It has now been a year to the police violence that unfolded in Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University. As several student testimonies and accounts of the violence have resurfaced in the last few days, the horrific details send a stark reminder of the extent to which the state identified these students as the ‘enemy’ because of the Muslimness associated with these institutions. The continuous criminalization of the students in the last one year, also reflect how the state has increasingly attempted to pull down any voice against the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA).
A lesser addressed aspect to the brutal attack of the state on 15th December 2020, is the targeted attack on women students. As women students in Jamia Millia Islamia took a lead role in organizing and voicing their opinions against CAA, they faced unprecedented violence at the hands of male police officials and Rapid Action Force.
In their testimonies, women have stated that on 15th December, the policemen were grabbing women by their hair and beating them. A woman student who was present there testified, “Suddenly, I noticed they had started throwing tear gas shells on the same road where we were hiding. I am an asthma patient. At that time, I could not breathe, so we ran towards the residential area to hide. Police chased us and came inside this house to catch our friend [X]. They dragged out [X] and started to beat him. We ran out to protect him and shielded him with our bodies because there was no female police officer present. But the policemen continued to beat us and I sustained injuries on my back. I was violently beaten by the police and sustained injuries.”
Several women students were hit on their heads by lathis and some also fell unconscious. In a report titled, “The Dismantling of Minority Education” by a Delhi based collective of human rights activists and researchers, which documents the violence in these two campuses, it is stated that when these women requested police officials to call for an ambulance because of the injuries they had suffered, the police responded saying, “Marne do saalon ko (Let them die!)” Another Muslim woman student recalled that the police beat her and threatened her, “Kashmir chahiye? Dun Azadi? (Do you want Kashmir? Should we give you freedom?)”
Subsequently, on 10th February 2020, students called for a peaceful protest march from Gate No. 7 of JMI to the Parliament. In anticipation, a large police contingent, the Rapid Action Force (RAF), was deployed at all the key points of the University and the road. As soon as the peaceful and democratic march started, police began attacking students standing at the front of the protest, pulling some students inside the barricades and beating them up.
In this particular instance, women students were specifically targeted by the police. Among them, women with visible muslim markers were particularly attacked. The police pulled off the hijabs (head covering) of several women, and spewed communal slurs at Muslim women. 11 students were detained by the police, and several of them complained of being beaten up in custody. A total of 34 students were taken to Al-Shifa Hospital, 9 women and 25 men, out of
which 2 students were admitted in the ICU. Several women reported having been
sexually assaulted by male police officers. Resident Doctors of JMI told the media
that around 10 women students had been hit on their private parts by Delhi Police.
According to one woman student; “There were two phases of harassment, the male police officials started surrounding
and cornering us. They started taking off our hijabs, hitting and trying to suffocate us. I was not able to breathe. I thought that I was going to die there. That’s when some of us started fainting. It was a very scary situation. I had lost my shoes. I did not know what to do to help my fellow students. We were trying to protect each other. At that point, the male officers started hitting us. One of the male police officials grabbed me from the front and groped my chest. He did that when I shouted at them saying, ‘Mahilaon ko mat touch kijiye’ (Do not touch women). I shouted at him because he pulled and took off the Hijab of an older woman, who would be in her 50s. He pulled me violently and squeezed me. It still hurts me, even now! I kept shouting, telling them, ‘Aap sexually harass kar rahe ho’ (You are sexually harassing us).”
There are more than a few testimonies that describe how the male police officers
sexually assaulted women students, and that women police officers abused them
using communal slurs: “There were two or three women police constables, who were constantly using communal slurs. They were saying, ‘If you [women] have come here to die, mar jao yahi pe. Marna
hai toh mar jao. Maar hi dete hai aaj hi.’ (If you want to die, die here itself. If this is what you want, we will kill you today then). They were also constantly threatening us saying, ‘Abhi toh kuch kar nahi rahe hai, karne pe aa jaye toh dekhlena kya kya kar sakte hai!’ (We are not even doing anything to you yet. Once we actually get to it, you wait and watch what all we can do!). We asked them, ‘How can you, being women, say these things to fellow women?’ That’s when they told us, ‘Tum log insaan nahi ho!’ (You all are not human beings!).”
Another woman student who was part of the protest, was also pushed to ground by a
male police official and boots were used to curtail her movement. She stated that the police officials slapped her when she was detained by them and they lifted her clothes and hit her.
Several months later, as the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) released its observations on the violence in these two campuses, there was no mention of the violence against women. The NHRC completely omitted the attack on students on 15th February 2020.
The nature of attack on women, and the communal slurs which were used against Muslim women echoed in the Delhi Pogrom which unfolded a few weeks later from this incident, in North East Delhi. As per the Delhi Minorities Commission report, Muslim women were attacked by the police, and some testimonies suggest that the police did not take any action to save them from Hindutva mobs, instead they joined the mobs and beat up women.
Following these incidents of violence, neither the Delhi Commission of Women, nor the National Commission of Women took cognizance of the attack. The silence of these institutions to address these incidents of violence reflects the absolute impunity with which they are operating, and the collective impunity with which they are operating now. Several human rights activists and lawyers have suggested that an independent inquiry be carried out to understand the impact of this violence on women, and for filing complaints against police officials. Also, in a separate inquiry into police excesses on campus which was conducted by the Delhi Police itself, it has given a clean chit to its police officers.
However, a year on, the state continues to systematically attack and silence the students. A year on, where is the justice.
Aiman Khan is an independent human rights researcher based between Bengaluru and New Delhi.