Recalling The Horror: making sense of identity amid violence

Co-Written by Zahoor Ahmad Mir, Mohd Lateef Mir and Adil Bashir. Dated: 1/11/2020 12:07:31 PM

"The Hobbesian kind of life began on the campus after the order. The students started packing their bags and leave. We decided to stay in the hostel unless thrown out, though the majority of the students left the hostels in the stipulated time - the whole university which till then was grooming as garden whirled into a ghostly niche."

It is said, 'life is full of uncertainties, and one never knows what transpires in a moment.' The uncertainty is part of our existence because of mortality. Life has many aspects, although intriguing which makes it a treasure to spend. It is like a journey which starts at the time of birth and goes on till death and on its way, there are several incidents which overwhelm it. These incidents become your memories either cherishing or scary. We also have lived the memories of both kinds. We can't recount all of them but some are more important in terms of their happenings. One such scary memory that traumatised us is the clampdown night on unarmed students at Aligarh Muslim University.
It was 15th December we were sitting in the Aftab Hostel surfing the internet where videos of Jamia Millia Islamia police brutality were doing rounds. We started a discussion on the police action in Jamia. In the meantime, the news of an alleged death of a student at Jamia Millia Islamia University in police action began to flash out at every news portal. It seemed strange, almost surreal. It was chaos all around, and everyone was talking about this unfortunate incident. Suddenly, we heard firing sounds outside, creating hue and cry and a sense of emergency. One of our friends speculated that the sounds might be of firecracker bursting and there is no need for panicking, and we do not need to worry about anything."
In the fraction of the minute, the sounds got intense coming closer at the same time assuring us that the Jamia like brutality is going to be repeated in this campus as well. Following these sounds, the cries and the ambulance sirens were equally worrying. We rushed out with a sense of vulnerability and saw policemen firing tear gas, sound shells and perhaps live bullets on the unarmed students. They had stormed the campus, from Bab-e-Syed side obliterating everything that came their way.
Meanwhile, the police brutality intensified by every passing second and the sense of fear and getting caught into this quagmire made us to fled and returned to our hostel room. We were praying for the safety of our brothers. In the meanwhile, videos started taking rounds from the emergency ward of the Jawahar Lal Nehru Hospital, where injured were taken for treatment. In just half an hour, more than 50 students were injured but the inhumane brutality didn't stop here. The police started patrolling inside hostel premises searching for students with bad intentions of abusing and physically assaulting them.
The police entered the Morrison Court Hostel and went on the rampage, inflicting violence on any student seen, even if they were in washrooms, reading halls or just walking in the corridors and balconies. The police brutality did not just end at beating; more traumatising was the verbal abuses, communal slurs and the illegal detention of the already broken and psychologically traumatised students. The fear-ridden atmosphere, the smoked and deserted roads filled with thousands of armed paramilitary and police force resembled the situation of Aligarh with Kashmir.
Suffocating and fainting students laying on the main campus, the cries, lathicharge, teargas and sound shelling, etc. around us was the scene of AMU campus which we witness almost every day in Kashmir. It was like the night of hashr on the campus with helplessness and fear becoming the visible on the faces of the students. We could not sleep the whole night.
The very next day, the formal order came from the Proctor, which categorically directed students to vacate hostels till dusk. The order further traumatised the scarred students, that had suffered intense police violence a night before. We got astounded after getting the direction. Because Aadil - one of our friends had to attend the conference for which tickets and fee had been submitted already. Lateef was supposed to submit his thesis and Zahoor got stuck in because of the untoward conditions prevailing in his University, the Jamia Millia. What happened next was like ghosts of the partition had hovered again, but this time over the university.
The Hobbesian kind of life began on the campus after the order. The students started packing their bags and leave. We decided to stay in the hostel unless thrown out, though the majority of the students left the hostels in the stipulated time - the whole university which till then was grooming as garden whirled into a ghostly niche. The harassment of the University administration began. We were asked to leave the hostel thrice in a day. Some student leaders stood by our side asking us not to leave. It was unfortunate to see our institution disowning us during this turbulence. We love this institution and will continue to do so but the approach towards us was heartbreaking.
The flight tickets were touching the skies, and the road to our home was blocked. We were dreadful not just because of the harassment but also being the soft targets of the Police and Administration due to the established narratives for being Kashmiri Muslims. We had planned to leave for Delhi and stay there in the chaos but one of our friends fell sick and was urgently admitted to the hospital. So we couldn't leave the place. AMU administration left no stone unturned to make us vacate the hostel in this calamatic condition. At the same time parents back home were getting anxious about our safety, once the news of police atrocities had been disseminated. We were very depressed and anxious.
But in this hour of distress, there were still some generous people. How can we forget rickshaw puller, whom we had acquaintance with for some time, repeatedly called us to offer accommodation? We were in constant chaos and fear where to go and whom to contact. Fortunately, we got a contact number of an Assistant Professor, who along with other teachers, extended every possible help to the students and offered accommodation to stranded Kashmiris. We called her and found her very helpful. She managed a flat for us, but the dreadful conditions continued with us, now outside the campus. We were told by a student leader that don't leave the university because police are looking for the targets and you people may become the one. We were petrified yet anxious about the health of our comrade who still was admitted in the hospital. After listening to the student leader who asked students to stay in the campus, Zahoor got frightened and left in haste, and we decided to wait till our friend gets discharged from the hospital. The horror continues, and we still live in.
The scenes we witnessed that day reinforced the thinking of how the identity and violence run parallel to each other. The horrifying night magnified the belief that the Muslim identity, its "othering", its equation with extremism and the justification of the use of legitimate violence is the intent of the authorities to reinforce a sense of insignificance amongst the adherents of this (Muslim) identity. Since independence, the Muslims of India have always been made to prove their patriotism, their secular abidance and their Indianness.
Though the struggle emanating from Jamia Millia and AMU was to upheld the same secular fabric and equality that is enshrined in the Constitution of India, but the response from the authorities validated the apprehension that the Muslim identity is considered to be inherently violent and disloyal towards India the same that Jinnah visualised for the Indian Muslims who decided to live in India after partition. The vicious cycle of suppression that Muslims faced after the protests in Jamia Millia, AMU and other places in India resembles the thinking that has garnered in post-partition India about the Muslims.
Zahoor Ahmad Mir (Research Scholar at Jammia Millia Islamia), Mohd Lateef Mir and Adil Bashir (Research Scholars at Aligarh Muslim University)



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