A silent spectator that houses multitude continually envisioned to protect knowledge and progress through the shelter and nurture that it offers has served millions since it’s inception; but the same couldn’t withstand the harbingers of ignorance that attacked it ruthlessly on a cold winter night. Dr. Zakir Hussain Library retells the account the night and the horrors it withstood through one of its readers.
When the library of Alexandria started to lose its significance, its when rulers saw its knowledge as a peril rather than pride. Libraries are often seen as silent hosts for the people who seem to rote entire academic manuscripts into their brains.
A library is a refuge to many like me, where silence is peaceful and the wanderers of text often come home to a place which has books and knowledge to cater to. Where else do you go when the world is too noisy?
I have been one of those people who will be seen, sitting in one corner of the library. The one who likes to know anything till deep, with a heavy bag of books, the library card reserved and is always sipping chai while browsing through books The library is no less than a home to me, much like my university.
Dr Zakir Husain Library was established in 1920, and is named after the third President of India and former Vice-Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia, His Excellency The Honorable Dr Zakir Hussain. As one of the founders of Jamia Millia Islamia, he was one of the profound thinkers who worked relentlessly for the cause of education and development of this country.
The library, whose name itself is the metaphor for inclusive thoughts is built on ideal foundations, was attacked mercilessly by the very same state machinery which was supposed to protect it.
On 15th December 2019, following the protests against the Central forces, the Delhi Police allegedly barged inside the premises of Jamia Millia Islamia and started shellacking the students present inside the campus. As they entered through the University gates pushing the guards aside, they stepped inside the Ibn Sina (Old) Reading Hall, the textbooks and research centre adjacent to Premchand Archives section and went further towards the New Reading Hall & Central Library to perform what they seemed to be there for, giving sleepless nights for the beholders and many else to those who need it.
The worst part, however, remains that the students present in the reading halls and library weren’t even a part of the protest and were actually just studying there, while they were locked, thrashed, handled and abused for a crime that they seem to be skeptical about! More than 20 students were detained from the same place which through the years had nurtured and given to the society some of its most influential and intellectual workers.
Tear gas smokes circulated inside the library and reading halls while they were inhabited by hundreds of students.
The smoke is still there, as the closed gates for inquiry and broken glasses store memories that has traumatised students, who have not just sustained physical injuries but also grave mental ones.
I was not there, I was inside my home, safe and sound, but I could hear the gunshots and explosions late till 9 pm. I still remember the panic-stricken voice of my friends and the frantic messages on university groups that I am a part of.
There was only one appeal, it was to escape.
And then the media did its deed, the photos and videos started circulating, and the destroyed structure of my library and reading rooms came to surface. It was heartbreaking.
I saw the Old Library broken where I have dozed off while studying “Burmese Days”
They broke a chair on which I read “Farheniet 451”.
The stairs where I cried were all laid by the glasses that adorned Zakir Hussain Library.
The place where I soaked the sun in the winters of Delhi, the places where I studied. They attacked the places where I sat with my friends. They attacked the places where I read and cried and smiled through the books. They attacked the places where I slept through the exhausting routine. They attacked my memories. They attacked my home.
The testimonies of victims, who were my friends, beloved seniors and acquaintances very well stated the intention of the police that night.
It wanted to kill them.
It wanted to silence them permanently for speaking against their masters.
No permission, no process and unending brutality.
15 December was the Black day for Jamia Millia Islamia and Dr Zakir Hussain Library, which does not only has books and artefacts but the aspirations of the young, what they “future of this country.”
They might state officially that they did not enter the library, but the cost of lies is always heavy. The technology does not discriminate, because the evidence and testimonies speak otherwise.
As I write this, I feel heavy with the burden to pass on the trauma that I did not experience forehand but my friends did. All I was nothing but the witness to sounds that made their way to me, from one home to another.
From then on, I could not sleep.
I was in constant fear, they might attack again and this time, to my own home. They have destroyed my library, now they will destroy this one too.
But, our broken glasses and harrowing screams has reached every corner of the world.
From some local dailies to the international ones, everyone reported the brutality of police around the world. The entire capital and the Nation and world stood with us, every other institution stood with us because our library was a symbol of state-sanctioned violence and students felt the same insecurity as the victims.
The images are horrifying, the campus is empty and yet you can still see the remnants of the glasses and stones from the outside.
The state that fears its wise young voices is doomed to fall, the citizens are not subject, you are not a king. The government is not a nation, it’s the nation that has built this government.
You may give roses to the one that broke my home, but it has lost my trust, as I feel unsafe yet secure in this paradoxical politics, ironical leaders and the great Union of India, those who are striving hard for justice are the true heroes that the world shall remember.
MANTASHA SAYED, B.A. (Hons.) ENGLISH, JAMIA MILLIA ISLAMIA