Hundreds of students and teachers of Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Jamia Millia today came out on Delhi streets with a call to "save" the varsities from the "onslaught" of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and "curbing" of dissent, nearly a week after the violence in Ramjas College.
The students held posters with messages like "Your nationalism is not above our democracy".
The protesters, mainly comprising students of left forums like All India Students' Association (AISA), shouted slogans "ABVP Go Back" and "Azaadi" as the march made its way through the roads of North Campus towards the Arts Faculty building.
Many held banners demanding the right to freedom of speech and condemning the ABVP for the February 21-22 disturbances in the otherwise placid campus.
"We are here to show solidarity and to make the ABVP understand that DU (Delhi University) stands together against violence," student Hindolee Datta told IANS.
Datta was from Lady Shri Ram College, whose student Gurmehar Kaur received death and rape threats after launching a social media campaign against the ABVP.
Gurpreet, a student of Delhi's Ambedkar University, told IANS: "There have been increasing threats to the rights of citizens and students. Our right to protest has been taken away by the ABVP and RSS.
"This is not just about Delhi University but the whole nation."
Hindolee and Gurpreet spoke as a mass of students walked slowly towards the Arts Faculty holding banners and shouting slogans. A large contingent of police accompanied them.
Student leaders like former JNU Students' Union President Kanhaiya Kumar, former JNUSU vice-president Shehla Rashid also joined the students. Rajya Sabha MP Sitaram Yechury, his colleague D Raja also joined the protest march in solidarity with the students.
Several lecturers also joined the march.
The gates of the colleges falling on the route of the march, which began from the gates of Khalsa College, were shut.
"We are marching to reclaim the space to debate and discuss. It is about the freedom to coexist, yet disagree," a student said.
There was heavy police deployment to prevent a rerun of the clashes that were witnessed between ABVP and AISA last week following cancellation of an event at Ramjas College after activists of the RSS-backed students' wing objected to the invitation to JNU student leaders Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid.
On February 21, the ABVP forced the Ramjas College in the university to cancel a seminar because of the participation of Khalid, who was charged with sedition last year.
The next day, ABVP activists were accused of attacking students, teachers and journalists during a protest march in the Delhi University campus.
Protesters insisted their march on Tuesday was not political but for freedom in the campuses.
"I was bruised on the 22nd because of stone pelting. I don't belong to any political party. I am here to protest against violence," said a Ramjas College student who did not want to be named.
A lecturer who joined the show of strength underlined that she was there "for the safety of students threatened by the ABVP".
Another teacher, Avinash, added: "This is not about ABVP, this is about hooliganism. The people who indulged in violence are not nationalists, they are macho elements."
"ABVP Down Down," "ABVP Go Back" and "ABVP Dont be so Creepy" were among the slogans the students kept raising. Another was: "Delhi Police, Sanghi Police."
One of the faculty members, marching with the students, alleged that the university has been "taken over" and that authorities were not acting to prevent it.
Earlier, LSR student Gurmehar Kaur withdrew from her social media campaign against the ABVP after allegedly receiving threats from the members of the RSS-backed outfit and being trolled by the ruling BJP leaders and ministers.
Also on Tuesday, members of the Congress-affiliated National Students Union of India (NSUI) staged a hunger strike in the campus, also against the ABVP.
"After the Ramjas violence, a majority of students who want a peaceful campus are scared... There is hardly any space for debate," NSUI President Amrita Dhawan told IANS.
"Nothing justifies violence. We live in a democratic country where people can have different opinions," Dhawan added.
Yesterday, the ABVP had taken out a 'Tiranga march', "to save the nation", from Ramjas College to the Arts Faculty.
The RSS-backed student organisation has announced another march for Thursday.