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Witch-hunt comes to naught?

 MPost |  2016-03-04 21:29:46.0  |  New Delhi

After spending more than a fortnight in police custody, JNU Student’s Union president Kanhaiya Kumar, accused of sedition, was given six-month interim bail on Wednesday by the Delhi High Court. Suffice to say, much of the case against Kanhaiya was initially based on videos aired by news channels that have now turned out to be doctored. As part of its magisterial inquiry into the alleged raising of anti-national slogans on the university campus, the Delhi government had sent seven video clips for forensic testing to the Hyderabad-based Truth Labs. Out of the seven clips sent by the Delhi government, at least three were tampered with and certain “words were inserted” in the audio, as per the report submitted to the Delhi government. What’s worse, the role of a certain Shilpi Tewari, who is said to be a close aide of Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Smriti Irani, has come under sharp scrutiny. The Delhi government-commissioned forensic report states that her Twitter account had indeed hosted one of the alleged ‘doctored’ videos. In response to an Economic Times report, the HRD ministry has reportedly distanced itself from Tewari, but said that she could be “assisting” the minister at a private level. The Delhi government is now contemplating whether it should file a criminal complaint against certain news channels for allegedly tampering videos of the controversial event on JNU campus, which reportedly commemorated Afzal Guru—the man executed for his role in the 2001 Parliament attack. If there is a strong case to be made against these news channels, the Delhi government must file a criminal complaint. The mass public hysteria built up was evidently down to the video clips that were aired with the sole intention of targeting certain students/citizens.

It is no secret that the hysteria built up against Kanhaiya is what led to the gross physical abuse he suffered on the Patiala House court premises. Those leading the mob of lawyers have owned up to assaulting Kanhaiya. They admitted that Kanhaiya was beaten up when he was in police custody. The assault took place as the Delhi Police, responsible for protecting the defendant, just sat and watched. In a brazen admission of brute force and utter cowardice, the lawyers involved in the brutal attack also admitted that they brought a close to the assault after forcing Kanhaiya to shout “Bharat Mata ki Jai”. Vikram Chauhan, a key organizer of the mob assault, took the liberty to recount how the arrested student had wet his trousers in terror. In addition to doctored video clips, there is growing possibility that Kanhaiya played no role in organising the event on February 9. It seems as if the case against Kanhaiya does not add up much beyond misguided and malicious public hysteria. Even the Delhi government, in its report on JNU row, has given a clean chit to Kanhaiya. However, it has blamed the two other JNU students involved and ‘outsiders of Kashmiri descent’ for raising pro-Afzal slogans and anti-India slogans. Meanwhile, the role of Umar Khalid, the other prominent JNU student arrested in the case, is yet to be determined. Suffice to say, the Delhi Police has done nothing to nab these ‘outsiders of Kashmiri descent’. The Delhi Police and its master, the Ministry of Home Affairs, are best suited to answer why no action has been taken against them. But one must note with caution that the case is still sub-judice and one must not come to definitive conclusions.

Nonetheless the Delhi High Court has made some interesting, if not strange, observations in its interim bail order. As part of the conditions it has set aside for bail, the court directed Kanhaiya to “control anti-national activities in the campus” and asked the JNU faculty “to ensure that his thoughts and energy are channelized in a constructive manner”. Is the court in the business of thought control? What happened to merely interpreting the rule of law? Moreover, it has also asked Kanhiaya to furnish an “undertaking to the effect that he will not participate actively or passively in any activity which may be termed anti-national”. Can anyone legally define the ambit of “anti-national” activity? Its observation that Kanhaiya should not “participate actively or passively in any activity which may be termed anti-national” seems vague and in violation of the basic tenets of liberal democracy. As a recent editorial on a news website argued, how do you determine whether the accused has “passively” participated in anti-national activity? Moreover, how can you prosecute anyone for being “passively anti-national”? And finally, the assertion by some from the Centre that slogans chanted on a university campus by certain misguided students will demoralize the troops defending India’s border is misguided at best.     

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