On February 22, at around 4:30 pm, a classmate told me that there had been an attack at Delhi University’s Ramjas college and asked me to join him at Maurice Nagar police station where students were gathering to seek police intervention. When I got there, I found that the police had already sealed the area. We were not allowed to cross the red light near Patel Chest Institute (at some distance from the police station).
As I was standing there, other people also started arriving in small groups. Bystanders next to me were speculating about what had happened; they appeared curious but uninformed about recent developments. After a few moments, a young man in a black t-shirt and jeans carrying a college bag with one strap over his shoulder came and stood next to me. He looked like an ordinary college student. He began participating in the discussion going on. In the course of the conversation, he identified himself as a first year student at Ramjas College, studying Physical Science, from a village in District Bhiwani, Haryana. It is not clear whether he was a member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), but he was certainly a supporter.
As this student began describing all that had happened in Ramjas College, I was shocked to hear his open and boastful admission about how he and his friends had destroyed college property, thrashed other students and Delhi University professors, and pelted stones at them as well. Among other things he said, “Agar Umar Khalid aa jaata to zinda wapas nahi jata yahan se” (If Umar Khalid had come to Ramjas college, he would not have gone back alive.) He narrated the sequence of events with such clarity and precision that whatever little doubt I had of his being a second-hand account, quickly transformed itself into the awareness that what I was hearing was an authentic confession. He was clearly excited and proud of what he had done.
Notwithstanding the limitation of traffic and background noise, I then thought I should try to make an audio recording of his statements as he continued to speak. I thus used my phone to record the conversation. At no point during the recording did I say anything to him or his group. I wanted to limit myself to being a non-participating observer to make sure that I did not influence the conversation by either encouraging or discouraging this Ramjas student.
This conversation provides an insight into how a student becomes a member of a violent mob, and the kind of prejudices that organisations like the ABVP both mobilise and reinforce. It also reveals the confidence that comes with being on the same side as the ruling party, in particular the knowledge that the police will not act against you.
The other people categorised as ‘unidentified individuals’ shared and enjoyed the ABVP supporter’s act of using terror as an instrument to suppress ideological differences, intellectual criticism and the spirit of free inquiry. They also laughed and cheered at his cheap, nasty and criminal boasts of beating up female reporters, innocent fellow students, and his own professors. It makes them guilty by association (if not legally, at least ethically). This reveals a serious social predicament that among certain young Indians spreading cultural hatred and suppressing freedom of expression is seen as generally acceptable.
This incident confirmed for me that you can get away with the most extraordinary attacks on civil society in India if you are a self-proclaimed ‘nationalist’. This ABVP supporter, like many similar fanatics, has a criminal personality but still rants about the morality of others by making derogatory references to men and women of different cultures and lifestyle (who smoke, have friends from the opposite sex, speak English, or are ‘weak’ compared to the body-building friends of the speaker).
When this ABVP supporter openly called for the beating of his fellow students and DU professors, there was no nervousness in his voice. His repeated references to this only reflect his serious conviction. His comments about the police reveal a complete and utter disregard for any idea of the rule of law, a confidence in the police’s inability to protect the innocent and punish the guilty, and a clear sense that they (the attackers/ABVP) had the police on their side.
The recording raises several important questions: If the ABVP controlled DUSU was not involved in the violence as they claim, why did they feel the need to shield those students who openly boast of their criminal acts? Even when the ABVP supporter was at the full height of his boasts, he did not mention a single instance of the slightest violence, aggression or even an attempt at physical provocation from the other side. Why did the Delhi Police and media try to term it as a ‘clash’ between the ABVP and ‘leftist groups’ when it was a clear one-sided, shameful aggression on college students and professors who, as we now know, did not even try to defend themselves? All these questions and many more must be answered by the investigating agency.
I also want to add a personal statement— we must dispel this myth that it was a clash between urban elites and ‘desi’ nationalists. This student and many others with the same mentality believe that they are the true representatives of Haryana. I am also from Haryana. I was born in a small village in Hisar. My mother and father are both farmers there and they tried to the best of their abilities to make sure that I got a decent education. I feel offended with this student’s outrageous cultural stereotypes and his narrow and bigoted mentality, and wish to emphasise that he does not represent the state. It is time when people who disagree with criminals like him do so publicly to shatter their illusion about being the guardians of our civilisation and repository of our civil values. I am also ashamed of the way he tried to defame one of the most intellectually vibrant colleges of North Campus, Ramjas college, which has had the distinct privilege of having B. R. Ambedkar as the chairman of its governing body and was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi. The time has come to show these people that there is another section of young Indians who are committed to social justice, equality and freedom of expression that cannot be shaken by frequent and violent attacks.
I am aware that using my own name in publishing this material puts me at serious risk when one is up against these kinds of fanatic demagogues who are not shy to call for the blood of others and deploy merciless violence. But I sincerely believe that these ‘goonda nationalists’ draw their energy from our fear. The space for free exchange of ideas is shrinking and shrinking very fast. We must reclaim our university and cultural spaces.
A space for intellectual criticism should always be there in a pluralistic and democratic society, especially in the institutes of learning. We all should care about the healthy culture of dissent that the two-day seminar on ‘Cultures of Protest’ organised by the Ramjas Literary Society was trying to foster. It is not just those who could not hold the seminar who have lost. In some sense, we all have lost because we have been deprived of opportunities to discuss, debate, and engage in a free exchange of ideas just because a students’ organisation – ABVP – and its supporters feel they have the absolute right and authority to tell the rest of us what we should (and should not) read, think and discuss.
A note on translation: For the sake of objectivity and fairness, I have translated everything, even information that might appear less relevant in this context to the reader. I cannot say that it is completely immune from any minor omission or error. However, I had a natural advantage since the student was speaking in a Haryanvi dialect, and I am also from Haryana.
Not all the statements complement or follow on logically from each other. However, the speaker was reasonably consistent in his repetitions. For example, he distinguished effortlessly between JNU, AISA and Ramjas students from the English Department while describing his acts of violence. He also identifies primarily as a student of Ramjas, but at various times expresses his affinity with the ABVP. The audio recording seems a good and reliable starting point to start investigating the truth behind the Ramjas college issue, and the criminal responsibility of different elements.
In what follows, I present first an English translation of the conversation, followed by the Hindi transcript of the same conversation. I have also provided the audio files.
Translation of recordings of an ABVP supporter or activist from Ramjas College
This is the English translation of an audio recording made by the author on February 22, 2017 between 16:59 and 17:11 of a conversation between an ABVP supporter who describes himself as a first year student at Ramjas College, studying Physical Science. He is from a village in District Bhiwani, Haryana. In the transcript he is referred to as ‘ABVP supporter’.
The comments made by various people he was conversing with are put under a single category of ‘unidentified person’ because there were multiple people asking him about various things (as one can also learn from different voices in the recordings).
ABVP supporter: Yesterday, a bus full of police had come and the whole thing was settled. These people were thrashed yesterday too.
Unidentified person: So the AISA wasn’t here yesterday?
ABVP supporter: No, AISA wasn’t there yesterday. Some people from JNU had come. We would’ve beaten them yesterday only but we didn’t. Just a few of them were thrashed. Police sent them out and the whole thing was put to rest. They [JNU folks] were sent away by 4 pm and we stayed for another 2 hours and then we also left.
Today when we came [to college], we saw that police was there, again. We got to know that some people from college are protesting, they were from English [department of Ramjas]. Then later, we found out that AISA people are also coming. I swear by their mothers, this isn’t JNU, this is DU and that too, Ramjas College. Had it been Hansraj, Hindu, it still would’ve been okay. Those students are intelligent, they wouldn’t pay attention to protests. I’m telling you man! This Ramjas College is filled with people from Haryana, UP who are only interested in rioting, they have studied just that.
Unidentified person: What happened then?
ABVP supporter: Then these people were beaten. We’ve been beating them since morning.
Unidentified person: Them? (pointing towards the protestors who were gathered in front of the police station).
ABVP supporter: There was one bus, then another police bus was brought. The police was telling us, “We will give you some leeway! Now man, media has arrived so we can’t.” So they got beaten there too, in front of the police station. These media people are lying in this case too.
Unidentified person: Let media talk!
ABVP supporter: Because of the media, police is not giving us any leeway. See now, they [police] are saying, if the media sees us giving room to the attackers, they’ll screw us.
Unidentified person: What did the media people say?
ABVP supporter: They turned it into a political issue. This is the main problem now. They aren’t showing the reality. Students were simply protesting against Umar Khalid, what has ABVP got to do with it? And why did they [Umar Khalid and AISA] have to come to our DU? The whole thing was settled yesterday, then why did they come again? Now that they’ve come, they are bound to get thrashed. If they come and protest in our college, they will be beaten. It’s as simple as that.
Unidentified person: What happened in Ramjas yesterday?
ABVP supporter: Just a few glasses etc. were broken yesterday.
Unidentified person: In room no. 26, right? That’s where English classes are held right?
ABVP supporter: No yaar! It wasn’t in room 26. These people have a seminar [hall] above the canteen.
Unidentified person: Ya ya, it’s there above the canteen, I’ve seen it.
ABVP supporter: Yeah, so they were taking JNU people there and we protested that we will not let those people and Umar Khalid come there.
Unidentified person: Good job! Well done!
ABVP supporter: The protest began on this issue only. Now, if they won’t listen to us, they will get beaten, obviously.
Unidentified person: So you have thrashed all of them from the English department?
ABVP supporter: What else do you think! Obviously we have. We have beaten teachers too.
Unidentified person: Oh man! You guys thrashed gurus (a respectable word for ‘teacher’) as well.
ABVP supporter: That’s the thing man. It’s the teacher who brainwashes (students). And all the teachers are standing in front, that’s the problem.
Unidentified person: Which windows have been broken? The ones in the canteen?
ABVP supporter: No, the ones in the room above the canteen.
Unidentified person: Oh! Well, that room is full of glass only.
Unidentified person: The Ramjas principal has been there for a long time, nobody can do anything to him, not even us. We are also Ramjas graduates.
ABVP supporter: Now, I’m telling you, if you do this, we won’t beat AISA but you only. [It was unclear as to who he was referring to, it could be professors (about whom discussion was going on) or student protesting at a distance (as he was looking at them and laughing at this point)].
[At this point, two people were talking over him but the ABVP supporter can be heard saying: We even hit them with eggs.]
Unidentified person: These are all kids, young blood you see.
ABVP supporter: We hit one of them so badly!
Unidentified person: Where?
ABVP supporter: He was wearing a red shirt. (Something not clear but it appears ‘He was a bit bald’.) Man, we made him all red by beating. And when we were beating him, his girlfriend was crying there. She was saying, “Why are you hitting us?” [He then started laughing while imitating her voice], “Why are you hitting us?” his girlfriend was crying.
Unidentified person: These rascals are all (drug) junkies…(inaudible).
ABVP supporter: See, the police is still coming!
Unidentified person: The matter is pretty serious dude.
ABVP supporter: The matter is about to get even more serious. These people (protestors), where will they go from here, I’m not able to get that. (There was a threat in his voice while saying this.)
Unidentified person: Who?
ABVP supporter: Police is obviously not going to escort them all the way to JNU.
Unidentified person: Oh, so they too have come here?
ABVP supporter: AISA people are sitting here only. That is why Ramjas people are standing here so that as soon as police subsides, they will get to cut their asses! [He sarcastically laughed after repeating it again.]
Unidentified person: Somebody was saying that they too are sitting here. (Who he is referring to is not clear.)
ABVP supporter: (inaudible) ..ABVP ..DUSU Head
Unidentified person: Tanwar.
ABVP supporter: He is sitting in the department, DUSU department. No other students are here, none from Hindu, none from Hansraj, only Ramjas students are here. On that side of the road, Ramjas students are there and on this side, AISA people are there. That’s why the road in front of the police station is blocked.
Unidentified person: Oh, so there’s a lot of ‘maar dhaad’ (violence) in Ramjas!
ABVP supporter: That’s why we are saying, how dare these rascals go to Ramjas. Anywhere else would have been fine.
Unidentified person: Yeah, Ramjas is famous for all this.
[At this point, he changed his dialect for few moments.]
ABVP supporter: Dude, after all this we are going to thrash our own students too (referring to students who organized or supported the event). These protestors will leave but where will the college students go!
[One unidentified speaker referred to weapons being used during elections, the Ramjas student interrupted him before he could finish; so it is unclear as to where the unidentified speaker was going with his remarks.]
ABVP supporter: The police comes to our campus only once during the whole year and that is during the elections. Yesterday, we even broke the door of our seminar room.
Unidentified person: So you hit them a lot yesterday?
ABVP supporter: No, not as much as we did today.
Unidentified person: You’ve hit them today as well?
ABVP supporter: Obviously, we’ve brought them from college till here [police station] while thrashing them all the way down.
[They all simultaneously started laughing and joked about a few things that are not audible.]
Unidentified person: They had called Umar Khalid so they must have been thrashed by these students.
Unidentified person: Who was thrashed? The one who was called or the ones who had called?
ABVP supporter: Bro, Ramjas students only had invited him [Umar Khalid] and they were beaten by Ramjas students only.
Unidentified person: These people have patriotism in their blood so they won’t listen to any insult to their country.
ABVP supporter: The one who was supposed to come didn’t come [Umar Khalid]. It is his followers who were thrashed. He didn’t even come.
Unidentified person: He got scared.
ABVP supporter: Doesn’t matter if he got scared or something, but his followers got a good beating. They are still getting thrashed. Still, they are not accepting it. This is the main problem, they are just not listening to us.
Unidentified person: These are junkies. Doesn’t matter how much you beat them, they won’t listen.
ABVP supporter: This is true. They are smoking pot openly, bloody motherfuckers, boys, girls, everybody is smoking cigarettes. These AISA people.
Unidentified person: This is what they want.
Unidentified person: What are these protestors shouting ‘Azadi’ (freedom) for? We got freedom in 1947. What are they asking for now!
ABVP supporter: They are saying, ‘We want freedom’. We are saying, ‘Let police give us a free hand for 5 minutes, we will make them forget the word “freedom’. Bro, I’m scared of media that’s why I’m not beating them. If I’m seen on camera, my folks will call me home in a minute saying “our son has become a big gangster’. It’s just because of this media that I’m not doing anything, otherwise I would’ve wiped them out by now.
ABVP supporter: Bro, (he used a word which is not understandable)… since today morning, we’ve been beating them. We thrashed one or two women from the media as well.
Unidentified person: You hit the girls as well?
ABVP supporter: We told her to not click pictures but she didn’t listen. So we hit one girl and a boy who were from the media. Sisterfuckers!
(Few unrelated remarks by others.)
ABVP supporter: It began at 1:30 PM, many times we went to (a word not audible for some place) and beat them. Then we beat them inside the college campus. After that, the JNU people who were standing outside came in.
Unidentified person Are you from Ramjas? He responded, “Yes” and he was about to continue his story when the other guy asked him again, “Which department are you from? He then replied, “I’m from Physical science.”
ABVP supporter: We were thrashing those English department [of Ramjas] students who had invited people for the event.
Unidentified person: Didn’t you get to know that they’re calling those (JNU) people?
ABVP supporter: Yes, we were thrashing them inside when we got to know that there are people outside too (referring to JNU students).
Unidentified person: The English department of Ramjas is like that only. Room no. 26 is the only room with an AC. No other Department has an AC (and few other inaudible remarks).
ABVP supporter: Inside, we beat them (English department students). JNU people had come outside. As soon as we came outside, we thrashed them as well because there was no police outside.
ABVP supporter: Police was inside because there was a scuffle/dispute near the canteen. (And then he started laughing while saying how they made others (English department students) run away). Then they called a bus full of police personnel but we weren’t listening to them at all.
Unidentified person X, who had joined the discussion sometime back and has very distinct voice, commented: “Dude something big is surely going to happen today.”
ABVP supporter: It is running live on TV.
Unidentified person X: This is not acceptable. Home-made bombs should be used on them.
Unidentified person Y: No man, not bombs.
ABVP supporter: See man, it is not good to use bombs.
Unidentified person: This will amount to sedition.
ABVP supporter: Yes it will be sedition.
Unidentified person X (retracting): It’s just enough to break their hands and legs.
ABVP supporter: These rascals from JNU, worthless people, not even worthless, they are stubborn. They were thrashed yesterday still they came today. So, they will obviously be thrashed again.
ABVP supporter: Even DU is not short of junkies.
Unidentified person: Yes he is right.
ABVP supporter: These protestors are skinny fellows, look at the junkies from DU too. As for Ramjas (the ones who beat up), they are body-builders.
Unidentified person: Dude, I can’t see any body-builders in DUSU.
Unidentified person: DUSU head hasn’t come here. [Amit] Tanwar?
ABVP supporter: I don’t know about him but Ajay Dedha is here only and Priyanka Chhawri (DUSU VP) is also here. Whole DUSU is sitting there (pointing to the protest site).
ABVP supporter: Now you see, everything aside, we are going to beat our teachers. All of them are from English [Department of Ramjas].
Unidentified person: Have they all (professors) come here?
ABVP supporter: Yes, they are standing here proudly, as if they have won some medal.
ABVP supporter: Police only intervenes after we’re done with beating them. [He made a statement about general state of affairs of the police in DU campus that they often come after we’ve managed to thrash them.] He started laughing while repeating himself: after twenty are beaten, they arrive and tell us to stop beating.
ABVP supporter: It’s the arrival of media which has put the police under pressure. Students cannot be controlled by police otherwise.
Unidentified person: What will police do now? What will so many policemen do now!
ABVP supporter: It’s because of media that the police are contained. If they (police) thrash AISA people, they will be captured on camera. [Police only became active after media had come. Police is only scared of media. That’s why they have become vigilant now because if we thrash AISA people in front of media, police will have to account for it. So it will become their responsibility rather than that of students.]
Unidentified person: These people (protestors) don’t even bathe for 1-2 days.
ABVP supporter: They are all scumbags, they have come without bathing for 20 days.
Unidentified person: They don’t bathe the entire winter. AISA people are full of shit.
Unidentified person: They will all be carried away in buses. (Something inaudible.)
ABVP supporter: Look, look there! (Pointing to the protest site in front of the police station), somebody from AISA has been thrashed. (He repeated his statement with self-satisfied laughter). Somebody from their side who must earlier have been under police protection must have come in our grasp. They (referring to his friends) are almost 20 in number. If they come in our hands, each one of us will get to hit two of them and then it’ll all be equal.
At this point, policemen came to disperse the crowd where we were standing. I then quickly clicked some photos of the ABVP supporter.
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