24, Mar 2018 | CJP Team
March 23 will forever be etched in the hearts of every Indian as the day Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev attained martyrdom during India’s freedom struggle. So when the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) chose March 23, 2018 to march to the Parliament demanding a complete overhaul of the university management and suspension of a professor accused of sexual harassment, one expected the country to unite in support of these brave college students.
Alas they were not only, once again, branded as ‘anti-national’, but also manhandled and beaten by the police personnel present at the spot. Some women protesters also claim that they were molested and their clothes were torn off.
CPI (M) member and President of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, Subhashini Ali, went to check on some of the protesting students who had been picked up by the police. She was deeply disturbed at what she saw at the police station later that evening. She tweeted:
“It was very peculiar that the cops kept spare clothes which they gave the girls whose clothes had been torn in the scuffle with the cops,” says Subhashini Ali. The students were taken to the trauma center at AIIMS and finally allowed to leave only after 11pm. “The girls were also pressurised by the cops to give a statement saying that they came to AIIMS voluntarily or with their relatives. They were also asked to say that they could not identify their assailants. The girls however were very clear that it was the cops who beat them up, tore their clothes and took them into custody,” she continued. Some of the students said they felt disoriented after being picked up from the protest site as they did not know where they were being taken or what would happen to them. “The students were not even taken to a proper police station but to a ‘licensing section’ and they were separated from a teacher who was trying to protect them,” says Ali. A young boy’s glasses were allegedly broken by the cops.
The police did not limit their brutality to just the protesting students. They also assaulted journalists covering the march. Aishwarya Adhikari who was covering the march for The Citizen was manhandled by the Delhi Police, her glasses were broken and her mobile phone confiscated. She posted the following on her Facebook wall:
An Indian Express reporter was molested by a policeman. In her FIR, the reporter said that SHO Vidhyadhar Singh has pushed and placed his hand on reporter’s chest. The reporter also alleged that the inspector misbehaved with her and another reporter even after they identified themselves as journalists. Hindustan Times photographer Anushree Fadnavis alleged that the police confiscated her camera when she tried to take a picture of a protester being mercilessly kicked by the cops. Firstpost reporter Praveen Singh was forced to put his arm in a makeshift sling to ease the pain after being assaulted by the police.
However, the Delhi Police justified the heavy handed manner in which it treated the students by claiming that they were retaliating against a section of students who got violent. The official twitter handle of the Delhi Police tweeted:
However, even in case of a section of protesters turning violent, there are time tested and well established universally accepted guidelines for crowd control by the police. These include warning using a public address system, barricading and tear gassing before resorting to lathi charge or use water cannons to control the protest. At the JNU protest the police directly resorted to lathi charge and using a water cannon to disperse the crowd.
Even now, apart from a feeble apology to media persons, the Delhi Police remains obstinate in its stand that it did the right thing. In fact Police spokesperson Dependra Pathak offered a rather lame excuse saying, “In law and order situations, it is difficult to differentiate between protesters and journalists. However, the matter is being looked into.”
Questions that need to be raised:
- What is the Standard Operating Procedure that the police should follow for crowd control at peaceful protests and demonstrations?
- Are police authorised to confiscate cameras and mobile phones of media persons covering a public demonstration?
- Is it common practice for Delhi Police to keep spare clothes and offer them to women whose clothes are torn off by police officers themselves?