More than 20 people have been injured at a prestigious Indian university after masked attackers entered the campus in New Delhi and lashed out at students with batons.
Amid simmering tensions over the government’s citizenship laws and student fee increases, videos on social media appeared to show the attackers roaming Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in the capital on Sunday and beating students with sticks, leaving 23 students injured.
Police said the clashes were between rival student groups but opposition politicians blamed the trouble on a student organisation linked to the prime minister, Narendra Modi.
‘We are not safe’: India’s Muslims tell of the wave of police brutality
But Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India, called the attack a “collusion” between the JNU administration and “goons” of a student group linked to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“It is a planned attack by those in power, which is afraid of the resistance provided by JNU,” Yechury said.
Police fought street battles with JNU students in November after protests broke out over fee increases at the university.
JNU student organisations dominated by leftwing factions have since staged demonstrations demanding a rollback of the fee increase while facing accusations of obstructing administration officials.
At the same time, India has seen a series of violent clashes that have killed at least two dozen people amid protests over a controversial new citizenship law Modi’s government passed in December. More than 100,000 people marched through the city of Hyderabad on Saturday in protest at the law.
The law allows New Delhi to grant expedited citizenship to minorities from three neighbouring Islamic countries who entered India by December 31, 2014, but critics say it marginalises Muslims in the country as part of Modi’s larger Hindu nationalist agenda.
The government invited numerous Bollywood stars and film industry personalities to a private gathering in Mumbai on Sunday in an effort to garner support for the new citizenship law.
The BJP distanced itself from Sunday’s incident at JNU and Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student organisation blamed for the violence by the opposition, said that 25 of its members were injured during the campus attack.
“This is a desperate attempt by forces of anarchy, who are determined to use students as cannon fodder, (to) create unrest to shore up their shrinking political footprint. Universities should remain places of learning and education,” the BJP said on Twitter.
An official at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi said that most of the injured at the hospital was undergoing treatment for “lacerations, cuts, and bruises.”
“The brutal attack on JNU students & teachers by masked thugs, that has left many seriously injured, is shocking,” tweeted Rahul Gandhi, a leading politician of the main opposition Congress party.
Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, said: “How will the country progress if our students will not be safe inside (the university) campus?”
The prestigious university counts top Indian politicians including foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and this year’s Nobel economics prize-winner Abhijit Banerjee amongst its alumni, as reported by The Guardian.