central government to formulate proper guidelines for police and other forces regarding the conduct of police in dealing with protesting students inside educational institutions.

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