Credibility deficit

Several sets of CCTV footage released by a group coordinating the Jamia Millia Islamia’s protests against citizenship laws have raised fresh doubts about the Delhi police narrative that they had entered the campus on December 15 only to apprehend rioters. Over 100 people were injured in that attack, in which students claimed indiscriminate violence and abuse. Some weeks ago, the police stated that reservations about entering a campus uninvited (as in Jamia) prevented them from responding to calls when masked men attacked students and destroyed property in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Such reticence did not prevent the police from registering cases against the representatives of JNU’s left-backed unions — some of whom were seriously injured in the attacks. As for the attackers and other rabble-rousers, they remain at large.

The first of the videos released by the Jamia Coordination Committee shows police persons storming into a reading-room and indiscriminately beating up unarmed students and smashing furniture. Another showed students running into a room to take shelter directed by a student initially purported to be carrying a stone, which fact-checking site AltNews later showed was a wallet and a mobile phone. The police are then seen breaking down the door to the room, which the students had barricaded with desks, and beating 50-odd male students at random trapped inside (after allowing female students to leave). The same footage shows a policeman entering through the broken door and belabouring the students. As the students flee, one policeman attempts to smash the security camera. Several students were injured in the assault — one required surgery on both fractured legs — and they all attest to being subjected to abuse. Faced with such a starkly contradictory narrative on Jamia, senior officers have issued a bald holding statement that the videos would be viewed to establish the sequence of events. It is unclear why they have not been able to do so for well over a month after the university handed over all CCTV footage.

The fact that the Delhi police come under the purview of the Union Home Ministry, which has openly expressed its determination to implement the Citizenship Amendment Act, makes it difficult to believe that the custodians of law are acting independently. Incredibly, the university had filed a complaint against the police violence but to date no FIR has been registered. Instead the police arrested 17 people and on Monday filed — with uncharacteristic speed — a charge sheet against JNU student and activist Sharjeel Imam, on grounds that he had instigated the violence. The university now plans to go to court to enforce the registration of an FIR. Given the evidence in the public domain and glaring discrepancies in the police account, it is imperative for the judicial system to hold the Delhi police accountable. Doing so is not just a matter limited to two Delhi-centric universities. Police forces everywhere in India are increasingly beholden to the political dispensation rather than acting as independent protectors of civil rights — police behaviour towards anti-CAA protesters in Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh being cases in point. It is urgent that both politicians and the police understand this dividing line, and the courts are best placed to establish this. A country where law and order is a tool of politicians can never be a viable place to do business.  

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