Families at Jawaharlal Nehru University recall an evening of terror at the faculty housing

While the majority of the violence took place at the student hostels, the masked men also stormed the faculty accommodation. Mahavir Singh Bisht

On 5 January, at around 6:30 pm, a group of masked men wielding lathis and rods attacked students and faculty at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. The students and teachers had gathered to protest a proposed hike in the hostel fees. According to students and eyewitness accounts, the mob pelted stones, damaged cars, vandalised hostels and beat up students and faculty. Calls for help to the police, who were deployed at the university, went unanswered. Over twenty injured people were admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Several students claimed that the masked men belonged to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the RSS. The ABVP has denied the charge, and instead claimed that “commie” and “leftist” groups attacked its members. On 7 January, Pinky Chaudhary of the Hindu Raksha Dal, a right-wing organisation, told ANI that his group “took full responsibility for the attack in JNU and would like to say that they were our workers.”

While the majority of the violence took place at the student hostels, the masked men also stormed the faculty accommodation. We spoke to two couples who recounted an evening of terror. On the evening of 5 January, Shiv Prakash, an assistant professor of Urdu, was relaxing with his wife and children at home in the faculty accommodation known as the New Transit House II. Suddenly, at around 7 pm, he got a call from a colleague about hungama—ruckus—in Sabarmati, the nearby students’ hostel. Shiv stepped out of his apartment to see what was happening, leaving his wife and two sons, aged 12 years and 18 months, behind. His eight-year-old daughter was at a neighbour’s place. “I walked towards Sabarmati and suddenly saw a large crowd of men advancing menacingly towards the transit house with sticks and rods in their hands, so I turned and ran back home,” Shiv recalled. His wife, Suneeta, was startled to hear him shouting at them to run into the bedroom, even as he shut and latched the front door. “His face was in a panic and I immediately grabbed the children and rushed inside,” Suneeta said.

Suneeta peered fearfully from her bedroom window and saw fifteen to twenty men. “Some were masked, but all of them were carrying steel rods and sticks,” she said. Suddenly, they heard banging on their front door. “The men were outside our house trying to gain entry,” Suneeta recalled. “They were banging and kicking our front door and shouting at us to open the door.” The Prakashs’ had already called their neighbour to secure her door and keep their daughter till further notice. Soon, the front door’s latch fell open, and the masked men gained entry into their living room. By then, the couple had moved into the bedroom. “I placed both my hands against the door and pushed, so that the added bodyweight would prevent them from breaking the bedroom door,” Suneeta said, as she showed me the red marks on her hands. “I was so frightened that I started crying, thinking about what would happen to my children.”

They could not hold out for long, and the men forced their way into the bedroom. Shiv and his family were terrified. Suneeta folded her hands and pleaded with the men to leave them, even as she tried to shield her kids. “I teach in JNU, why are you doing this? What do you want?” Shiv asked the men. “Suddenly, one of them recognised me and told the others that I am faculty, don’t beat them,” he told us. “If that man had not recognised my husband, they may have beaten us up, maybe even killed us,” Suneeta added. When I asked Shiv if he knew who the student was, he said, “I recognised him as a JNU student, but I don’t know who he is”.

Shiv grew up in Kaushambi district, in eastern Uttar Pradesh. His home was located next to a Muslim colony. In school, he learnt Urdu and developed an interest in the language. After graduating from Allahabad University he joined JNU, in 2005, as a master’s student. “At that point I didn’t know what JNU was,” he said. “My friends told me about a university in Delhi where the quality of education was good. That’s when I decided to come to JNU.” The mess charges were Rs 1,200 per month, and Prakash got a monthly scholarship of Rs 600. “I used to get Rs 1,000 from home so I managed to get by,” he said. “The fee hike in JNU, especially the mess charges, is going to hit poor students very hard.” Prakash completed his MA, MPhil and PhD in Urdu from JNU, specialising in children’s literature for his MPhil, and fiction and short stories for his PhD. Suneeta is from Kaushambi too and describes herself as a “housewife”. The family has been living in faculty accommodation for three years, and saw the campus as a safe place to raise a family.

“Faculty has never been targeted in JNU, and I never thought that we would have to experience this nightmare,” Suneeta said, adding that they were awake the whole night. “We have not yet told our families in Kaushambi about what happened.” “If the government cannot keep us safe in our own homes then we won’t stay here,” she said. When I asked them why the mob would attack them and the transit house, Suneeta said that men had told them they were searching for some people who they thought had hid there.

At the same time that the masked men were terrorising the Prakash family, Kumari Neelu, another resident of the transit house, was having her own nightmarish experience. At 7.10 pm Neelu had decided to go for a walk. At the entrance of the transit house, an Uber driver warned her that there was some trouble at Sabarmati hostel. Neelu walked around seventy metres towards the Sabarmati hostel and noticed around forty men near the hostel, cursing and shouting. “This doesn’t feel like a JNU crowd,” Neelu thought to herself and stopped dead in her tracks. She started recording the scene on video, cradling her arms around her phone so that it would not be visible. The men were roughly 100 meters away when they spotted her and started walking towards her.

Neelu panicked, turned around and set off at a fast pace towards the transit house. “I’d barely taken five steps when I heard loud voices behind me,” she told us. “I turned back and saw them running after me. There were maybe thirty men. So, I also ran.” She reached the transit house entrance, where three guards were trying to shut the gate. “I ran in and heard the men right behind me, abusing the guards to open the gates.” She ran up the stairs to her first floor apartment and frantically rang the doorbell. “I don’t think they were able to follow me upstairs immediately because they tangled with the guards,” Neelu said. Her phone video was running all the while. “I never would have realised that four goons were right on my heels if I hadn’t checked the video later.”

When her partner, Vikramaditya Choudhary, an assistant professor at the centre for the study of regional development, opened the door, she rushed in and tried to explain what was happening, gasping for breath. “When something bad happens my brain goes into full-alert mode,” Neelu said. They bolted the door, turned off the lights and ran into the bedroom. In the darkness they peered out of the window, which overlooks a courtyard, and saw four men. Neelu then went into the bathroom and peered out of the window and, to her horror, saw twenty men outside her front door. They were banging, cursing and threatening. “Vikram and I thought, if they break the front door, we will close the bedroom door and, if they break the bedroom door, we will hide in the bathroom and shut the door.”

Neelu called the Delhi police helpline while Vikram was frantically dialing JNU security, the university’s chief security officer and the registrar. No one picked up. Only the JNU security control room answered, but they did not do anything. Vikram also called up their neighbours and colleagues to warn them to lock their doors. The mob was baying outside their front door for fifteen minutes, but failed to kick it in. When I asked Neelu why the mob attacked the transit house, she said, “When I retraced my steps later I thought they were chasing me because I took a video, but I am not sure.”

Across the corridor from Neelu and Vikram, the mob turned their fury onto a Korean faculty member. Kim, who did not wish to disclose his full name, is 15 years old and lives with his mother, Myung e-Lee, a visiting faculty at the centre for Korean studies. Kim answered the door when we rang the doorbell. Since Myung was asleep, we spoke to Kim. “When [the mob] rang the doorbell, we were scared, because we had already seen the mob outside,” Kim said. “We opened the door and they realised we are foreigners, so they were not very aggressive.” He added, “One of them said they wanted to check our home to see if anyone was hiding and that they would not trouble us.” One of the men nonchalantly walked in and found nothing, so they left.

It is not clear from these accounts why the faculty were attacked. Some suggested that when the Sabarmati hostel was attacked, some of the students may have run towards the transit house to hide and were pursued by the masked men, while others said that the mob was trying to catch people who were taking videos and photographs.


कौशल श्रॉफ स्वतंत्र पत्रकार हैं एवं कारवां के स्‍टाफ राइटर रहे हैं.
तुषार धारा कारवां में रिपोर्टिंग फेलो हैं. तुषार ने ब्लूमबर्ग न्यूज, इंडियन एक्सप्रेस और फर्स्टपोस्ट के साथ काम किया है और राजस्थान में मजदूर किसान शक्ति संगठन के साथ रहे हैं.