The New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters, Al Jazeera, BBC, Financial Times, and Dawn – these are some of the foreign publications that have covered the attack on one of India’s premier institutes, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on Sunday, 5 January.
While there is a blame game going on – with both the secular JNU Students’ Union and the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), trading accusations – most foreign publications offered little evidence for the ABVP’s accusations of violence by Left students, but did provide eyewitness testimony that supported the accusation of violence by ABVP.
Here’s what the international coverage looked like:
‘Does JNU Campus Attack Mean India is Failing Its Young?’ - BBC
BBC’s India Correspondent Soutik Biswas notes a pattern since 2014, of an organised targeting of JNU by the administration, with the use of loaded terms like ‘anti-nationals’ and ‘urban Maoists’, placing the attack on JNU in a wider context.
In his piece, Biswas steers clear of the details of the night that JNU was attacked, focussing instead on the wider implications and political setting of the incident – though he fails to mention that the Delhi elections are merely a few days away.
“But there are deepening fears that the BJP wants to muzzle dissent on the campus, which has traditionally been a hotbed of left-wing politics. Ever since Mr Modi’s party stormed to power riding a crest of Hindu nationalism, JNU has been a constant target. Students have been charged with sedition for making speeches, and the university has been vilified by the party and partisan news networks as “anti-national”. Its students have been called ‘urban Maoists’.”
‘Students, Youth Wing of Pro-Ruling Party Outfit Clash in India's Capital’ - Reuters
Reuters’ coverage of the Sunday night attack on JNU relied on one quote from a student inside the campus, and on statements from the Finance Minister (a JNU alumnus) and the BJP to provide a ‘both sides’ perspective of the violence without pinning blame on any particular perpetrators.
“JNU students on social media blamed members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the youth wing of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – the ideological parent of India’s ruling BJP. It denied they had instigated clashes and said they were first attacked by the left-leaning students.”
However, in playing the balancing role, Reuters did not touch on the nationalistic slogans that were being chanted – ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’, ‘Goli maaron s**lon ko’, etc – that is corroborated by multiple eyewitnesses and videos.
‘Nationalist Mob Goes on Rampage at Secular University in Delhi’ - Financial Times
Financial Times went with a hard-hitting headline, taking aim squarely at ‘nationalist’ goons and a ‘Hindu-first’ government, and placing responsibility on authorities who refused to act. The article also provided the context in which the attack happened, as the city is convulsed by anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests that had spurred a recent crackdown at two other universities.
“The university attack comes as India is convulsed by a wave of protests against Mr Modi’s Hindu-first policies and his government’s heavy-handed response to dissent, representing the first big backlash to the ruling Bharatiya Janata party since winning power in 2014.”
‘Masked Men Attack Pro-Left Students in Delhi Varsity’ - Dawn
Pakistani daily Dawn was the only foreign publication to mention the ruling BJP’s immediate electoral concerns, providing a justification for police heavy-handedness. Dawn even went so far as to dub the RSS-backed ABVP ‘Hindu fascists’.
“Reports said the masked men belonged to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), students wing of the Hindu fascist Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).”Dawn
‘Masked Assailants Attack Students at Prestigious Indian University in New Delhi’ - Washington Post
In a similar fashion as Financial Times, The Washington Post did away with the balancing act, providing recent context and presenting the considerable eyewitness testimony that spoke to who the perpetrators and victims were.
“Eyewitnesses also alleged that the police not only failed to stop the violence but also beat up students. Vipul Vivek, a masters student in philosophy, watched from behind shrubbery as the violence unfolded. After the mob left, he said, about 30 policemen arrived and beat the students holed up inside the dormitory earlier attacked by the mob. He ran toward a forested area and hid for 45 minutes. ‘We can’t fight back against the police,’ he said.”Joanna Slater & Niha Masih
‘India's JNU Attack: 'We Thought ... We All Will Lose Our Lives' - Al Jazeera
In its piece that relies heavily on quotes from JNU students and other eyewitnesses, Al Jazeera is one of the foreign publications who situated the violence at JNU in the context of the recent brutality from the same Delhi Police at Jamia Millia Islamia university and Uttar Pradesh police at Aligarh Muslim University – both under BJP governments.
“Many Indians took to social media to criticise the handling of the situation by the Delhi police, and some questioned the police on why it did not arrest the perpetrators after the violence.”