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Students In India Protest After University Attacked By Masked Assailants

Allahabad University students in Prayagraj, India, on Monday hold placards during a protest against an attack by masked assailants at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University over the weekend.
Rajesh Kumar Singh
Allahabad University students in Prayagraj, India, on Monday hold placards during a protest against an attack by masked assailants at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University over the weekend.

A fresh wave of protests spread across India's biggest cities Monday, hours after masked assailants invaded dormitories on an elite university campus in the capital New Delhi and beat up students and faculty.

Videos posted on social media showed attackers with bandanas covering their faces, wielding rods while roaming darkened hallways, and injured students with bloodied faces. The Indian Medical Association said doctors and nurses came under attack as they rushed to campus late Sunday to try to help.

"How does it reflect on the nation, if it cannot protect its doctors and nurses reaching out to the injured?" the medical association's statement said. "What is the message that goes out to the world?"

About two dozen people were injured at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), a longtime bastion of left-wing politics that's hosted many anti-government demonstrations in recent weeks, particularly against a new citizenship law, which critics consider anti-Muslim. The school's administration issued a statement linking what it called "scuffles" to an ongoing dispute over an increase in dormitory fees. It said "masked miscreants" entered dormitories Sunday afternoon, attacking students with sticks and rods, and that security guards were also badly injured.

It was unclear whether the attackers were students or outsiders. The student union, some faculty and opposition politicians blamed the violence on activists loyal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP.

But the BJP condemned the violence, blaming opposition parties instead. A right-wing student group blamed "communist goons."

"This is a desperate attempt by forces of anarchy, who are determined to use students as cannon fodder ... to shore up their shrinking political footprint," the BJP tweeted.

India's finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman — a Modi appointee and JNU alumna — condemned what she called "horrifying images" from her alma mater and said the Indian government wants universities to be "safe spaces for all students."

Police said they were investigating the violence. But many protesters criticized them for not intervening more quickly.

Fresh rallies erupted Monday on the JNU campus, protesting violence the previous night. Elsewhere around the country, hundreds of people gathered overnight at Mumbai's iconic Gateway of India monument, carrying candles and waving Indian flags. Similar demonstrations and marches erupted overnight and Monday in Kolkata, Hyderabad and other major cities. In Delhi, protesters also gathered outside a police station urging authorities to punish those responsible for attacking the JNU students. Protesters chanted slogans against the JNU violence but also against the Modi government and its citizenship law.

These are the latest in nearly a month of nationwide protests that have brought together critics of Modi's government, mostly over the Citizenship Amendment Act, passed by India's Parliament in early December. It offers amnesty to undocumented migrants who have arrived in India from three neighboring countries: Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Applicants are eligible for Indian citizenship if they are followers of any of South Asia's major faiths — except for Islam.

Those three countries have Muslim majorities, and Modi's government says the law is designed to offer refuge to religious minorities who may face persecution in Muslim countries. But the law's exemption of Muslims has sparked widespread allegations — from opposition parties, the United Nations and a U.S. government advisory panel — that it discriminates against Muslims and imperils thesecularism enshrined in India's constitution.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.