New Delhi: Hundreds of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students were lathi-charged by police and several of them allegedly detained briefly when they tried to march towards the Rashtrapati Bhavan against the hostel fee hike on Monday.
The students' march, second in a month, led to traffic congestion in south Delhi and left scores of Metro commuters stranded for hours with three central Delhi stations being closed as a precautionary measure.
Amid heavy police deployment and barricades beginning right outside the campus, the students began their march at around 2pm but were stopped near the Bhikaji Cama Place metro station.
When the students reached a cordoned area, they tried to jump the barricades and were lathi-charged by the police.
According to JNU Students' Union (JNUSU) president Aishe Ghosh, "Several students, including women, have been detained by police which brutally attacked the protesters, asking us to go back to campus."
She said the students will not budge until their demand for a complete rollback of the hostel fee hike is met.
She said they were marching peacefully and when the students reached Sarojini Nagar, the police "attacked" them and later diverted the march towards Hyatt Regency.
"Police told us that they will allow a delegation from the protestors to meet the (HRD Ministry) officials in New Delhi. We told them that we will march till a distance and then the delegation will go, but police did not allow us to move ahead and thrashed the students on the road outside Hyatt," she said.
The students took to social media to share images and videos of lathicharge by police.
"They first stopped and then attacked us while the march was going on peacefully. Over 30 students were injured," Shreya Ghosh, one of the protesters, claimed.
The police, however, refuted the charges of lathicharge and detention of students. The police said they did not detain the students but "took some of them from spot back to their campus".
However, visuals showed police baton-charging the students.
The students wanted to march to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to seek an appointment with the President, the visitor of the varsity, to urge him to intervene and address their issue.
Traffic movement was slow at various intersections in south Delhi due to the march, prompting the traffic police to issue advisories for commuters.
"Due to the demonstration, the traffic movement is affected on the road leading to Dhaula Kuan from AIIMS. The commuters should avoid the route," the Delhi Traffic Police tweeted.
"The traffic movement on Africa Avenue was slow and the route from Bhikaji Cama Place is obstructed. Kindly avoid this stretch," the police said.
Earlier in the day, traffic movement was closed on Baba Gangnath Marg to Sarojni Nagar depot, Africa Avenue road, both carriageway of Sant Nagar depot and Hyatt to Leela Hotel due to the demonstration. Traffic was diverted from Leela Hotel towards INA.
Police said heavy deployment of force was in place ahead of the march from the JNU and roads leading to the campus were shut for traffic and appeals were made to students to protest peacefully.
The students circulated photos, claiming police have closed all gates of the university before start of the march. As they began, they shouted slogans like "Delhi Police go back" and "Education must be free for all".
Entry and exit points at Udyog Bhawan, Lok Kalyan Marg and Central Secretariat metro stations were closed for over four hours by authorities following directions from Delhi police. The stations reopened around 5:20pm.
"As advised by Delhi Police, entry & exit at Udyog Bhawan, Lok Kalyan Marg and Central Secretariat have been closed. Trains are not halting at Udyog Bhawan and Lok Kalyan Marg," the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation said on Twitter.
Ghose said she received an email from the HRD Ministry at around 11.30 pm on Sunday for a dialogue at 9am the next day. Ghose said she replied saying, a delegation from the student will meet them after the march.
The students have been protesting for over a month inside the campus against the hostel fee hike and have also called for boycott of the upcoming semester exams, despite repeated appeals by the administration asking them to return to classes.
The HRD Ministry had set up a three-member committee to look into ways to restore normal functioning in the JNU and mediate between the agitating students and the administration.
The panel submitted its report to the ministry but no call has been taken yet.
According to sources, the government is unlikely to interfere in the matter as the varsity is an autonomous institution.
Meanwhile, the JNU administration on Monday said it is willing to hold dialogue with students agitating but they are not ready for it.
"It is regrettable that a false narrative is being spread that the administration is refusing to hold dialogue with student representatives. In fact, when an attempt was made for dialogue, the student agitators violently disrupted the meetings," the university said in a statement.
The students' agitation over the hike in hostel fee escalated on November 11 when thousands of them clashed with police outside the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) premises, where the university's convocation was held.
The JNU's Executive Council had then announced a partial rollback of the hike for students belonging to the BPL category and not availing any scholarships. However, the protesters dubbed it an "eyewash".
A week later, students staged a march from the JNU campus to the HRD Ministry but were stopped at multiple locations and finally outside Safdarjung's Tomb by police.