By Mohammed Zakir Riyaz
On August 13 2016, Delhi Police attempted to raid the Hall of Boy’s residence (Boy’s Hostel) in broad day light. Though they were stopped by the university students, but the police officers in uniform and civil dress allegedly managed to click photographs and videos of the hostel. As the news spread it triggered anger among students who were already unhappy with the university administration and particularly security center because of putting up a circular earlier in January on notice board across the university, terming it as a soft target for militant/separatists.
This anger turned into an agitation which later became a symbolic win for the university student towards reclaiming their democratic space in the institution. But, success/ win do not come easily. It involves a lot of hardships, battle with obstacle and a strong determination to achieve the end. Students fought tooth and nail and made it a most significant democratic win at Jamia Millia Islamia in recent times. As an alumnus of the university, I observed this agitation very closely and would like a shed a light upon the problems which I observed in this protest.
So what actually was it? Raid or not?
The question remains this: was it a raid, attempt to raid or not a raid? Administration at Jamia Millia Islamia from the very beginning kept on misleading the student fraternity based on their definition of Raid and the technicalities in using the term raid. First attempt in this series came from Dean of Student welfare who started by saying that that no such incident occurred in the campus. However, she contradicted herself in the very second paragraph of her message to the students, stating that four police personnel entered in plain clothes in the Hall of Boy’s Residence without the permission of proctor. What were they here for in Plain Clothes? Second, according to a statement in Financial Express which quoted a university official, it was a routine checkup. But this statement was termed as bogus saying that it was misquoted. The third was the Chief Proctor of the university who while addressing the agitating students said that he had given permission to the police to stand near gate no. 4 but they mistakenly reached hostel and he was completely unaware of it till students from hostel informed him. And he too emphasised that it wasn’t a raid.
This denial mode from the university officials who are considered to be the guardian of the students of university was as similar to the political leader of community who always try to undermine the gravity of the situation when they see themselves getting trapped into it. I didn’t get this analogy of them “not a raid but attempt to it”. Isn’t an attempt to murder as heinous as murder itself? Almost all of the student perceived this attack of the security agency as another attempt in the series of attacks ahead of independence day to launch a vilification campaign against the minority in general and Jamia Millia Islamia in particular to term them the “soft target” for terror organisation to find new recruits. But this analogy of the administration of “no raid but an attempt to it” was completely rejected by the students.
Unlike JNU, Jamia Millia Islamia Students failed to gather support for themselves from the larger section of the civil society. The only organisations extended solidarity were the student bodies of different university. I got two reasons for this failure in gathering support from the civil society. First, it was a spontaneous agitation started just after the attack from security agency and students failed to explain to the outsiders what actually happened. But this reason didn’t stand valid for long because support from civil society wasn’t extended to it till the end. Hence the second reason becomes more valid i.e., for a large section of the civil society, Jamia Millia Islamia is not a central university but a Muslim minority institution. They believe that it is the University of Islamists. Student also didn’t get the support of their own faculty members. No faculty member extended support to the students but some of them anonymously maintained that students were fighting for the right cause.
Where did the support come from?
The only support agitating students received were from student organisations of other universities who too are facing the wrath of current political regime. Some of the students who expressed solidarity joined the students at protest site as well. This was indirectly countered by administration with the support of the students who often brag about their administrative links and portray themselves as “student leaders”. They together launched a campaign against the students from other university saying that they are misleading the Jamia students for their own personal gains and Jamia Students can fight for their rights by themselves. They tried their level best by launching social media campaigns to assassinate the character of the JNU students expressing their solidarity. In this, a tussle between different fractions of left student political wings was also observed.
A message about how AISA and radical left are trying to hijack political gain was circulated in WhatsApp and apart from center and right wing student organisation there were some members of a moderate left wing student organisation who openly shared it on their Facebook profile too. Later, outsiders (students from other universities) and even university alumni were not allowed to enter into the campus. An attempt was also made to divide the student on communal grounds. It was said that the agitating students are cadre of communist parties who want to destroy the Islamic Culture of the university. This attempt too was nullified as majority of the agitators were common students who had no affiliation with any political party.
Despite the holidays and ban on the entry of outsider in campus, the agitation continued to grow big and this raised the eyebrows of the people who were against it. We all know that there is a lack of awareness among most of the students of Jamia when it comes to politics.
Administration and opposition to agitation tried to take benefit from it and they framed a new argument that university cares for its students. They have written to the DCP South East about the matter. This issue is only about the security of hostel and it has nothing to do with minority witch hunting but these protesting students will create a trouble out of it for the hostellers. Students are here for study but not for politics. This argument did work in breaking the unity among the student and administration managed to get some students withdraw from the agitation. Student also received indirect threat of punishments like suspension, campus ban etc. Assurance by the proctor later that no action will be taken against the agitating students is a proof to it.
How the media tried to influence the images of Jamia protest
Media agencies had their other plans and ambitions to pursue in this agitation. Those who lost the chance in cashing the opportunity in JNU were trying their level best this time in the case of Jamia Millia Islamia. It has everything for them what they wanted. A Muslim minority university and the Batla House stigma attached to it. So, the calls started coming in from the media agencies. There questions should have been like what actually happened? What were the demands of agitators? But they asked how many Kashmiris are present in protest? A reporter from a leading nation daily which is referred for its unbiased approach most of the time in civil society asked this question. This was the attitude of the so called unbiased national daily, so you may as well forget about the rest.
In the end, after so many allegations, conspiracy campaign and sabotage the administration offered partial acceptance of the demands of students refusing the demand of press conference. They offered to share a written statement instead of press conference. This offer was accepted by the Joint Action Committee of students. However, we must remember that it is not a complete win situation but a strategic win against the administration which had been working on dictatorial mode and wasn’t leaving a democratic space for students to disagree with the administration. Jamia was born out of crisis and it was anticipated that it might not survive for long. But it survived. Through this five days long agitation defeating weather, conspiracies and administrative pressure students have ensured that the spirit of fighting back against the oppressor is yet not lost. The legacy of founding fathers of the university is being carried forward. Together student community should defeat all the difficulties which come across and keep the fight against oppression continue. Students also shown a light to the society and Muslim community in particular how to continue the fight against all odd and turn your weakness into a win.
Long Live Student Unity! Inquilab Zindabad!
The author is an independent researcher and activist working on minority rights