The Sound of Silence
Renewed Resolve - Jamia, the day after
Even before the collapsed road fences, the stones and rocks littering the stretch of road splitting the Jamia campus in two, even before the hoards of anxious faces making their way towards Gate 7 of the college after 15th December’s brutal police attacks -- one could hear the silence.
It hung in the air tense, as we descended down the stairs of Jamia Millia Islamia metro station, bordered on one side by a desolate graveyard and on the other by the campus road itself. Hearing distant slogans and chants which weren’t loud enough to intimidate us yet, but weren’t soft enough to ignore either, we descended onto a street which seemed thick with memories of last night.
Despite the noise and chaos that clearly reigned far away at the heart of the campus, nobody was saying much where the metro station spilled out. The auto drivers were mute, waiting for rides instead of calling to them, people were crossing the intersection with hushed voices and hunched shoulders, and the ones who were doing neither were simply striding toward campus. The need to speak absent.
It was this crowd that we joined on Monday afternoon, as we visited the Jamia campus to gauge the state of things which had raged across social media last night in horrific and violent explicitness.
And it was clear as we neared the very first gates of the university that the crowd at the center was going to be huge, loud and even more resolute after the previous night, that had sent many of its population to the hospital and police stations. Hundreds were holding up placards and shouting slogans; crowds had separated into individual groups to rally varying versions of anti-government and anti-CAB/NRC chants, and at the center of it all was a human chain.
A human chain consisting of protestors who kept the general population off the main road, who tried to ensure the peaceful procession of vehicles which drove by, and weren’t letting large numbers cross the boundary of the protest for fear of the police barricade that lurked around Holy Family hospital. A dead-man’s land separated the area of the protest from the first hints of uniformed officers, only the occasional reporter and a civilian walking this deserted region.
No excuse for an invasive force this time.
The first students we talked to were naturally incensed, and helped delineate the series of events that kicked off this new day’s procession- police presence had emerged almost simultaneously with the students and locals, who had arrived on the spot around 9:30.
“Most of the people here are people of Batla House. Teachers are also here and simultaneously a human chain is going on. Teachers are constantly helping and advising us,” said Fahreen Fatima, a Mass Comm student of Jamia.
And in the midst of all this fervor, the rallying, crying and sloganeering, perhaps the most heartwarming encounter of all we had was with one of the many locals running around the place, their sole purpose at the protest to provide people with food and drink- water, bananas, packets of Little Hearts and copious servings of pulao.
“Abhi sochte hain, pehle kaam karlein,” said the local when we asked for his statement on the previous night’s events, before rushing off into the crowd with a carton in his hands.
Finally, as 3 o’ clock rolled around, we made our way to the AJK Mass Communication Research Center, where a Civil Society Delegation (consisting of justices, advocates and alumni) planned to meet with the students and teachers to collate first hand accounts of the police attacks on Sunday evening.
But this part of the campus seemed eerily untouched. Ghostly. The moment we stepped through Gate 13 and walked into the sweeping greenery and elaborate architecture that this part of the university afforded us, a discombobulating atmosphere of suppressed rage pervaded the entire area.
Yet again, we found silence so close to the chaos of the main road.
Separated only by a metal gate.
People weren’t running here, or raising slogans or marching in large crowds- but you could see the vestiges of the violence that had wreaked the campus the preceding days. Graffiti and spray-painted slogans on the walls decrying the government, the Act, the police and the death of our democracy were on every turn, and students and teachers roamed the grounds quietly- not in large numbers, but in close-knit groups.
Finally, upon entering the roundtable meet, we found ourselves struggling to find a spot to stand, the room packed to the brim with those intent on giving their accounts. Multiple students began their recounting, and were interjected with questions ranging from the nature of the lathi charges (head or below waist) and the conflict when the first tear gas shells befell the protestors.
We weren’t allowed to record the accounts- but upon getting text messages of increasing police presence and 2000-odd personnel headed for the campus around 3:30, we decided it prudent to exit and leave the campus as soon as we could. Rushing in and out of the crowds, asking bystanders about the nearest metro station that was open (upon discovering the Jamia station to be locked up) amidst growing fever in the processions, it took us nearly an hour to finally put the campus behind us, under the shelter of a metro station which had never felt safer.
The reports of rising police presence continued to bombard social media even as we reached our homes, and waited anxiously for it to escalate to violence. But luckily, the evening of 16th December was a relatively peaceful day in the capital for the protests against the NRC and CAB that have gripped the youth of the nation in an unprecedented solidarity, with no hints of violence leaking from the campus until as late as 1 am, and the day cherry-topped with the Preamble reading at India Gate- whose pictures and videos made the rounds on social media as a small beacon of hope amidst growing dread over what would become of a country that once prided itself on its secular identity.
(The writers are both college students)