As told to Arpita Singh on Dec. 15, 2019
Smoke enveloped the compound of Jamia Milia Islamia University in the heart of New Delhi amid loud thuds on Sunday evening as police shelled students protesting the passing of a bill which is being seen as anti-Muslim.
The protests started on Dec. 12 after the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in the lower house of Parliament. The bill paves the way for religious minorities barring Muslims from the Muslim-majority countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh to apply for Indian citizenship.
Here’s an account of a student trapped inside the university:
We were peacefully protesting near Gate 7 of the university at around 4:30 pm. We could sense that the protest could take a violent turn. As we were making posters and appealing for a peaceful protest, we heard a loud bang and learned that Delhi police had entered the campus. They shelled tear gas canisters at the students.
A tear gas shell dropped right in front of me. Almost entirely blinded for a moment, my friend and I ran for our lives towards the central canteen. Students around us were wailing; there was hysteria, chaos and uncertainty among us. We then ran towards the nearest exit. They threw a canister there as well and thus we were trapped from all sides. So, we decided to stay near the central library.
Then we saw police barging in and chasing the students, as if they were chasing fugitives.
There were 11 of us who formed a chain to stick together, but soon, we lost each other as police started beating us black and blue.
I saw a girl who had shattered glass stuck all over her clothes as police were vandalising the university’s property. One of us broke a window of the central library to get in. I don’t know how many stairs I managed to climb until I was exhausted. I couldn’t see any of my friends but I could hear them being beaten up. I was so numb that I couldn’t feel anything.
Police pulled a girl’s hijab and I hit out. I spotted another friend standing near the lift, so we held hands and ran. It was pitch dark; all we could hear was cries, shouts and bangs. We reached the washroom near the exit and locked ourselves in. I felt as if a murderer was out there waiting to kill me, and that in order to survive I needed to maintain pin drop silence. We didn’t dare to move an inch.
We made calls after calls, and also posted on Instagram pleading for help, saying we are stuck inside a washroom and we don’t feel safe. There were students from different courses and different religions, most of them were reciting duas (prayers) and I was reciting the Gayatri mantra – praying to whatever God we believed in to save us.
After some time, some people came to rescue us. We walked out in a straight line. There was glass shattered all over the exit door and we felt like prisoners.
I stared right into the eyes of a policeman to send a message that I am not afraid of them but they started shouting back and used abusive language. “Ye Pakistani yahan ka khaate hain aur yahan se hi gaddari karte hain (Paraphrased: These Pakistanis live and depend on our land, and yet they are traitors),” one of the policemen shouted. A senior stopped me and asked me to bow down and not make eye contact with the police.
Once we reached a safer place, police made us sit and and lectured us. As we were leaving, they advised us to be “safe.” They created the ruckus in the first place, made us feel miserable and then they told us to be “safe.”