On 21 February, the English Department at Ramjas College, at Delhi University, and Wordcraft—the college’s literature society—held a seminar titled “Cultures of Protest: A Seminar Exploring Representations of Dissent.” On the day of the event, however, the college became the site for violent altercations involving students from the Delhi University Students Union (DUSU), Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP)—the student political organisation affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—faculty members and students of Ramjas, and the event’s attendees.
About halfway through the first session, a group of protestors, comprising several members of the ABVP, began a demonstration outside the venue, and allegedly pelted stones at those present at the event. The ABVP members and supporters objected to the seminar on the grounds that itsline-up of speakers included the Jawaharlal Nehru University students Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid. Khalid and Rashid are both associated with events that transpired in JNU, in February 2016—Khalid was arrested, and along with others, accused of sedition. Rashid, the former vice president of the JNU students’ union, became a vocal proponent of the demand for the students’ release.Following the opposition to the event, the organisers met with Rajendra Prasad, the principal of Ramjas. They then decided to withdraw the invitations to Khalid and Rashid.
On 22 February this year,students and faculty members from DU marched from Ramjas College to Maurice Nagar police station, to protest against the events of the previous day, as well as the actions of the ABVP members. The protests were met with violent resistance—near the gate of Ramjas college, members of the ABVP as well as their supporters stopped the march. Clashes ensued—protestors later alleged that members of the ABVP and their supporters had launched brutal attacks on them, in plain view of the police.
Over the subsequent days, the police received several complaints regarding the incident, from the members of the ABVP and the All India Students Association (AISA)—the student wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)—as well as students or faculty members of Ramjas. Among the complaints filed after the incident was one by VivekGarg, an advocate, who reportedly alleged that members of Left student parties such as AISA had raised “anti-national slogans” at Ramjas. Garg submitted footage of the incidents to the police.
On 3 August, more than five months after the incident, the crime branch of the Delhi Police submitted an Action Taken Report (ATR) regarding the incidents, to a magistrate at the Tis Hazari courts in Delhi. The nine-page report, which was framed as a response to Garg’s complaint, was signed by the joint commissioner of police for crime, Praveer Ranjan. No chargesheet has been filed in the case so far.
The ATR noted that the “veracity and authenticity” of the video footage provided by Gargis “not clear as of now” and that it“apparently looks doctored.” It also notes that there is “no authentic source of the media content” and that the footage appears to have been made from “anecdotal events such as previous speeches of Umar Khalid.” The report further added that requests have been made tostudents and general public to give statements and provide footage or videos of the incident, and to the college for CCTV footage, in order to “correctly identify the unknown accused persons.” The police informed the court that they were looking into a total of 45 complaints—eight by ABVP supporters and 37 by AISA supporters. This was an “enormous task,” the ATR said, “which surely requires a considerable amount of time.” It confusingly stated that the inquiry has “reached its threshold” but that the report was in its “final stage.”
More pressingly, however, in a section titled the “comprehensive narration of events,” the report states that at about 1.30 pm on 21 February, attendees of the event came out of the venue “under the leadership of” five faculty members of Ramjas—the professors Mukul Manglik, Vinita Chandra, Debraj Mookherjee, NA Jacob and Benu Lal. The report states that the group
started raising slogans like, “Hum kya mange azadi” “Kashmir Mange Azadi,” “Bastar Mange Azadi” “ye pyaari pyaari azadi” “ye sundar wali azadi” “Police tum Bahar Jao,” “Humara Umar wapas karo” directed against ABVP, College authorities and Police.
(“What do we want? Freedom!” “Kashmir demands freedom” “Bastar demands freedom” “This lovely freedom” “This beautiful freedom” “Police get out” “Give us our Umar”)
The ATR also said that another group, led by Yogit Rathi—the president of the Ramjas students’ union, who is also a member of the ABVP—and comprising “his supporters,” as well as DUSU office-bearers Ankit Tanwar, Priyanka Chhabri and Ankit Sangwan, “started contradicting the first group” by shouting slogans against them.
When I spoke to Manglik and Chandra, both said that they were surprised to find themselves named in the report. Manglik said that since the report noted that the investigation was still underway, he was “struck” and “worried” by the mention of the five names. “The ATR states unequivocally that the police are still trying to marshall substantive evidence towards this end, especially since the video evidence provided by one of the complainants appears to be doctored,” he said. “It is highly irresponsible of the crime branch of the Delhi Police to not have exercised due care in presenting the ‘comprehensive sequence of events.’”
According to Chandra, though the report mentioned that the police are taking into consideration 45 complaints, it appears to have a tone that has been shaped by a “skewed narrative.” She said that the characterisation of the violence as clashes between two groups was incorrect. “There was very clearly one aggressor group and I hope that the investigation team is able to see that, given that they are claiming to be scrutinising all complaints that they have received,” she said.
Chandra added the description of the faculty-led protest was inaccurate as well. “The fact that we cancelled both the talks giving into the intimidation and aggression of the protestors is what made a group of 60–70 people carry out a protest march within the campus,” she said. The slogans this group chanted on 21 February did not demand freedom for Kashmir or Bastar, she said, but from the ABVP’s influence on the seminars allowed on campus. “The slogans were more to the effect of ‘Gundagiri se azadi,’ ‘Dadagiri se azadi’ and ‘Har manmani se azadi’”—freedom from thuggery, from bullying and from wilfulness, Chandra said. Manglik added: “As students and teachers, we are supposed to have seminars, debates and engage in dialogues, but we were being stopped from doing what we as members of a college are supposed to do.” Both professors said that the aim of the chants was to protest the circumstances under which the event was cancelled, and that the police did not appear willing to offer protection to them and the invited speakers.
Chandra added that when the organisers first heard that Rathi and the group of ABVP supportershad raised objections to Khalid’s presence, they contacted Rathi. He assured the principal and the group of teachers that “koi thod-fod nahi hoga”—nothing will be damaged, she continued. Chandra added that the organisers suggested that the group present their counter arguments at the seminar, but Rathi showed no interest in doing so.“This fact has even been mentioned in the statement that I gave to the crime branch, but there is no mention of that in the current report at all.” She continued: “There were posters about the seminar with all the speaker names on campus two days before the event,” she said. “Why did Yogit Rathi and the DUSU office bearers not take any objection till the day of the event?”
Rathi denied Chandra’s assertions. “They never asked the principal for permission to invite either Khalid or Rashid,” he said. According to him, the posters were put up only the night before the seminar was scheduled to take place. “We protested to make sure that those two were not allowed in DU.” I asked him why he led a group of protesters even after the organisers agreed to exclude Khalid and Rashid. He maintained that the protest was a response to that of the teachers. “It was the teachers who organised the protest to Maurice Nagar thana [on 22 February] after they agreed to cancel the two talks, of course we would retaliate to that,” he said. “They chanted slogans about Kashmir’s azadi deliberately to provoke us, so we also began our sloganeering.”
When I asked about the ATR, he said that he had not read it. I told him that the crime branch said that Garg’s submission appeared to be doctored. “The report says that it appears to be doctored and not that it is doctored,” he said. “The person from whose phone the video was made either lost it or the phone broke—I do not know—but it is definitely not doctored. I witnessed the sloganeering in person.”
I sent queries regarding the report and its contents, as well as the professors’ contentions, to Ranjan, the joint commissioner who signed the report. I did not receive a response, and my calls to him went unanswered.
According to Manglik, the ABVP was trying to make an example out of the event. “The event had all the necessary permission it needed, we did not need police permission,” he said. Chandra said that “the worst part about the incident and the way that it was subsequently reported is the fact that the common Ramjas student gets labelled as being a Left-party affiliate and is made to seem like an aggressor when in fact they were victims of unwarranted violence.” “Many of us are truly worried for the future of the life of minds and imaginations at Delhi University, as also for the physical safety of students, teachers and non-teaching staff,” Manglik added. This is why, he said, “it is particularly important that the truth of the ‘Ramjas clashes’ on 21 and 22 February comes out through the on-going investigations.”
Kedar Nagarajan is a web reporter at The Caravan.