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Students protest across India after attack at top Delhi university

Students have protested in cities across India after a masked mob stormed a high-profile university in Delhi and attacked students and teachers with weapons including sledgehammers, iron rods and bricks, injuring more than 30.

Opposition parties and injured students blamed Sunday night’s violence on a student organisation linked to the prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), which has increasingly targeted the institution.

The attack at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), long seen as a bastion of leftwing politics, comes as students lead a nationwide campaign against a citizenship law introduced last month by Modi that is seen as targeting Muslims.

Videos that emerged after the assault showed people in masks roaming inside the corridors of the university and beating students who were protesting against a fee rise.

Students at the Sabarmati hostel, which bore the brunt of the violence, described on Monday how they had locked themselves into their rooms when they heard glass being smashed or ran outside and hid in bushes until the attackers dispersed.

“Even after it was over, I had the most fearful night of my life, lying awake listening to every footstep in the corridor,” said Arjit Sharma, 23, a student of ancient history at JNU. One attacker told him: “We’ll come back for you.”

The violent clashes have further polarised an already poisonous atmosphere that’s prevailed for three weeks over the citizenship law. Although the JNU clashes were not about the law, which has triggered massive nationwide protests, they have added to the growing sense of unrest.





The Sabarmati hostel at the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus in New Delhi, India, after the attack.





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The Sabarmati hostel at the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus in New Delhi, India, after the attack. Photograph: Harish Tyagi/EPA

Scores of students left JNU on Monday, ignoring a plea by the university’s proctor to stay. One of those preparing to leave, Gayatri Basumatary, 23, said: “My parents are frantic. What happened is beyond any limit. They want me to get away from this madness.”

Those students who have remained are being extra vigilant. Satarupa Lahiri, who was in the hostel washroom when she heard screams and window panes being smashed, said: “It feels like a battle zone. We are walking around only in groups of 10 or 12 for safety.

“I am staying. Some students live a long way away and can’t afford the fare home so we have to show solidarity by staying on. We have to stick together. After all, it’s our campus. We can’t let these thugs take it away from us,” she said.

Opposition parties have accused the BJP of tacitly encouraging rightwing gangs to enter campuses and attack students. The main opposition Congress party called the attack on JNU “state-sponsored terrorism”. The BJP in turn has accused the opposition of encouraging anarchy and rioting.

“The fascists in control of our nation are afraid of the voices of our brave students. Today’s violence in JNU is a reflection of that fear,” tweeted Rahul Gandhi, a leading Congress politician.

The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the BJP, denied accusations that it was behind the attack, which it blamed instead on rival leftist unions.

Authorities faced criticism for failing to rein in the violence on a campus viewed as a centre of resistance to Modi’s policies, including the abolition last year of special status for Muslim-majority Kashmir.

Amit Thorat, who teaches economics at JNU, said he called the police a little after 7pm on Sunday but they didn’t come until an hour later. Nearly a dozen students Reuters spoke to said police watched as the mob rampaged inside the campus.

Surya Prakash, 25, a research scholar at the university’s Sanskrit school, said he had been brutally beaten in his dorm room despite telling them he was blind. They broke the door and windows of the room, barged inside and hit his head with a rod, said Prakash.

One floor up from Prakash, above the dorm wardens’ residence, students said two Kashmiri Muslim students living in adjacent rooms were targeted. While the attackers used a fire extinguisher to ram open a door, one student climbed over his balcony into the next-door room while another jumped on to the ground below, sustaining an injury, according to Mukesh Kumar, a research scholar who lives across the hall.

An ambulance carrying injured people off campus was attacked by a group of men with sticks while police stood by, bystanders said.

Critics accuse Modi of pushing a Hindu-first agenda that undermines India’s foundations as a secular democracy. The citizenship law lays out a path for Indian nationality for minorities from six religious groups in neighbouring countries but excludes Muslims.

The government condemned the violence. “Horrifying images from JNU the place I know and remember was one for fierce debates and opinions but never violence. I unequivocally condemn the events of today,” said the finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, a member of the prime minister’s party, on Twitter.

Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

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