A peaceful protest against the hanging of Afzal Guru developed into a skirmish when the protestors were attacked by a right-wing mob at Jantar Mantar today. Organised by Peoples’s Union for Democratic Right’s the protest consisted of 30-40 people – university students, professors, activists, Kashmiri students and concerned citizens. They had only just gathered at Jantar Mantar with their placards and posters when a group of right-wing activists attacked them. Those present at the scene claim that the attackers tore up posters, abused, molested and beat up women and men.
An eye witness claimed that the mob consisted primarily of Bajrang Dal members as they were carrying the organisations scarves. The Bajrang Dal was present at Jantar Mantar demanding the expansion of National Highway 5 that passes through Ghaziabad. That being Rajnath Singh’s constituency, he too was present at the venue before the mob attacked the protest against the hanging of Afzal Guru.
Arshad Ali*, a Kashmiri student said, “They were gesturing towards my friend and saying ‘aaja, aaja, aaja‘. When I tried to intervene they beat me up. Khusnuma*, my friend, was thrown to the ground, her Hijab was pulled off and she was dragged by the hair. She too was fisted and kicked. The same treatment was meted out to at least two other girls in hijabs.” Commenting on the media he said “Some from the media chanted Bharat Mata Ki Jai”.
Witnesses say that Kashmiri boys and girls were particularly targeted. One of them heard the mob say, “Woh bhi lag raha hai” (Even he looks like one). Another witness claims he heard the police whisper to the Bajrang Dal mob “Don’t worry, we will put them out in two minutes.”
As the skirmish escalated protestors who had gathered against the hanging of Afzal Guru were taken to the Mandir Marg police station. They were detained there for almost two hours. The police claimed that they were detained as the protestors and Bajrang Dal activists were mutually responsible for the scene at Jantar Mantar. No activist from the Bajrang Dal was detained.
Kumar Sundaram, Research Consultant with Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace was singled out and taken to the Parliament Street Police Station. On the way a policeman asked him his name. When he found out it was Kumar, he said “ Isko toh galti se pakad liya.” ( We picked him up by mistake.) Kumar feels he was singled out because the police might have mistaken him to be a Muslim because of his beard. He believes that it was an organsied and planned assault on the peaceful protest against the hanging of Afzal Guru and not a spontaneous response.
Gautam Navlakha, activist, PUDR, whose face was blackened filed a complaint at Parliament Street police station against the Bajrang Dal. He says “ It was difficult to tell the police from the Bajrang Dal. The role of the state in promoting right-wing communalism is only too obvious. It is becoming a regular and well established practice.”
Afzal was sentenced to death on being convicted of conspiracy to attack the Indian Parliament, waging war against the nation and murder in December 2002. Several questions have been raised about the very nature of the trial that Afzal Guru had to undergo. Amnesty International in its statement on the execution says “He was tried by a special court designated under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), a law which fell considerably short of international fair trial standards and has since been repealed, in 2004, after serious allegations of its widespread abuse.”
The Bajrang Dal has denied any involvement of the organization in the scuffle. Shiv, a member of the Bajrang Dal, who was present at the protest, denied any such involvement of his organization in the scuffle. He says “The anti-Afzal protestors were using anti-national slogans. I read about it in Dainik Bhaskar. We did not attack them.” On photographs that clearly depict men with Bajrang Dal scarves confronting the protestors he said “They were only showing fists. That does not mean that they attacked.”