Disproportionate Police Response Criticised Amidst Protests At Indian University

On January 5th, more than 30 students and teachers at India’s prestigious university Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) were attacked by a violent masked mob, and the Delhi police are being criticised for their lack of adequate response towards the horrific attacks. Over the weekend, students had been protesting a fee rise at the university when at night around 50 masked attackers arrived onto the campus with iron rods and sledgehammers, assaulting students and teachers, according to the Guardian. “Students and teachers begged the police to intervene during the attack at Jawaharlal Nehru University, but the police simply stood and watched the attackers walk away,” as Human Rights Watch (HRW) South Asia Director, Meenakshi Ganguly said in a statement condemning the police. HRW also noted the emergence of a video showing the police allowing members of the violent mob walk away without detainment while chanting Hindu nationalist slogans.

Witnesses on the night told Al Jazeera that the masked attackers were members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a right-wing student group connected to the ruling political party of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Yet, the police have not made any arrests or charges since the attacks, except for one of the victims of the attacks – the university’s student union president Aishe Ghosh. She was one of the worst hurt, needing 16 stitches after being beaten by the masked attackers. Police accused Ghosh of vandalising a server room and fibre-optic cables at the university as part of their protest earlier on in the day. Ironically, one of the victims of the attack is the first one that the Delhi police are pursuing with any fervour, rather than those who caused so much violence and destruction.

However, this is not unexpected for the Indian police, amid accusations of police brutality at other universities in India, where students were protesting a controversial citizenship law passed in December. The law purports to fast-track Indian citizenship for non-Muslim religious minorities from neighbouring countries. This has led to a tense atmosphere in India, with many protesting this law, and the attacks on the JNU students have added to that intensity.

It is absolutely deplorable that the police would not protect students in need, and let these attackers run wild. It undermines their integrity, and their ability to serve as adequate protectors of the public. When there is the possibility that the attacks are politically motivated, the police should not be seen as only protecting those who support the ruling political party. That speaks to corruption, which will only engender more violence if nothing is done to combat it.