February 19, 2016

India: Repeated violence within court precincts is indefensible, enforce rule of law (Editorial, Times of India, 19 Feb 2016)

The Times of India

Stop this anarchy: Repeated violence within court precincts is indefensible, enforce rule of law
February 19, 2016, 1:40 am IST TOI Edit in TOI Editorials | Edit Page, India | TOI

Very objectionable and provocative slogans were likely shouted during the course of a rally on the JNU campus, though not necessarily by JNU students. They are not reason enough to suspend the rule of law. The beating up of JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar by errant lawyers within the precincts of Delhi’s Patiala House court, despite express instructions from the Supreme Court to ensure his safety, is shameful. That journalists and students were also beaten up, for the second time, in the same court is equally reprehensible.

These shocking incidents have forced even the apex court to wonder if the JNU sedition trial should be transferred out of the national capital. That must make every thinking Indian worry. The lawyers who orchestrated the violence have dishonoured their oath and the Bar Association must suspend their licences.

Moreover, Delhi Police commissioner B S Bassi has lost the moral right to lead his force. His response that “use of force would have been inappropriate” because “lawyers are officers of the court” is indefensible. A licence to practice law is not a licence to practice hooliganism; nor does it confer immunity from the law.

Arun Jaitley, minister for information and broadcasting, has condemned the violence. That is also BJP’s official position. But if BJP is serious about this, it must first suspend its MLA O P Sharma who was caught on video beating up a student.

Moreover, there is enough video and eyewitness evidence available of who orchestrated the violence in the Patiala court; they must all be booked. The government’s handling of the JNU crackdown goes against the 4-D mantra outlined earlier by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

When courts are not listened to and rule of law suspended, that undermines the first D – democracy. The second D – demography – is supposed to be in India’s favour because it is tilted towards youth. But from FTII Pune to Rohith Vemula’s suicide to the present demonisation of JNU as a whole, the government’s treatment of young students has been harsh.

The fourth D is deregulation, but the Smriti Irani-led HRD ministry has undermined for a long time even the very limited autonomy universities used to enjoy. It is still not too late to repair the damage. But the government must act now.