‘Sherwani walon ko maro’: An eyewitness account of the attack on AMU and police action against students

Students teargassed and lathi-charged by police receive treatment at hospital after Hindutva groups barged into Aligarh Muslim University last week ( Pictures: The Wire)

On April 26, Aligarh-based Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) member Mohammed Ameer Rashid sought permission from the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) Vice-Chancellor Prof Tariq Mansoor to allow the right-wing group to hold its Shakhas on the campus. Rashid wrote a letter to the Vice Chancellor after AMU Students Union (AMUSU), taking exception to senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy’s statement dubbing AMU as a “hub of terrorists and extremist ideologies”, demanded his removal from the Rajya Sabha.

A few days later, some goons from Hindutva organisations armed with sticks, pistols and country-made revolvers barged into the campus at a time when former Indian Vice President, Hamid Ansari was present there to deliver a lecture after being conferred with AMUSU’s life time membership.

The attack came after BJP MP Satish Kumar Gautam, who was also  AMU Court member between 2014 and 2017, shot a letter to Prof Tariq asking for removal of Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s portrait from the AMU’s Union Hall, where it has been hanging since 1938.

Gautam with ten other MPs from the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, who were also AMU Court members, visited the Union Hall many times, but like a shark in a deep-blue sea, Gautam knew when to attack.

The BJP, desperate for a recovery from the Gorakhpur and Phulpur debacles in wake of Kairana Lok Sabha and Noorpur Assembly polls slated for May 28, decided to rake up the Jinnah portrait issue.

For AMU, the fateful day of May 2 on which this attack took place and the week that followed will be remembered as one of the worst days, but it will also be remembered as something that brought the best out of the AMU community. It unified the university students, teachers and non-teaching staff and reminded them of what they stood for.

Around afternoon, I received a call from a friend who asked me to meet him at the university’s admission section gate. We were supposed to go for lunch at a nearby restaurant where other friends were also coming. While I was waiting, I saw a group of over 50 people marching towards the Bab-e-Syed, one of gates of the university. They were yelling and screaming abuses such as ‘AMU wale Ghaddaron ko maar do salon ko’ (Kill the traitors from AMU), Bharat mein rehna hoga tou vande matram kehna hoga (If you want to live in India, then you will have to say vande matram), Katue Ghaddar hein (These circumcised people are traitors), AMU murdabad (Down with AMU) and other slurs and abuses.  However, they stopped at a point and went back. My friend arrived exactly at the time that they left and it was after 15 or may be 20 minutes, while I was narrating to him what I had just witnessed, those hooligans returned in a bigger number.

I think there were 70 to 80 of these hooligans. However, this time they were accompanied by a cop. Some of them were wearing Saffron Ghamchas and most of them had orange and red tilaks (religious marks) on their forehead. Some even had necklaces with miniature gods swinging as they again marched towards the university gates shouting the same abuses against AMU. Many of them had weapons with them. I remember seeing these people with sticks, knives and country-made revolvers or pistols.

On reaching the university gate, they were stopped by two security guards, who warned them that Mr Hamid Ansari is here for a programme. However, they started bashing up the guards with the sticks and I heard them saying Ghaddaron ke ghar mein koi programme nahin hoga (No programmes will take place at traitor’s home).

A group of university students got hold of some seven of these hooligans. The rest fled from the spot after the seeing the university students coming. While leaving the place, they were again abusing. I heard them saying AMU ke lajao Pakistan atankwadiyon ke pass (Take AMU to Pakistan and sit with terrorists). They kept on abusing while running away.

The goons who were apprehended  were handed over to the police by the students.

I accompanied over two dozen AMU students, AMUSU president, Mashkoor Ahmad Usmani and student leaders like Ajay Singh and Mazin Hussain on their way to the police station. When we were a few yards away from the police station, the cops stopped us and asked us to return to the university premises. We told them that we are going to get the FIR lodged. The irate police warned us again, but we insisted them to let us visit the police station. We heard a loud bang and the next thing I remember is that a tear gas canister fell in front of us. The white fumes began to billow up and all I could hear was shrieking and wailing. All of us went a bit backwards and tears and mucus was flowing from our reddened faces. We coughed and rubbed eyes maddeningly and it was at this time, the police started attacking us with lathis. I heard a cop saying, ‘Sherwani walon ko maro’ (Beat up the ones wearing Sherwani). It is a tradition in AMU for student leaders to wear Sherwani.

The next thing I saw was that many of us were bleeding profusely. One of the former union members received  56 stitches on his head, hands and limbs.

All of us got injured and we were rushed to the university’s medical college hospital. Some of us are still admitted. If you are watching live debates on TV, you can easily see the injured student leaders participating in debates from special wards of the medical college hospital. Even the videos of the Lathicharge have been uploaded on internet.

 Is it really about the Jinnah Portrait?

The protests that erupted at AMU were over the attack on the varsity by rightwing groups and the use of force by police against students. We are protesting because of the police’s inaction against these so called rightwing Hindutva youths, who barged into the campus and sabotaged Mr Hamid Ansari’s lecture. These guys were trying to reach the guest house where Mr Ansari was residing. It is a shame that this is the kind of security breach which can happen at a place where the former Indian Vice President was staying. We are also protesting against the police officers who attacked us. Lathicharges are done usually to disperse crowds without harming them. In a lathicharge , the police can only hit at lower bodies and not on heads leaving the protesters in critical condition. So, we are also protesting for an action against these police officers and their heirs, who asked them to attack in the way they did.

All we are asking is for a judicial probe into the police action and the manner in which a row erupted after a BJP MP objected to the portrait of Jinnah, hanging at the AMU student union office. As far as removing portrait is concerned, let me make it clear that AMU is a public institution and if the HRD ministry asks us to remove it, we will do it immediately but we will not bow down to these goons who can commit vandalism with all the impunity. Those accusing the AMU of being pro- Jinnah should also read Savarkar’s ideas of exclusionary and hate-filled nationalism and how he justified rape and massacre as a political weapon in his book, ‘Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History’. Yet, he remains an icon for many in our country and his portrait hangs in our Parliament.