Now it seems like I never belonged there
I’ve always been homeless, never belonged in this place
~ Yellow Elia
The university’s image in India has suffered significant damage since at least early 2016. In January 2016, there was an attack on Hyderabad Central University (HCU) as part of the institutional murder response of the Dalit scholar Rohit Vemula. A month later, a sedition case was filed against JNU Student Union leader Kanhaiya Kumar and others, accusing them of chanting anti-national slogans. In December 2019, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) came under attack ahead of Karnataka’s elections over a portrait of Mohammed Ali Jinnah that hung in the university’s student union lobby. These attacks damaged the image of the university. Universities were branded as anti-national, lafde wali yaga, deshdrohi university, and so on. Parents have become reluctant to let students study at these top public universities.
I felt lucky. I used to say to my friends, “Jamia didn’t suffer this kind of attack. Even the government knows that Jamia is a small university with less ability to influence people. That’s why the government doesn’t care about us. I knew that if such an attack happened, the students at Jamia would not have the resources to deal with it. Jamia is different from Aligarh Muslim University, Central Hyderabad University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jadavpur University and Pondicherry University. These universities have a large residential campus, with thousands of students in residence who can rise up to defend their campus. They are also rich with an active student political life, with several social and cultural platforms that have tied students into a single thread – in a campus society. Jamie is different. Most students do not live on campus. At some point in the evening, we come home. The campus has not had a rich political life, nor a social life that binds students together in a single thread. Students simply attend class and then spend time in the canteen before returning home.
After the crackdown on December 15, I slipped through the cemetery wall and reached the Batla House chowk. It is known as a place where you can buy sumptuous food until late at night. We used to sit in the library reading room during our exam periods and then leave hungry around 2am to get food in the Batla House area. It is known for its hustle and bustle, 24 hours a day. But, when I entered the area, Batla House was desolate.
Poets easily measure pain. I usually recite poetry when something hits me hard. That day, when I arrived at Batla House, the famous couplet by Mirza Ghalib came to mind:
Koi umeed bar nahi ati
koi surat nazar nahin ati,
age ati thi hal-e-dil pe hansi
ab kisi beats by nahi ati
I see no hope in the living,
I see no solution in sight.
Earlier I laughed at the dilemma of my heart
but now nothing amuses me.
I felt helpless. I felt the Jamia community was powerless. I was all alone and unable to help my friends. I didn’t know the police evacuated the campus. I had no idea who was where, whether the injured had been in the hospital or Thana (blocking). I got hundreds of messages from everywhere: someone stuck in a building, someone jumping over a high wall, someone in a load of lathi, someone locked in a toilet.
I felt helpless because of Jamia’s situation. At other universities, students stay on campus and develop a campus culture, which creates a legacy among graduates. We are kicked out of our campus after a few hours. We couldn’t save our campus. That evening we watched videos of the police breaking chairs and tables inside the library. They broke everything: the furniture, the windows, the bones of the students! I was filled with anxiety. I asked, ‘are they going to allow us to function as a university again?’ What we have witnessed in recent hours is extraordinary for the university and its students. Later, the University authorities said that the police violence resulted in damages that cost Rs 2.66 crores.
Nothing Will Be Forgotten by Nehal Ahmed, published by LeftWord Books, Delhi, Rs 250.
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