Why police crackdown on JNU Long March points at larger conspiracy
The procession was marching towards Parliament Street to draw the attention of parliamentarians to issues concerning the student community.
I have been part of several protests and processions that emanated from Jawaharlal Nehru University since 1972, when I joined the institution as a student. Since 1990s, I have been part of these protests as a faculty member. In all these years, I have never heard of, or seen such a savage and motivated attack on students and media persons covering such protests as the one seen during the JNU Long March on March 23.
All the evidence to the event points to a coordinated bid to muzzle protest - a command performance.
The procession was marching towards Parliament Street to draw the attention of the parliamentarians to issues of sexual harassment on the campus, compulsory attendance requirement and autonomy for educational institutions. The group was attacked by the police at INA and rerouted to Sarojini Nagar where the protest was easy to ignore. Nearly a dozen students were taken to the police station and later released.
While lieutenant governor, Anil Baijal, should have taken cognisance of such an event, he looked the other way.
While some political leaders such as RJD MP Majon Jha, CPM leader Brinda Karat, CPI leader Mohammed Salim spoke against the police high-handedness, the Delhi Police were successful in achieving their aim of keeping the protest hidden from large public glare.
On the hand, the same police let off JNU professor, Atul Johri, right after arresting him. Another case of command performance. The police were following orders causing great dismay and shock to many in and outside Delhi.
However, the saddest part of this attack is not the injuries suffered by students but the brazen attempts being made by the Union government and Delhi Police to penalise the JNU community and other defenders of human rights by slapping serious charges against students.
The Delhi Police have registered an FIR under sections 147, 148, 186, 353, 332 and 509 of the IPC. Let's examine the sections that have been cited.
Section 147: "Punishment for rioting", punishable "with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both".
Section 148: "Rioting, armed with deadly weapon," punishable "with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both".
Then there is Section 332: "Voluntarily causing hurt to deter (a) public servant from his duty". Anyone who prevents or deters a public servant from "discharging his duty as such public servant... shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or fine, or with both".
These sections have turned the entire case upside down. As public servants, Delhi police personnel used water cannons and lathi charged students, teachers and media persons.
Most people would not know that the IPC was drafted in 1860 by a panel under the chairmanship of Lord Macaulay. While several amendments to have been made to the law, it remains heavily biased in favour of the police and the state.
It is necessary to stress that when the JNU community opposed "autonomy" for universities, it did so to ensure that students from poor and lower middle class backgrounds could afford the fees to enter the elite universities, which are likely to see major rise. JNU has been assured that there will be enough funds for it. However, that is yet to be seen.
But many public universities will suffer, and several will be privatised, as the NDA government is not interested in funding most of the Indian universities.
The other thing that JNU is protesting against is the safety of women on the campus. We want that provision under section 354 of the IPC which allow sexual offenders to get bail should be amended. The fact that professor Johri was granted bail within hours of his arrest highlights that criminal laws need review. This makes India as a country unsafe for women.
So the JNU Long March was not confined to JNU. We marched because that is our duty to our people. Whatever happens, we will continue to serve.
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