Over 30 hurt in three-hour mob attack at Indian university

A three-hour attack by a mob armed with sticks and iron rods within the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi has sparked outrage, inflaming further student protests in a challenge for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

More than 30 students and professors were injured in the attack.

Mr Surya Prakash, 25, a research scholar, had his headphones on and was studying in his room on Sunday evening when a mob of seven people broke down his door and barged into his room. "They started beating me up. I started screaming, 'I am blind, I am blind'," said Mr Prakash, a visually impaired student.

"I heard a girl's voice saying, 'so what if he is blind, beat him up'. They finally realised I was blind and left my room. What did I do to anyone? I just keep to myself."

The mob went from room to room at his hostel, beating up students and smashing doors and windows.

Some students and professors at JNU blamed the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a right-wing student body linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party for Sunday night's mob rampage.

The ABVP has denied the allegation and blamed left-wing student groups for the violence.

Students and professors described how the mob targeted hostels dotted around the 411ha campus.

Videos have circulated of masked men and women moving around the campus holding wooden sticks and threatening students.

Yesterday, many students told The Straits Times they were scared and were returning home or bunking with friends outside campus.

Ms Sucheta Talukdar, 21, hid under a sink in a small eatery on campus to escape the mob.

 
 
 

"They started throwing stones at us and were catching hold of students. I ran away. We are students. We can't fight. They were roaming around with sledgehammers and pepper spray," said Ms Talukdar, a member of the JNU students' union.

Students at JNU had been protesting against hikes for hostel and food fees, bringing the university schedule to a halt. The administration and right-wing groups had opposed the protests.

The rampage was condemned across the board, including by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, a JNU alumna.

"Horrifying images from JNU - the place I know and remember was one for fierce debates and opinions but never violence," tweeted Ms Sitharaman.

The incident comes at a time when the Modi government is already challenged by month-long protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

The CAA gives citizenship to non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Protesters see it as an attack on India's secular Constitution, which does not differentiate among religions in a country where Hindus are a majority.

Students have been at the forefront of anti-CAA protests, continuing to do so yesterday.

Police last month entered the Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh to rein in such protests and were accused of excesses.

JNU vice-chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar appealed for calm and said in a statement yesterday that violence will not be tolerated.

The police said they are poring over closed-circuit television footage and other videos to identify the accused and maintained that the developments were a fight between student groups.

Professor of women's studies Mallarika Sinha Roy, however, said JNU has failed in its duty of maintaining peace and restoring the academic schedule.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2020, with the headline 'Over 30 hurt in three-hour mob attack at Indian university'. Print Edition | Subscribe