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Beaten, bruised, pelted with stun grenades: Aligarh students recall a night of horror

The police brutality at Aligarh Muslim University on December 15 left many students severely injured

At the Morison Court hostel in Aligarh Muslim University, Faizal Hasan, the former president of the AMU Students’ Union, talked agitatedly into a phone. Speaking to Shamsul Haque, AMU’s dean of students’ welfare, Hasan said angrily, “If anything happens to the students, if they’re assaulted or lynched on their way home, I’ll hold you responsible for it.”

Faizal’s exasperation stemmed from a slew of “urgent notices” that sprung up across AMU hostels on December 16. The notices triggered a near exodus of students from the university.

They read: “You are aware that winter vacation has been declared in the University from 16.12.2019 to 05.01.2020. It has been decided in meeting with Hon’ble Vice-Chancellor, that Hostels are to be vacated by tonight. University has arranged buses for short distant places and all long distance trains will stop at Aligarh from 2:00 pm onwards…[Students] are further advised not to leave any important documents/belongings inside the room.”

The night before, on December 15, hundreds of AMU students had clashed with the Aligarh police and Rapid Action Force personnel within the university premises. Around 8 pm, students marched from the Maulana Azad Library to the university circle some 300 metres away.

An earlier account of the events on Newslaundry had described how the police first teargassed the students, and then invited stone-pelting from them in retaliation. After three gruesome hours of stone-pelting from both sides and teargas and lathi-charge by the police, the students were driven into their hostels. Dozens were detained and more than 60 injured.

While ranting at Shamsul, Faizal stood outside Room No 46 at Morison Court in the university’s Aftab Hall. The room, with a burnt bed and charred walls, has become emblematic of the brutal assault on the students, allegedly by the police.

There were three people inside Room No 46 on the evening of December 15: Syed Mehdi Rizwi, a final-year MSc student from Lucknow; Shahid Hussain, a final-year student from Dodha, Jammu, pursuing his Master’s degree in history; and Zahid Mushtaq, pursuing his Bachelor’s in English Literature.

Zahid told Newslaundry that the police fired three teargas canisters inside the room.

“When the police came, we were at the hostel gate. We ran into the room but couldn’t manage to lock it properly,” he said. “The police started banging on the door and broke the lock. Then they broke the glass window and fired the first teargas canister. There was suffocation inside. The gatekeeper who was with us — he is more than 60 years old — tried to sneak under the bed. Then came the second teargas canister and it just went under the bed. When I tried to open the window, they fired the third canister.”

A canister of teargas still remains inside the room, sitting on the bed that belonged to Syed. The bed is half-burnt. The fire triggered by the canister’s sparks painted the walls black.

Zahid, who told me he wasn’t present at the protest, said he was physically assaulted by the forces. “A policeman barged into the room and pushed me down with his gun. He beat me here on the right shoulder.” He claimed he got up and ran away as far as he could.

Syed and Shahid, who were in the room with him, weren’t as lucky. They were both detained by the police.

Shahid told Newslaundry that RAF personnel brutally assaulted him when they discovered he is Kashmiri. “I was taken by the RAF from Room 46,” he said. “When they found out I am from Jammu and Kashmir, I was tied to a tree down the road from the Morison hostel. At least five or six of them caught my hands from behind and flogged me with lathis.”

Shahid’s hands and legs bear large black and blue scars. His knees have scabbed wounds and there are red injury marks on his back.

After assaulting him, Shahid said, the forces took the detainees to Malkhan Singh District Hospital in Aligarh in an RAF vehicle. After a check-up, he was sent to the Akrabad police station, approximately 25 km from Aligarh.

“There was verbal violence at the police station,” Shahid said, stuttering over the words. “When I told them that I was from Kashmir, one of the police officers — I will not take his name — told me, ‘We will do to Kashmiris in India what the Myanmar army did to Rohingyas’.”

Shahid said the police were not acting like a law and order force, but like a tool of the Bharatiya Janata Party government. “Many officers at Akrabad told us we were opposing the [Citizenship Amendment] Act because Modi sahab is behind it. They said we were trying to give citizenship to Bangladeshis and that they won’t let us do that,” he said. “They also said ‘you Muslims have taken Kashmir from India’, and they won’t let us do what we’re trying to do.”

Meanwhile, Syed was allegedly beaten taken by the police and taken to Malkhan Singh District Hospital for medical treatment. There, Syed’s brother said, police officers slapped him multiple times. Syed was released later on the night of December 16.

Syed’s brother, Zamin Mehdi Rizwi, also boards in Room 46, but wasn’t in the room on the night of December 15. He had no clue where his brother was that night. On December 16, Zamin found his brother at the Civil Lines police station at about 10 pm.

“His legs were swollen and there are blood clots,” he told Newslaundry. “There were stitches on his head, but they were very badly done. He said it’s because he was being slapped by the police officers while the doctors were applying stitches. They also stomped on his feet. They also took his phone and wallet. When they returned it, it had no money.” Syed left for Lucknow on December 17.

Newslaundry accessed CCTV footage from December 15 from outside Morison Court hostel. It shows Aligarh police and RAF personnel dragging students and assaulting them with lathis and fists. They beat up Syed between 1:07 and 1:28. The video shows forces destroying private property — motorbikes and scooters — at the spot.

At Ward No 3, the plastic surgery ward, of Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College, located within the AMU campus, I met 23-year-old Nasir Chaman, a law student at AMU. His right arm was bandaged. His left eye was swollen and his eyelashes were partly burnt.

Chaman said he received a WhatsApp message at 7.30 pm on December 15, informing him that the Delhi police had stormed the canteen, library and mosque in Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University. He stepped out of his hostel room and joined the protest.

“At the protest, the police were firing stun grenades,” Nasir said, lying amidst beeping hospital machines. “The grenades were such that if you hold it in your hand and it explodes, it could blast away your fingers. The students there were throwing the teargas canisters back at the police, or diffusing them with water. One of the stun grenades landed near me, and I mistook it for a canister. I picked it up and put it in water and it exploded in my hand. That’s how I got the injury.”

Nasir, who has studied at AMU since the first grade, told Newslaundry his friends brought him to the hospital. He received 25 stitches on his hand, and a wire was inserted into his thumb. If it turns black in a couple of days, he’ll need surgery. If not, he’ll be fine.

“My mother and sister came here to meet me today. There was pride in their sorrow,” Nasir said. “What I did was wrong only according to the police. But it was right. They brutally assaulted my friends, even tried to detain those who came to visit me at the hospital. The doctors had to shoo them away.”

He added: “If we don’t protest step today, then the government will go even further. And it should happen whenever any community is at risk, not just Muslims.”

Another AMU student lay a few beds away. Pursuing his PhD in chemistry at AMU, he was in much worse state than Nasir. The student couldn’t speak properly, only managing weak mumbles. His brother, sitting beside him, completed his sentences.

“I was leaving the library that evening and got caught in the middle of the protests. I was not part of them. At some point during this, I fell on the university road. A stun grenade then came and exploded on my hand.”

The student’s brother said the injury was so bad that the student might lose his fingers. “There was an operation yesterday, and there might be another one the day after,” the brother said.

On the afternoon of December 17, I came across an AMU student with a bandaged arm. He said he wasn’t only assaulted by RAF personnel at AMU —  he was stripped naked and beaten up at the Akrabad police station.

“I was studying in the library. And there was so much chaos there that they shut it down around 8 pm,” the student said. “I ran to Mumtaz hostel, to my friend’s room, on foot. After some time, my father called and told me to come home. I didn’t have any vehicle so I thought I would get a lift home. On my way, at Morison Court, the RAF personnel were brutally beating students. They got hold of me and began beating me too. I was pushed into a bus and slapped.”

On probing further, I realised this student was referring to an incident that I witnessed at the protest. On the evening of December 15, the RAF stuffed several AMU students into a truck with the licence plate number UP 226 0423. An RAF personnel landed heavy blows on those inside the truck, which was when another personnel intervened, saying: “Stop slapping them, they’ll die.” This student was in the same truck.

He went on: “They broke my hand in the truck. They also called me ‘katua’, and I didn’t even know what it meant. My friends told me it’s derogatory. Some RAF personnel even threatened to shoot us.”

The truck took the students to the Malkhan Singh District Hospital, the student said. “They stitched my injuries. The policemen there were drunk. After the stitches, they told me they’ll drop me off at the campus. I sat in the police car but they actually drove to Akhrabad police station. There, they stripped me naked. They removed my pants and even underwear and beat me with belts.”

The student said he was served stale food at Akrabad police station. The next day, at about 12.30 pm, he was taken to Panethi in Aligarh. At 5.30 pm, he was taken to Civil Lines police station. The police took away the students’ phones. They were not allowed to call their parents.

When Newslaundry reached out to Aligarh’s senior superintendent of police, Akash Kulhari, about the police allegedly assaulting students, he denied the allegations and said students “can say anything”.

“You think anyone in the police has time to tie people to trees and beat them up while being attacked by stone-pelting?” Kulhari asked. When I mentioned the injuries, he said the police did lathi-charge the students. “I am not denying that there was lathi-charge. If five constables get down to it, which part of the body can be spared? Even our circle officers were assaulted. About 20-25 of our officials have been assaulted. There has to be responsibility on both sides.”

Kulhari asked if the students could produce evidence to substantiate their allegations. He said: “We’ve filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court saying that we did carry out lathi-charge. We don’t deny it. We didn’t provoke the incident, it was done by students. We have the right to save our lives. Don’t we have human rights?”

When I brought up Shahid Hussain’s case, who alleged that he was assaulted because he is Kashmiri, Kulhari said the police had no way to ascertain who is Kashmiri and who isn’t. “Do you think we have that sense of judgement? And what the hell was the Kashmiri student doing, pelting stones instead of being in his room and making a career for himself?” he asked.

Kulhari said the police entered the AMU campus after receiving written permission from the registrar. “There was a law and order situation. These students were vandalising the campus and the police had to enter the campus. We didn’t have any other choice. We have the right to use force as per the Indian Constitution.”

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