Notes from a winter of resistance

Illustration: Maktoob

“In these times, even the existence of a Muslim minority central university is a resistance.” My friend used to say when I joined Jamia. Though I understood it then, I only experienced its depth when Jamia was attacked and with the subsequent vandalising of the protest site.

Twice was Jamia attacked by police, The thirteenth attack did have tear gases and lathis. Many casualties reported, but what granted the fifteenth more attention was when the university itself was attacked. Being a Sunday and semester exam happening, the university closed and reading rooms engaged. The attack on the library and reading rooms got widespread attention. long hours of firing and photos of students parading out with their hands raised reached out to the conscience of many.

Tear gases made students highly anxious and helpless. It was getting dark and yellow sparks of firing were seen from all sides.In the distance we could see police attacking students in the dark and students running here and there. Every minute we could hear the sound of some explosion at different distances. When the police threw tear gas inside the reading room, there was so much  panic. Some of the bulbs went off and glasses were being shattered. Female students stood together and I remember clutching hands together under the tables, with each noise. My eyes burnt till the next morning. Inside the library there were several injured students. Fearing police attack, we had no other way but tie the wounds of the injured students with our shawl pieces and ask them to withstand their pain as we were hiding in the dark corridors of the library. 

“ There are young kids, barely eighteen, only left school, how can they have a peaceful sleep for weeks ”, a co-protester at the midnight protest, demanding the release of the 40 plus detained students in front of the ITO Police headquarter said. Of all the cruelties I witnessed, the most furiating one was ( thankfully, I did not witness the worst ) was the complete apathy of the police towards the injured students. Injured students were only identified and taken to hospital in a police van and not an ambulance ,that too  after giving us instructions of discipline.

I used to wonder why did police barge in like that, smashing anything they come across, why did they poke Minhajudhin’s eyes so mercilessly. Why did they beat pleading students? How could they throw tear gases into reading rooms? Why did they attack mosque praying people?  What was the need of hours long firing? Why did they break lights and cameras? Above all, why were we asked to parade out in disciplined lines with our hands raised. But is it not the same way the police had always functioned. In fact, had we not heard and read more of their brutal sides. What made me wonder was that were we such a massive threat to the Indian state to be attacked in this proportion. But then the way the police shouted on that day were tinged with disgusting Muslim hatred and intolerance.

The attack politicised many students, and solidarity was given from across the campuses of  India. But were it not for the people of Jamia Nagar, this movement would never have happened. More than our door to door campaigns, a single brutal attack of the state, enlightened people the need to protest. It was the eleventh year of Batla House Encounter, the people of Jamia Nagar always have lived with state’s discrimination and the Islamophobia around. But years and years of the state’s strategic negligence and the suffering out of it had made them complicit, the brutal attack on students inside the university had shaken them up.  

It was Muslim women leading the movement, for many. Though it was never planned to be. It became one, due to various reasons. Majorly because the only largely participated protest, before Jamia was attacked, was the one conducted by female students of various hostels scattered in and out of the university. That is why when Jamia was attacked on December 13 and 15, the protesting pictures that went viral were those of the women’s hostel march of December 12. I remember seeing girls shouting out their throats to ensure that the march they had campaigned, will not be taken over by men. 

Medias subscribed to the idea of women leading the movement easily. Everybody wanted the female students to speak. Though I found it stupid, later I reasoned it as it might be the respective media’s concern over the possibility of male students easily being called an Islamist or terrorist. 

By now many rallies that took place were all women-led. Primarily because that appeals to the public and by now many have understood Jamia protest as a woman leading the protest. The other reason was the myth of women shielders. There was a myth that male police would not beat up women. But in our marches, male police kicked and beat female students in the most humiliating ways. 

Following Anurag Thakur’s call, a midnight firing happened in Jamia, the girls broke their hostel gates and came marching to the protest. Of all the marches that happened in Jamia, this was the most that spirited me. The protesting crowd of men and other students cheered and welcomed them by leaving the stage to those women. But Jamia Coordination Committee never had even the proportionate participation of women. Very few women came and they had to fight really hard to hear them speak. 

Student protests cannot make revolutions unless people take it up. 

The women of Shaheen Bagh took up the protest very organically. They started their sit-in protest with a road blockade, making the protest women leading one in the truest sense.  What prompted them to sit in those biting winters for days, even when medias neglected them long in the initial days, is their pain over the injustice that took place some miles away.  

But there were men mumbling about the unsung heroes of Shaheen Bagh. True, there were men who sat at the outskirts of the protest. Men serving tea and food. Men cleaning daily. But the sacrifices of these women were innumerable. The washrooms available for them in a nearby hospital were mostly engaged. Women stood in lines waiting, to use an unclean washroom which never had enough time to be frequently cleaned. I remember seeing different generations of women waiting to pee. They talked, laughed and complained.

I met a woman who knew some Malayalam words. A hospital staff. We exchanged some broken Malayalam conversations. That day while walking back home, I wondered about my childhood. It was my father who used to introduce me, different languages and different people, it was through him, I had the world view. But this woman of Shaheen Bagh opened up a new possibility.

But there was nothing soulful I could take back after seeing the riot-affected areas of north-east Delhi. Only burning hatred and days old fumes of madness. Most of the houses had no window panes or cemented walls. It was certainly the poor Muslim neighbourhoods.  The Muslims of Jamia Nagar are not only better off than the Muslims of Mustafabad and Shiv vihar. Jamia Nagar is privileged than Aligarh and Northeast Delhi by community protection and media accessibility. After all these losses and endless suffering, the state is now targeting students on the charges of North-east Delhi riot,  and I lose track of the grids of the state’s suppression. 

Afra Abubacker is a student of M.A English in Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi.

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