A placard mocks Indian PM Narendra Modi during a protest on Jan. 7 against an attack on students and teachers at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. (Photo: AFP)
Police in India have been accused of failing to intervene when alleged supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) assaulted university students in New Delhi. Masked carrying sticks, hammers and bricks and shouting Hindu nationalist slogans entered Jawaharlal Nehru University on Jan. 5 and went on a rampage inside the campus for about three hours, injuring more than 30 students and teachers. Although Delhi police filed a complaint of rioting and assault against unknown people, a video shows police officers allowing the attackers, many still carrying iron rods and sticks, to leave the campus without trying to detain them, Human Rights Watch reported on Jan. 7. Police also stood by as a mob chanting nationalist slogans gathered at the campus gates and beat journalists and a political activist. A mob also attacked an ambulance attempting to enter the campus. “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,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “All too often police in India use excessive force and arbitrarily arrest peaceful critics of the government but are derelict in their duty to maintain law and order when violent ruling party supporters are involved.” Students told Human Rights Watch that the attackers were members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a student group affiliated with the BJP. Several news organizations tracked down messages on WhatsApp by ABVP members or BJP supporters that appeared to plan the violence. Jawaharlal Nehru University is considered a bastion of liberalism in India. Hindu nationalist supporters of the BJP have long accused students of sedition. Student union elections are bitterly contested between ABVP and student groups affiliated with left-wing political parties. Aishe Ghosh, president of the student union and a leader of the Student Federation of India, accused police of failing to intervene although she had informed them about “unknown people gathering at the campus” hours before the violence broke out. A statement by the university’s teachers’ association condemned the violence, saying it was unleashed “with the police standing by as mute spectators.” Students believe they were attacked because they were opposing a fee increase announced by the government. The ABVP has denied any role in the violence, saying that 25 of its members were injured in the attack, and blamed the assault on student groups affiliated with leftist organizations. The BJP condemned the violence, blaming opposition political parties.