Do you remember?

“Why did Delhi police enter JMI campus without being provoked? The answer comes to me easily, it was planned. It was a planned attack to show Muslims their place.” Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

Its one year today. One year to the state sponsored attack on two Central Universities that are widely associated to Indian Muslims, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI). One whole year of forcing myself into remembering that fateful day and night. The violence and the struggle.

It was today, that uniformed policemen entered AMU and JMI, brutally beating student who came their way, firing expired tear gas and assault rifles, damaging whatever they saw, from vehicles to library table to CCTV cameras.

And, it was today that Shaheen Bagh started to be known by many. Well, for many it was only after 10-15 days, when the media covered the protest, but the people from Shaheen Bagh along with Sharjeel Imam, Asif Mujtaba and many students sat blocking a National Highway. These people (read Muslims) were enraged and rightly so, for the violence that was being unleashed on protesting students at JMI.

Often, many details are missed, like how we forget 13th December 2019, when a call for long march to the Parliament was given by students of JMI. How the police not just stopped them from asserting their democratic right to protest and question the regime but also shelled tear gas, pelted stones, lathi charged, and detained students.

I’m a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), known for being a campus of resistance. Around the same time JNU students had been protesting fee hike, their had been more than one call for a long march. we were also stopped by police, detained, heckled, and lathi charged, many student braved injuries. At the same time, its rather very important to point out that the aggression of police towards a JNU student was way less than it was with JMI Students.

We forget that even before 13th, on 10th more than twenty thousand students of AMU boycotted their mess food, distributed it to poor, and sat on a hunger strike, hoping that the bill might not be passed in the house of parliament, registering their strong opposition and reservations against the Citizenship Amendment Bill. The bill was passed nevertheless. They regularly protested since, inviting people from outside of Aligarh, to keep the resistance alive.

Coming back to today, what happened a year ago is etched in my memory, so much so, that at times I’ve to force myself to not remember. To maybe forget the feeling of fear and anxiousness mixed with helpless furiousness. It was clear, right in front of my eyes, that I as a JNU student am far more privileged, because JNU does not have any Muslim symbols attached to its name. The name is enough for the Law Enforcement Agencies to change its way for tackling a protest.

I was standing near the central canteen with my dear friend Shazia Imam, who was hit on head by pelted stone on 13th, we were sipping tea. We could hear loud noises of something being fired, we didn’t know what was happening. I still felt safe. Even after what I witnessed on 13th, I felt safe for I was inside the university gate. All of a sudden, a crowd of students that were at the gate and raising slogans, started running further inside the campus. Some were shouting, ‘get inside, the police are firing, some one has fallen down, we don’t know what is happening, hide yourself, they are beating students up.’ And all of this when nothing was happening. There was no long march, nothing. Some hid inside the canteen and some inside the library. Shazia and I were still outside seeing that the buildings are being filled up and the outside almost empty. It was not until a senior who knew both of us shouted at us to get inside that we got inside the library. The doors were not just locked from inside but tables were put so that its difficult to get inside.

We forget that even before 13th, on 10th more than twenty thousand students of AMU boycotted their mess food, distributed it to poor, and sat on a hunger strike, hoping that the bill might not be passed in the house of parliament, registering their strong opposition and reservations against the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

Then there was dead silence, I couldn’t comprehend what was going on, maybe I didn’t anticipate the brutality that was happening, right when I was thinking ‘why are we hiding?’ we heard windows cracking and falling on the floor, and then a tear gas shell was fired inside the library, then another, then another. We ran to the floors above. Some ran to the terrace. All lights were switched off, I heard student crying, making prayers to God, calling their parents and friends up.

I heard a boy cry to his parents, ‘Please forgive me if I’ve ever hurt you, I love you both. Allah Hafiz.’ Many of us thought we might not come out alive. We could hear shots being fired again and again. In a section that was divided by glass walls, I saw police entering, a few students who were hiding there, they beat them with lathis and asked them leave, as they were moving out the police continued to beat them.

I called my friend in AMU to ask him to write on social media of what is happening in Jamia. He picks up panting, asking me to write on social media of what is happening in AMU. My mind couldn’t make any sense, I hear shot being fired from over the phone as well. I ask him what is happening. He told me that ‘we got to know what is happening at JMI and we went to Bab-e-Syed to protest, but there was heavy police presence already. Some students tried to go out the gate and the police started firing the them. They’ve entered AMU campus. They are beating us up, their is threat to our lives, internet has been shut down. Call whoever you know, tell them to send media persons to AMU.’

I then received several calls from different juniors from AMU. All asking me to somehow get some attention on AMU. By this time, in Delhi, there was a protest at Delhi Police’s headquarters. Police had stopped firing; students were escaping the campus. We were asked to leave by police. They asked us not take out our phones, keep our hands over our head, and walk away from the campus. Even the students who lived in the campus were asked to leave. I stayed the night at a senior’s friend’s friend. We didn’t sleep the whole night; we couldn’t sleep the whole night.

I was not at AMU and so I will never know how much more harrowing and gruesome it was for them. I’ve seen the videos and photos that surfaced once internet was restored. I have heard my friends give testimonies. I have felt the uneasiness in their words. I will not forget one over the other, no one should.

There are many fact-finding reports that can give a way more accurate account of what happened in AMU and JMI that day and night. I often think, how did police in Aligarh know? How were they ready with war weaponry at the protest site before students even reached there? Why did Delhi police enter JMI campus without being provoked? The answer comes to me easily, it was planned. It was a planned attack to show Muslims their place. I know it reads like a rant, because it is one. A long rant of someone who is angry, who will never forget, who will make sure the next generation reads and knows what happened on 15th December, 2019, who will not stay in line, who refuses to accept second class citizenship, who chooses her and her community’s dignified existence, who to this day rejects Citizenship Amendment Act. What is the purpose of writing this? It is to remember and to remind. Do you remember?

Afreen Fatima, a linguistic student at Jawaharlal Nehru University is an elected councilor of JNUSU 2019-20 and former President of Women’s College Students’ Union, Aligarh Muslim University 2018-19.