JNU Student’s Union president Kanhaiya Kumar, who has been arrested on charges of sedition, recounted the horrific incident at the Patiala House court premises on February 17, where he was assaulted by a mob of persons dressed as lawyers. In visuals that were aired on television news channels on Saturday, Kanhaiya was seen narrating his ordeal to a team of Supreme Court advocates. “A mob which wore lawyers’ robes attacked me. It happened just after I entered the gate. It looked as if they were prepared to attack me on my arrival because those who were beating me were also calling on others to do the same. The place from where we enter the court, there is a machine, while pushing me through that machine my pants came off, I suffered injuries. They bashed me with punches and kicks to my stomach. I was beaten by one after another,” Kanhaiya told the group of advocates.
What’s worse, Kanhaiya alleges that the Delhi Police did not take any action against the attackers, even after he identified them. It was only last week that a leading Indian television unearthed disturbing details of the assault on Kanhaiya while he was being produced in the Patiala House court. In the video footage presented, it is evidently clear that those leading the mob of lawyers owned up to the brazen assault. They admitted that Kanhaiya was beaten up when he was in police custody. The assault on the JNU student took place as the Delhi Police, responsible for protecting the defendant, just sat and watched. If a detainee is not safe in a court that is located only a mile from the Prime Minister’s Office, serious questions must be raised about the State’s poor handling of the situation.
In these very columns, questions were raised about why the Delhi Police personnel present inside the court complex did not step in and stop the violence. They insisted that the entire incident was a mere scuffle and they did what was expected of them. The National Human Rights Commission has backed the sting and accused the Delhi Police of subsequently coercing the student leader into writing a note decrying the so-called “anti- nationalism” that was on display at the JNU campus on February 9.
Torture is endemic in India and this is a fact acknowledged by the authorities and widely documented, according to a National Commission on Human Rights Report in 2000. Meanwhile, an Amnesty International report in 2006 details the perception among Indian security agencies that torture is acceptable under extreme circumstances, and against those that threaten the State. Even though the evidence against Kanhaiya and the others seem sketchy at best, the entire narrative, led by the establishment at the Centre and irresponsible television channels, has gone on to paint the arrested students as “anti-nationals”, who “have been mobilised against the State”.
Therefore, it is little surprise that the Delhi Police let the assault against Kanhaiya happen even though it is their duty to protect the accused before he is presented before a court of law. Suffice to say, the evidence against the mob that led the assault continues to grow, with the NHRC and the group of Supreme Court-deputed lawyers unequivocally declaring that the assault on Kumar was a conspiracy.
This newspaper does not support or advocate violent anti-national statements. But to jail protesting students and expose them to barbaric acts for merely voicing these sentiments presents a very disturbing picture of the Indian republic. Seemingly unperturbed by its own gross political mismanagement, the BJP has close ranks and pursued the JNU controversy very aggressively in the Budget Session of Parliament. In the interim period, the party is also launching a three-day “national pride campaign”, in which party members have tried to build up public opinion against the alleged “anti-national” activities in JNU.
According to news reports, slogans like “gaddaron ko nahi sahenge” and “gaddaron ko phansi” [hang the traitors] were raised against the arrested JNU students at these protests, even though the courts have not yet adjudicated upon the matter. The ugly head of public sentiment being whipped up by the likes of the BJP does leave one deeply concerned. Despite the potential electoral benefits for the party, the ruling establishment must distance itself from such deliberate attempts at polarisiation.