Dreaming at the Barricades, writes Dipsita Dhar

It was an unusually warm March afternoon of Delhi, with the bright sunlight falling on the tar road creating a beautiful maze with the bright-yellow Amaltas flowers and even brighter fiery-red Palash flowers. The beauty of Delhi, holding spring in one hand and waiting for the summer with the other, was matched only by the beauty that defined the steadfastness and determination of the 4000 students and teachers of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) as they set on to cover the 14 km distance between their university and Parliament of the Country. I can clearly remember the faces in the long march- there were student activists, there were studious ones too for whom it was the first march in their lives, there were introverts shedding away the shyness in their slogans, there were teachers, there were everyone who define my university- the JNU. The desperation of saving our beloved university from the systematic destruction at the hands of the current regime steeled our resolve and made it beautiful like nothing else. The onlookers in the way were surprised seeing such a mammoth march moving ahead with extreme sense of responsibility and discipline. We were moving on one side of the road with a rope without any obstruction to the traffic. Someone rightly remarked that ‘Kisans of Maharashtra are our teachers’- the blisters and pain of 180-km journey couldn’t erase the empathy from the hearts of these ‘teachers of ours’ to march for another 5 hours over the nights so as to not disturb the students who were going to give their class 10 exams, the next day. It was this empathy that we proudly inherit and exhibited on the streets of Delhi on that afternoon.

Everything was smooth, peaceful and calm, until the march reached the INA bus stop near the roundabout of Sanjay Jheel. Heavy police enforcement was waiting for us and the entire road was blocked with barricades on both the sides.  As the march reached the barricades the senior police officers informed us that the permission of the March stands cancelled. Students & teachers continued to raise slogans at the same spot. However, even before anyone could understand anything we could feel the thrust of the water from the water cannons pushing into our bodies. We were struggling to breathe, as our drenched bodies were trying to make sense of the things around. This was followed by incessant lathicharge with the baton blows coming heavily on anyone who was brave enough to not run away seeing the beast-like prowess of the constabulary of Delhi police. And, mind you, there were too many of us who showed the bravery of not moving back.

Women students who were in front were pushed, dragged and beaten by male personnel, given the fact that women constables were few in numbers. I was dragged by my hair, beaten up in private parts, hit in head so hard that for seconds I couldn’t see anything in front of me. Everything was happening so fast, that it was simply not possible to comprehend the events. I was dragged into a green, DTC bus. There were 7 other women students inside the bus, along with women constables. As our eyes met each other, it gave us immense courage and assurance. I saw a women student whose clothes were torn apart. There was Kriti with broken specs and deep cut near the right eye. There was Sudhanya trying to recover her breath from the kicks on the stomach. Each of us was smiling despite the cuts on bodies.

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Once we were detained it was threatened that there will be FIR against us if we don’t cooperate. And, what did they meant by ‘cooperating’? They meant that we should not say that police beat us up, and instead say that ‘some unknown persons’ were behind it. The biggest irony was the fact that apart from other reasons, we were marching against the shielding of a sexual predator and a RSS-man Atul Johri and ended up being molested and beaten by that very Delhi Police who allowed Atul Johri to be given bail within 40 minutes. One of the women constables told us “Tumhare Haath Pair Nahi hain kya? Aise Logon Ko Pakadna Humara Kaam Nahi Hai” (Don’t you have hands and legs? It is not our job to arrest such people). We were left wondering, if it is not the job of Delhi Police to book the sexual predators, then what it is? Oh, yes, their job is to beat up and molest unarmed protesting students!

Everything that evening was a new lesson, a new revelation on how the state and its institutions work. And, democracy becomes entirely different thing when it translates from the textbooks into real life with every institution acting at the orders of the powers-that-be. We learnt a new term- Medico Legal Certificate, a MLC. It’s a certificate which shows the injuries on a human body and can be produced in the court of law. We were 8 women and it took almost 6 hours to complete the process. There were bruises, cuts and sprains- the tales of violence were written all over our bodies. However, what was going on was a tussle to ensure that we give away the insistence on naming the police in our complaints. We persisted, didn’t move an inch. However, Delhi Police agreed to go ahead with our narrative only when a few MPs and political leaders came in our support. It was no longer possible for the police to continue with their falsification.

It was 1 AM when we came out of the AIIMS Trauma Centre. It was dark outside, but we found the smiling faces of our comrades outside waiting for us – there were 18 men students who were beaten & detained, but refused to undergo MLC; and then there were numerous others who were there just waiting for us. It took hardly 15 minutes from AIIMS to reach our University, since the roads were almost empty at that time of night. There were comrades waiting at the North gate. We got down from the police vehicle and marched into the campus, our hearts reverberating with a new sense of belief and hope that this battle to save our university from destruction isn’t over. In fact, it was no longer about our university; it was about the attacks on institution after institution and university in the last 4 years. As we switched on our phones, there were text messages informing about solidarity actions in Jadavpur, in Presidency, in Kerala and in many other places. We knew we were not alone. We also knew, we are not going to lose this battle.

(Dipsita Dhar is a research scholar in Centre for studies in Regional Development, JNU. She is a central secretariat member, Delhi State Vice-President and JNU Unit secretary of SFI)

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