Dibrugarh: Abhinab Chetia, a postgraduate student from Dibrugarh University, did not see it coming. With the election fever on both inside and outside campus, Chetia focused on completing his project. On April 10, during the wee hours, a group of students allegedly went on a rampage inside the campus, beating up hostellers for not supporting their campaign, which led to the defeat of another faction, allegedly affiliated with the All Assam Students Union. The so-called ‘AASU’ faction, on the other hand, maintains that a hostel dispute has been blown out of proportion and communalised by their opponents. 

Protests at the Dibrugarh University.

Dibrugarh University is known to draw students from diverse backgrounds to its campus. Students from this university played an active role during the Assam agitation of the 1980s, as well as during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act movement of 2019 and 2020. During the anti-CAA agitation, the Dibrugarh University Post Graduate Students Union (DUPGSU) office-bearer banned the entry of Assam Chief Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal and other Bhartiya Janata Party functionaries to the campus for supporting the CAA.

Memory of a Murder

While campus politics is shaped by the students residing in the University, according to Chief Warden Pallabi Deka Buzarbaruah, no outside political organisations are allowed to participate in the elections.

According to Rahul Chhetry, former President of DUPGSU, 16 hostels form alliances and contest elections, often supported by a wide range of day scholars and paying guest accommodation. “It is believed that Padmanath Gohain Baruah Chhatra Nivas (PGBCN) with 213 residents remain largely independent. A meeting is convened for the newcomers, where they are told to shun all political affiliations and work only towards the betterment of the University as a community. Boarders who still want to continue with their political affiliation, are told to leave the hostel,” said Chhetry, who himself was asked to sign an undertaking when he joined the hostel.

The Miles Bronson Chatra Nivas in Dibrugarh University

According to a host of former students like Chhetry and a cross-section of students that Eastmojo spoke to, the issue goes back to 1986, when a student leader, Sourab Bora, was murdered on the campus. A few years before his murder, Bora, an All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) leader, walked away from the then AASU leaders Prafulla Mahanta and Bhrigu Phukan, alleging that tribal, Muslim, and Bengali students were sidelined by Mahanta-led faction of the AASU.

Bora had accused the then Deputy Registrar of the Dibrugarh University, Dibya Hash Goswami, of corruption, while he formed the United Reservation Movement Council of Assam (URMCA). Among the five accused, current Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s name also featured in the initial investigation of the Sourab Bora murder case by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). However, the Gauhati High Court acquitted Sonowal due to a lack of evidence. 

Also Read: Darkness under the sun: The struggles of an Assam village against ‘green’ energy

“In the light of such a chequered past, it was decided that political organisations would be banned from the campus politics of Dibrugarh University. No flags, no pamphlets, no meetings of political organisations outside the campus would be allowed,” said Chhetry.

However, hostel politics, according to several students that Eastmojo spoke to remains polarised between the Padmanath Gohain Baruah Chhatra Niwas (PGBCN), on one side, and Miles Bronson Chhatra Niwas and Mafijuddin Hazarika Chhatra Nivas, on the other. Among women’s hostels, Aideu Handique Hostel remains “independent” while Mamoni Raisom Goswami Chhatri Nivas largely remained opposed to the independent faction. 

During the run-up to the elections, the faction opposed to the ‘independents’ at PGBCN accused that ‘independents’ were supported by Congress-backed National Students Union of India, BJP’s National Students Union of India and even, Akhil Gogoi-backed Chhatra Mukti Parishad. “Each of our candidates signed an affidavit, stating that we were not associated with any political outfit,” said Himalay Baraik, the newly-elected Vice President of DUPGSU.

On April 8, after a two-year hiatus, election results were declared for all the 18 posts in the DUPGSU. According to Chhetry, in 2019, elections were called off after the independents accused their opponents of nominating a student who was supposed to repeat a paper. “University rules are pretty clear. Students who do not clear their papers cannot contest the polls. The day we raised it with the authorities, his papers were re-evaluated and he passed the exam. We approached the Gauhati High Court, while the university authorities cancelled the elections. Last year, elections were not held due to COVID-19 protocol,” said Chhetry, who added that University authorities are yet to finish the investigation.

Bad dream at Dibrugarh University

The independents bagged almost all the posts this year. Sources in the University administration say that a celebratory party was organised at the PGBCN, the bastion of all independents. That evening, however, Abhinab Chetia was preparing for his project presentation in his room at Mafijuddin Hazarika Chhatra Nivas, which was not a part of the independent alliance.

 “Around 2:30 AM, there was a loud knock on my single-seater room’s door. Some people barged in as I opened the door. The faces were familiar. These are the same people I had been dining with for the last six years. They were shouting at me as I struggled to wake thinking of it as some bad dream,” said Chetia, who held the post of DUPGSU Assistant General Secretary supported by the so-called AASU faction in 2018-2019. “It was like a lynch mob. No one was listening to me. They kept asking the same question: ‘Why didn’t I campaign for them in the recent elections?’” he says.

Monuhar Pegu, a postgraduate student, was attacked for taking a political stand.

By the time Chetia came to his senses, he smelt alcohol in the breaths of the mob that barged inside his room. “They dragged me out, started slapping me without listening to me for a second. They found rods and sharp objects, started hitting me with those while tearing up my shirt,” Chetia added. The ordeal went on for close to two hours with no sign of any security personnel to protect Chetia when he was asked to change into a fresh shirt. “One of them in their drunkenness asked me to say that I was engaged in anti-hostel activity by maintaining ties with a political organisation, which had no business to be in the campus. Then they said I was admitting this after meeting the hostel students and I was not forced by anyone to record this statement,” Chetia said.

Chetia did what was asked of him. His attackers left the spot. “It reminded me of all the gruesome incidents in the campus I had heard of. Someone from the mob was demanding I should be finished off. I remembered someone telling me about this murder a long time back. I let them record the statement so that they leave me,” Chetia added.

Chetia called his father, a lawyer, who asked him to report the incident to the nearest police outpost inside the campus. “I did not repair my phone, and I showed the police all the sharp objects with which I was attacked. They took all the evidence against the attackers,” the student added. Hailing from Dhakuakhana in the Lakhimpur district, Chetia left for his hometown the following morning after filing a police complaint.  

Racial Slurs

Monuhar Pegu, a postgraduate student preparing for the semester exams slated to commence after Bihu, faced a similar ordeal like Chetia. He was in the Miles Bronson Hostel, which many hostellers and teachers consider as an AASU hub. “It was around 3:30 AM. I saw some familiar faces from my hostel. They slapped me and dragged me outside where a mob was waiting to hit me,” Pegu said. In his two years in the Dibrugarh University campus, Pegu, along with other students from the Mising community, formed a study circle. “They accused me of mobilising the Mising vote ahead of the campus elections as one of the candidates belongs to our community. They accused me of communalising the elections by seeking votes from a particular community,” added Pegu.

Like Chetia, Pegu was pressured into giving a written statement after he was tortured for close to an hour. “They also threatened me that if I won’t produce the statement at that moment, they would kill me. Luckily, I was able to escape from the room after some time and I ran away to a nearby hostel. I couldn’t breathe properly, as they hit me on my chest several times. I informed one of my teachers while my friends rushed me to the university health dispensary for treatment,” he added.

Later that day, Monuhar Pegu and Abhinav Chetia filed two separate police complaints at Rajabhata Police Station under which Dibrugarh University falls. Later, a cross-complaint against Monuhar Pegu was filed in which Pegu accused of attacking a fellow hosteller with a knife. Pegu, however, managed to secure bail against the police complaint. The newly elected panel immediately staged a protest march inside the campus on April 10 followed by blocking the entry and the exit to register their protest.

Communal Sentiments

According to Dibrugarh District’s Deputy Superintendent of Police, Prateek Thuba, the matter is still under investigation. “Following the incident, we ensured that the campus is secure. We have taken statements from both sides. The investigation is on,” said Thube, the police official. 

Nirode Baruah, Dean, Students’ Affairs of Dibrugarh University constituted a disciplinary committee to investigate the matter. “The committee will resume the work as the University closed because of Bihu Holidays. On April 19, we will hear the students again, following which we will recommend some actions to the university if the charges levelled against the accused students are found to be true,” Baruah said. 

The Chief Warden, Bujarbaruah said so far the committee has heard the students who were allegedly attacked on the campus. “We are yet to hear what the accused students have to say about the matter. That is likely to happen once the University opens after the Bihu holidays,” Bujarbaruah said. 

Incidentally, the accused have their version of the events. One of the accused persons anonymously told Eastmojo that Monuhar Pegu was fanning communal sentiments on the campus. “He was never attacked. He had communalised the entire issue by rallying support for two Mising candidates. When it was pointed out to him, he got defensive,” said the accused person saying that he was not present when the alleged attack on Pegu took place. “Now with the University authorities forming a disciplinary committee, our version of the events have not been heard. I have given my statement to the police. But only those who made the wild accusations against me and some others, their versions were heard,” the accused student said. 

Curiously, one of the accused, Kailash Kutum in the Abhinab Chetia complaint belongs to the Mising community. An audio clip connected to Kutum recently surfaced after he threatened a Dibrugarh University student for supporting the Independents. “You won’t be able to get out of the university,” Kutum alleged in the audio clip.

David Hazarika, former General Secretary of Dibrugarh University Post Graduate Students Union (DUPGSU) was also named in the FIR filed by Chetia. Hazarika says that Chetia became the Assistant General Secretary in 2019-2020 with overwhelming support from Mafijuddin Hazarika Hostel. “During his tenure, Chetia lured 12 students from our hostel with cash to join the opposite party, following which our camp was defeated. Although that matter was resolved after reaching a compromise, this year three of the 12 hostellers contested against our camp. He is falsely accusing me. I reached the spot late. Nothing had happened to him. He is one of ours. This was just an internal matter which was blown out of proportion,” said Hazarika. 

As both the factions wait for the Bihu festivities, students locked in the bitter feud have two battles before them – their exams and the verdict of the disciplinary committee. Teachers are worried that such incidents will impact the academic lives of the students. “There is a good reason why we did not allow political organiSations inside the campus. It should stay like that. We are not opposed to political activities of the students, we are worried about the affiliations to some of them,” a faculty member anonymously said.

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