Students, teachers and reporters outside the Patiala House court in Delhi were set upon by lawyers and BJP-ABVP leaders and activists on the day the JNU students union president’s case came up for hearing.
New Delhi: The Patiala House court complex was the scene of chaos and violence Monday when a group of lawyers and BJP activists – including one party legislator – attacked and manhandled students and teachers from Jawaharlal Nehru University who had gathered to show solidarity with arrested student union president Kanhaiya Kumar. Even journalists were not spared, with at least five of them sustaining injuries after being set upon by right-wing activists.
The charge of being “anti-national” was flung inside and outside the courts at all those who had come from JNU. In the court room itself, a group of 40 lawyers accompanied by the police tried evicting 10 JNU teachers from the premises, badly beating one academic. Outside, the lead was taken by BJP MLA from Delhi OP Sharma. Captured on camera assaulting Ameeque Jamai, a leader of the Communist Party of India, he not only justified his action but said he was even prepared to murder someone if he thought they were pro-Pakistani : “If you ask me, there is nothing wrong in beating up or even killing someone shouting slogans in favour of Pakistan,” he said.
Asked by Zakka Jacob on CNN-IBN on the 9 pm news on Monday night whether he approved of Sharma saying it was alright to kill someone shouting pro-Pakistan slogans, Sudhanshu Trivedi, national spokesperson of the BJP said he did.
Inside the court, Kanhaiya Kumar, who is facing charges of sedition, had his judicial custody extended till February 17. Though Kumar, who is a member of the All India Student Federation – the student wing of the CPI – has flatly denied the police charges of sedition, Delhi Police Commissioner B.S. Bassi claimed there was “irrefutable proof” against him. So far, however, in all the video “evidence” circulating on television and social media, no footage of Kumar shouting “seditious” or “anti-national slogans” has emerged.
Legal experts say that the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the charge of sedition cannot apply to mere words and that an accused person has to have sought to instigate violence in order for his speech to be criminalised.
On Tuesday, the Delhi high court will hear a petition filed by a private individual urging that investigation of the JNU case be handed over to the National Investigation Agency – the specialised anti-terrorism arm of the government.
Drama in court
For the moment, however, the JNU teachers who were forcefully evicted from the Patiala House courtrooms spoke to the media about their ordeal.
“A group of these people in lawyers garb came into the court room shouting ‘Bharat mata ki jai’. They asked us to leave, and when we questioned this they caught hold of one of our male colleagues, Rohit, and slapped him”, Neera Kongari, professor of Japanese studies told The Wire. Ayesha Kidwai, professor of linguistics, added that several of the female professors present including her, Janaki Nair and Chitra Harshvardhan were molested and manhandled by these lawyers. All this time, police were present but did not take any action, and the professors had to specially request a police escort till the exit. The professors are exploring all legal options available to them.
But Kidwai’s main fear was what would happen to Kanhaiya once he entered the room, as all the exits were blocked by BJP lawyers. Since he was their prime target, she was afraid he would receive much harsher treatment.
Students and media persons also received the same violent treatment at the hands of the protesting lawyers. Varun Chauhan, a close friend of Kumar’s, said he and his friends were called “Pakistanis”, and when they did not respond they were hit and pushed out of the court room. The All India Students’ Federation (AISF) general secretary Biswajit was also badly beaten, and his clothes were torn. “Look at what they are doing”, he told The Wire. “And they can still call Kanhaiya a terrorist?”
Bystanders and journalists who were in the open areas within the court complex were also pushed around. Those who tried to record the on-goings with their cellphones were threatened, and some had phones snatched from their hand and thrown to the ground. While the police told the journalists to leave in order to avoid getting hurt, they did not do anything to stop the lawyers and BJP members.
Rahila, a JNU student and friend of Kanhaiya’s who had also been pushed out of the court room, expressed her outrage at what was happening. “I am ashamed that these are the people who are supposed to uphold our constitution. They behave like this, that too in a public court room, yet you call JNU students anti-national? And the police are only bystanders, not intervening on our behalf. The entire country should be ashamed”.
More than 40 universities from all over the country have now expressed their support and solidarity with JNUSU and JNUTA. Public universities in Karnataka, Osmania University in Hyderabad and Calcutta University have planning action including strikes and public meetings to show their support.
In spite of the widespread support they have received from political, cultural and academic groups, the persecution and branding of JNU students continues. A website has created profiles of JNU students who are “anti-national”, in order to “know them and expose them”. In addition to names, the website also has links to their Facebook profiles, exposing these students to online threats and harassment.
In an earlier version of the story, the person being beaten by BJP MLA OP Sharma was wrongly identified as a JNU student. He was in fact CPI leader Ameeque Jamai.