Friday, February 3, 2023

Anti-CAA Protests: Lawless Campuses

Around 300 law students from across India have drawn the attention of the Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde, to police excesses and mob violence at various varsities across India over anti-CAA protests and urged him to take suo motu  action

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By Nupur Dogra

After parliament passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and talk of implementing a countrywide National Register of Citizens (NRC) started doing the rounds, a string of peaceful protests were witnessed across the country. Students were the backbone of this movement and came out in large numbers to mobilise people and organise peaceful protests. Consequently, they have been at the receiving end of a state crackdown.

In Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University, around 100 students had to undergo treatment in hospitals after a brutal attack by the police. One student received bullet injuries when a right-wing activist opened fire at a group of protesters outside the university gate. Another student suffered serious eye injury, leading to partial loss of vision, and many students got fractures due to insensitive police action.

In Aligarh Muslim University, there were reports of students being picked up by the police from their hostels. Around 100 suffered injuries and close to 20 students were gravely injured.

On January 5, a masked mob attack­ed hostels in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). The student union president walked out with blood smeared all over her face. Reports of goons carrying sharp weapons and acid made headlines in the media.

Now another group of students has entered the fray. Concerned at the rise in violence on campuses, around 300 law students from across India have written an open letter to the Chief Jus­tice of India (CJI), Sharad Arvind Bobde. In the letter, students have quoted reports by the media and fact-finding teams to draw the attention of the top court towards the police excesses and mob violence against students. “With the recent turn of events, we, as law students of a democracy find ourselves in a state of fear and absolute shock.” the letter said.

The students, in the letter, started by citing the disturbing reports coming in from reputed campuses. Referring to past cases of activism taken up by the Supreme Court and citing the judgments in Navtej Singh Johar and Ors vs Union of India and Justice KS Putta­swamy and Ors vs Union of India, the students appealed to the CJI to step in and uphold the role of the Court as the guardian and the protector of the fundamental rights of citizens. The law school students, in the letter, expressed “utter dismay” over the Supreme Court’s refusal to step in and order any inquiry into the police action. They called this “a violation of basic principles of natural justice, the students were not even given an opportunity of being heard”.

Further criticising the Delhi police for its ineffective and lukewarm response to stop the mob attack in JNU, the letter said: “Audio and video evidence and numerous gut-wrenching eye-witness accounts clearly indicate that the police did not enter the campus to control the violence, but instead, made arrangements for the miscreants to safely exit the campus after the attack.” The students in the letter expressed concern over the police’s high-handedness in dealing with the incident and its failure to identify the culprits.

“…the police forces are duty-bound to safeguard and protect the rights of the citizens. In view of the same, the failure of the police to identify the culprits and take anyone connected to the violence into custody or make any arrests is absolutely unjustified. Moreover, the FIR against the students, including the JNU Students’ Union President Aishe Ghosh who was thrashed by the mob, is completely undemocratic and reeks of the high-handedness of the police. This amounts to the muzzling of voices of dissent and sabotaging the students’ right to democratic protests,” the letter read.

They called the attack “a total breakdown in campus safety” which not only jeopardises their human rights under the law and the Constitution but is also likely to adversely affect the administration of justice and the rule of law in the country.

They demanded a formal inquiry against the JNU registrar, Pramod Kumar, and vice-chancellor, M Jagadesh Kumar, on account of their failure to prevent the occurrence of the said attack and sought their suspension till the completion of inquiry.

The students, in the scathing letter, criticised the police atrocities and urged the Supreme Court to take suo motu cognisance of the matter to prevent the situation from culminating in one of tacit acceptance of disproportionate violence against students.

Asking for a free and fair judicial probe, the students demanded due punishment for the perpetrators to prevent these acts from gaining any legitimacy and becoming the new “normal”.

The students concluded the letter by putting forward a few suggestions for the top court.

1) The setting up of a Commission of Enquiry to probe police inaction in controlling the violence and the role of the Delhi police in allegedly facilitating the mob attack on January 5, 2020.

2) Strict action against police officials who, as reported, have engaged in the manhandling of activists and journalists at the JNU gate after the attack took place, and failed to ensure peace and security.

3) An interim order of suspension/termination of the Registrar and the Vice-Chancellor of JNU be passed in view of their failure to ensure the safety of students and members of the faculty.

4)  Due punishment should be given to the complicities that enabled the violence and the persons responsible for executing the attack which resulted in severe injury to the students and extensive damage to property.

Reiterating the need to protect the Constitution and the fundamental rights of an individual to protest peacefully, the students implored the CJI to take active steps for ensuring justice to those who were injured and affected by the violent mob attack in JNU. They also pleaded that this must be done immediately to restore public confidence in the judiciary as well as the Supreme Court.

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