Patiala – Punjabi University students protesting the recent fee hike were dragged and beaten up by the police in one of the most violent clashes on the campus in recent times. More than 24 persons, including students, policemen, journalists and officials, were injured.
The police have registered a case against 27 identified students, including five girls, and around 150 unidentified persons under various Sections of the IPC at the Urban Estate police station. The university authorities have declared a holiday for Friday.
The peaceful dharna turned violent after the police and administration intervened. They had a heated exchange of words with the agitating students, following which there were violent clashes.
Patiala Inspector General Paramjit Gill has promised a probe into the lathicharge even as the situation remains tense on the university campus. Meanwhile, the police from neighbouring districts was also called in. Incidentally, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is scheduled to visit Patiala on Friday.
It all started in the morning when the protesting students gathered peacefully and blocked the university gate, demanding a rollback of the recent fee hike. Patiala SDM Gurpal Chahal reached the spot and their interaction soon turned into an altercation. Both sides accused the other of “hurling abuses”.
DSP Gurdev Dhaliwal, who was present at the scene, intervened, but the students refused to back off. The agitated DSP allegedly slapped/pushed a student leader who was standing on the university gate. Later, a video clip showed that the student lost his balance and his foot hit the DSP, following which the DSP’s turban was dislodged.
Then, the police lathicharged the unarmed students, including girls, and dragged them inside the university. Instead of dispersing the gathering of students, the policemen continued hitting the students even as the SDM was seen trying his best to stop the policemen.
Fifteen minutes later, the students counterattacked the policemen with stones and roughed them up.
Chaos prevailed as the Patiala-Chandigarh highway was blocked for some time. Angry students raised anti-police slogans and threw stones and bricks from inside the campus. The police then fired tear gas shells at the students, leaving many students injured.
Student leader Sumeet Shammi alleged that the attack was instigated by university authorities. “Why would the police interfere in the matters of university when the students were protesting peacefully? The police first abused us and when we retaliated, they hit unarmed students,” he said.
However, Patiala SDM Gurpal Chahal, who was hit by a stone, blamed the students for the violence. “As they locked the main gate, the crowd swelled and disrupted traffic on the Patiala-Rajpura road. We urged them to open the gates and let in the students who were disrupting traffic. However, they misbehaved with the police personnel and dislodged the DSP’s turban. Only when they started hitting the policemen was action initiated. However, I personally intervened and stopped the lathicharge,” he said.
Senior university officials neither visited the site of the violence nor made any efforts to intervene. Vice-Chancellor Jaspal Singh could not be contacted despite several attempts.
Democratic Students Organisation leader, Amarjeet Singh said that the police beat unarmed students as if they were criminals.
Patiala DC Varun Roojam said that SDM Gurpal Chahal went to the dharna site following a request from university officials. “When there was provocation and violence from the students’ side, the police used force. We sent force along with the SDM as the highway traffic was also disrupted,” he said.