AMU Protests: Detained students released; protestors recall night of terror

The entrance to the hostels of Morison Hall. Before this entrance is another gate where a guard is stationed. The guard on duty that night was beaten up at the first entrance and fled into the hostels chased by RAF and police.

By Meher Ali,

Aligarh: At least nine detained Aligarh Muslim University students were released Monday night at around 8 pm following pressure from local Aligarh residents, who gathered on the streets near the university to protest the students’ detention.

Syed Zamin Mehdi (18)’s older brother, Syed Mohammad Mehdi was one of the students who was detained by the police and rapid action force (RAF) on Sunday night during protests. He was released at 8.30 pm from Civil Lines Police Station yesterday after being pressured to do so by local Aligarh residents. The police beat Mehdi up who suffered head injuries and had to get 5 stitches. He is now on his way home.

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One of the mattresses right next to the window is completely
burnt and its charred remains are scattered on the bed and on the
floor of this hostel room.

Another student, Afjad Thakur, a second-year law student was picked up by the police soon after he visited his friend, Nasir Chaman, a first-year law student at the hospital Sunday night. Thakur was released 8 pm Monday night as well. Chaman said that Thakur told him that he, along with 26 other students were taken to the outskirts of Aligarh. Ten of these student, identified as outstation students by their University ID card, were separated from the rest, stripped naked, and beaten by the police with lathis and leather belts. Thakur was one of the 10 as his ID card listed his old Moradabad address though he is a local Aligarh resident. He told Chaman that he has bruises all over his body and 5-6 stitches on his elbow.

What started as a demonstration in support of students of Jamia Millia Islamia and against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 ended in a night of terror for students of Aligarh Muslim University.

Students claim that the mark on this wall was made by a rubber
bullet that was also fired through the broken window.

Chaman went to protest Bab-e-Syed, the University’s main gate at about 8.50pm. He saw that 50-60 students had gathered at the Registrar’s Office right outside of this gate. They had broken the smaller of the 2 gates that flanked Bab-e-Syed. He also saw police and personnel from RAF throwing teargas at the students who ran back into the university through the same small gate.

Chaman also moved further inside the university as the teargas continued. That was when he saw what looked like a teargas cylinder next to him. He said that as soon as he picked it up to throw it aside, there was a blast and his hand exploded. He described the device as being cylindrical like a teargas bomb, but unlike it, it was wider and bigger, about the size of a half-litre water bottle.

A close up of the tear gas shell

Other students at the protest also mentioned this bomb-type device that they called ‘noise bombs’ and that exploded in their hands, when they attempted to throw it , mistaking it for tear gas. Moreover, the tear gas used on the student was itself expired, said Ayesha (20) who did not disclose her last name or area of study for safety reasons. By the time Chaman retreated, student numbers had swelled to about 2,000 or more. He saw the main university gate being broken by the police at around 8.30-9 pm.

Even as the students retreated, the police and the RAF continued to fire teargas, rubber bullets, and the above mentioned explosive device.

A student who claims he was hit by a rubber bullet holds the
same in his hands. He said it didn’t hit him hard as he was wearing a jacket.

Some of them fled to nearby hostels, specifically Morison Court and SS Hall (North).

Farooq Ahmed (50) was a night guard on duty at Morrison Court that night. He opened the hostel gate to let the fleeing students enter. Right behind them came the police and RAF in larger numbers. He said that they were firing teargas and rubber bullets at the students.
Ahmed tried to stop them but they started intimidating him, he then fled inside the hostel and they chased him. He entered the hostel room of 3 students and tried hiding there. These students, had stayed in that night and not participated in the protests. The students locked the room from the inside. The RAF officers then broke open a window and threw tear gas into it. The students’ notebooks that were on the window sill caught fire, as did the mattress nearest to it. The students and Ahmed rushed out. That was when the police hit Ahmed with a rifle butt.

Ahmed started pleading with them; “Main staff hoon mujhe mat maro”. (I am staff please don’t hit me) That was when the let him go and an ambulance picked him up.

Zamin is now in possession of CCTV footage that shows the RAF and the police beating up his brother, Syed Mohammad Mehdi and others. The footage shows the police hitting his brother on the thighs with the rifle butt. The three students, Zamin said, were also dragged and beaten by lathis including on their head the entire way to a white colored van that was parked outside Morison Court. He said they were all limping and all the armed forces were carrying real guns.

Zamin does not know the whereabouts of the other 2 detained students.
The burnt hostel room at Morison Court hostel. Some of the
unburnt notebooks remain on the window sill. The rest are charred as
are two mattresses right next to the window.

I met another student, a 19-year-old, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College (JNMC), who agreed to give an interview but seemed disoriented as he started to speak. A friend of his brother, Aaban Khan (25), who was standing next to me and had been attending to him, took me aside, shortly after, and told me that this student was not in a condition to speak. Khan then told me what had happened to him. Like the students at Morison Court, he too did not take part in protest but was behind the locked gate of his hostel, SS Hall (North). A policeman threw a tear gas cylinder over the gate at him. He inhaled the teargas and was disoriented. Khan and others made him drink salt water and half an hour later he fainted. They then took him to JNMC, where his body froze and became very stiff. The doctor told Khan that he had had a seizure.

Two security vans move past Maulana Azad Library. The white
one was the one that students claim was used to pick up the three
Morison Court hostel students on Sunday night after the forces burned
their hostel room.

Aftaab Ahmed (24), M.Tech student, joined the protest at around 11pm. A teargas cylinder landed near his feet causing him to suffocate. He ran and was chased by the RAF and police who called him “katua”, a racist slur for Muslim men. He was tear gassed a second time. He escaped by running through the back roads into his hostel.

When Chaman entered the operating theatre for his hand at 1am, and came out at 3am, none of his friends were there to meet him. He was later told that they fled as the police and RAF came all the way to the hospital to arrest more students.

Another injured, a 22-year-old student at JNMC, whose friend requested that his name and details be withheld, was hit on the head with a lathi after he joined the protest at around 8.30 pm. The last he remembers is the police and the RAF advancing to the university guest house. He regained consciousness Monday morning and said to the doctor: ” Exam hai, jaane dijiye (I have an exam, please let me go.)”.

Monday afternoon RAF personnel continue to stand at attention
in full riot gear inside AMU.

Meher Ali is an independent journalist based in Aligarh. She reports on human rights and social justice related issues and blogs about Aligarh at Her twitter is @Aashi310.