The JNU Row : An eyewitness Account

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Pix credit : AFP
Pix credit : AFP

Former members of the Democratic Students Union (DSU) organised a cultural evening titled ‘A Country without a Post Office’ on 9 February 2016 to discuss the self determination of Kashmir and the verdict on Afzal Guru who was sentenced to death for his involvement in the Parliament Attack.

Zee News channel which arrived on the spot at 4: 30 pm much before the programme had begun, started filming the students arriving. At 4.45 pm, 15 minutes before the cultural evening commenced at Sabarmati dhaba, the organisers were informed by the university authorities that their permission to conduct the programme was withdrawn because of a complaint filed by the JNUSU office bearer Saurabh Kumar, who is an ABVP member.

Seeing the administration work in collusion with the ABVP, a large section of students including activists from organisations such as AISA, SFI, DSF, AISF and BAPSA came in support of the organisers so that they could conduct their meeting. This was done with the aim of respecting the right of the organisers to conduct a meeting on campus and to condemn ABVP’s hooliganism.

Finally, the meeting started at 5.30 pm instead of 5 pm, and people began reading poems. Students stood with posters as each participant sang songs and recited poetry. Poems of Faiz and Agha Shahid Ali’s poem ‘A country without a post office’, was read throughout the evening.
As the programmes continued, slogan shouting was happening parallelly. The Kashmiri students chanted slogans for  Azaadi — tum kitne Afzal maroge, ghar ghar se Afzal niklega  (How many Afzals would you kill? From every home, an Afzal would come), Afzal hum sharminda hei, tere khatil zinda hei (Afzal, we are ashamed, your murderers are alive).
The ABVP activists retaliated by shouting  Doodh mangoge kheer denge, Kashmir mangoge cheer denge  (Ask for milk, we will give you dessert, if you ask for Kashmir, we will tear you) and  Jo Afzal ki baath karega, wo Afzal ki mauth marega  (Whosoever talks of Afzal, will die a death like him).
In between, the Kashmiri students chanted slogans such as   Bharat ke barbadi tak jang rahegi  to which the organisers objected. The organisers Umar Khalid, Banjyotsna Lahiri and Aswathi intervened twice to stop the students from chanting such slogans.

I was witness to one such intervention from the organisers when they asked a section of protesters to stop raising such slogans . Both sides continued sloganeering till the end of the cultural evening. The programme ended at 7 pm with the students lighting newspapers to make <mashaals> and reciting poems of Faiz.

Once this was over, the organisers along with the students and activists decided to conduct a march till Ganga dhaba. The ABVP activists started marching alongside, went ahead and formed a barricade, threatening that the students would be met with dire consequences. At the intersection, a scuffle between the ABVP activists and students occurred in which one AISF activist, screamed that she had been groped by an ABVP activist.

It is here that Kanhaiya Kumar, the JNUSU president, intervened and got into a heated argument with the ABVP activists. He wasn’t present at the programme while it was happening. He joined it only much later when the scuffle happened.

It was then that the activists along with several women pushed the men away. The Zee news video showing the women activists pushing the men away is part of the scuffle. The march then continued and ended at the Ganga dhaba. By then, police had gathered at the spot and the ABVP was asking the police to arrest the students. Here, Kanhaiya delivered a speech condemning ABVP’s hooliganism reiterating that the holding of a cultural evening in public falls within the rights obligated by the Constitution. As people were dispersing, Left activists and ABVP activists were seen heckling each other.

(As told to Deepti Sreeram)

(Talha Chowdhry is a doctoral student at the School of Arts and Aesthetics in JNU)

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