“Today, this battle is a battle for all of us. Today, this is a battle for this university. Today this is not just this university's struggle but the struggle of every university in this country. In fact, not just of the universities, it is a battle for this society – it is a battle for what sort of a society would we have in the days to come.”Umar Khalid’s speech upon his return to the JNU campus on Sunday resonated with all his listeners, be it in person or through a computer screen. The 28-year-old PhD student, along with his peer Anirban Bhattacharya who is also accused of sedition surrendered themselves to the Delhi police outside the gates of their institution on Tuesday night while surrounded by hundreds of college students that formed a human chain, all the while chanting “Comrade Kanhaiya, Lal Salam.” Right from their appearance on campus and up to the time of their surrender to the police, the atmosphere at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University was incredibly charged as hundreds came out in support and solidarity of their 'anti-national' peers. Photographer Ishan Tankha was present at the scene and captures all the happenings through his lens. “I reached around the time Umar was giving his second speech," he told us. "He spoke about how his mother and friends and family were being attacked online and how it wasn't the version of india he subscribed to...what was amazing was that he was so calm, given the kind of betrayal and venom being spewed at him.”
Be it Umar’s alleged trips to Pakistan, the anti-national seditious slogan-shouting or the alleged Jaish-e-Mohammad link, a lot of stories have been propelled by the on-going media trial that has created a public image of the accused students and the university as a whole. But there's a flip side, the ground reality of the situation at JNU which we can grasp through Tankha’s account and images, as we get a glimpse, a behind-the-scenes look of sorts, of what life was like inside JNU, past and present police actions and reactions in such politically-stirred situations. Posted below are a few images taken by Ishan Tankha at JNU and an account of his experience documenting the aftermath of the ‘anti-national behaviour.’ You can follow him on Instagram, and view the rest of the photographs by clicking here; the following has been republished with permission from the author.
I, a photographer doing my job, was among a group of peaceful protesters confronted by a much larger group of self-proclaimed nationalists from the Bajrang Dal. Nation-loving fists flew, as groups of thugs cornered lone students to teach them a lesson in patriotism. The police stood by, the smiles on their faces almost avuncular. I'm not talking about the assaults at the Patiala court last week but about depressingly similar scenes in February, 2013 when a group of mostly Kashmiri students gathered to protest the hanging of Afzal Guru and dared to shout 'azaadi'.
Despite having a camera squished against my face, or perhaps because of it, I ended up with a broken jaw. Forty days of drinking my food through a straw and I'm sure the Bajrang Dal thugs think an anti-national like me got off lightly. Maybe the guy who hit me from behind didn't see my camera but others with him did and quickly dragged him away, concerned perhaps at the repercussions of hitting a journalist.
The 'lawyers' at Patiala court had no such qualms. So few qualms, in fact, that they went on their hooligan rampage twice, throwing rocks and shouting threats at even those just standing near the court gates. The police approached their jobs as if they were wildlife photographers, unwilling to intervene in nature, to disrupt the food chain.
Grainy videos with dodgy audio, photoshopped images of other people's wars, alleged travel plans of peaceful students, parody twitter accounts, all have been cited as fact by important, responsible people like the Delhi police commissioner, Home Minister ,Rajnath Singh, various spokespersons for political parties and news anchors. Students in their twenties are being railroaded as seditionists and anti-nationals. It's been hugely dispiriting, and angering, to behold.At JNU on Sunday night, the anti-nationals emerged after days in hiding to the fervent support of brave friends. It was a show of solidarity, of fellow feeling for beleaguered compatriots. A kind of national unity. After a directive from the High Court the two ‘anti-nationals ‘ Umar and Anirban joined fellow student leader Kanhaiya Kumar and are now in police custody. Here are some pictures from JNU from the last week.