In a shockingly partisan statement that blatantly misrepresents events, the Bar Council of India has issued a report that justifies the well documented attacks by a mob of lawyers on JNU students, teachers and media at Patiala House Courts over two days (February 15 and 17, 2016) as ‘a reaction to the incidents, which are grave in nature and very dangerous for the country’. BCI Joint Secretary Ashok Kumar Pandey claimed that a large number of JNU teachers and students and others had arrived at the court in three to four buses and raised slogans and used ‘provocative words’. This led to the untoward incident in which ‘both the sides took part,’ said the report, adding that ‘any true citizen or a lawyer of India’ was supposed to react strongly to the ‘anti-India’ slogans.
We, the undersigned faculty members of Jawaharlal Nehru University, wish to set the record straight. Nine of us reached Patiala House Court No 4 between 1 and 1.15 pm on 15th February 2016 to attend the hearing on Kanhaiya Kumar’s bail plea. The sole objective of our presence there was that when Kanhaiya Kumar was produced he would see the faces of his teachers in the courtroom. At that time, a few students and other teachers of JNU, and some members of CPI, the parent organization of Kanhaiya’s student group, were already waiting silently outside, similarly wanting him to see friendly and familiar faces when he was produced. There were about 15 to 20 of them, hardly enough to fill 4 cars, let alone one bus.
Initially, we (signatories to this letter) waited on the benches outside the courtroom, along with a few journalists. After the lunch break the court clerk and stenographer invited us to come into the courtroom and we were seated there even when a few lawyers, an under-trial and a policemen, etc walked in and out of the room. We were not asked by anybody at that point to leave. About fifteen minutes later, about ten to twelve men dressed in lawyer’s clothes rushed in, shouting at us to get out. These lawyers were led by a man whom we later recognized from the media coverage the next day as Mr. Vikram Singh Chauhan. At that time we did not know who any of them were. They crowded the small room and abused us, saying that JNU teachers were anti-national and ‘deshdrohis’, that we were all ‘Pakistanis’ and asking us ‘what kind of antinational education do you give your students’?
We tried to reason with them not to be abusive, and said that we had a right to be in the courtroom, but they continued to heckle us as ‘Pakistanis’, and told us that the seats were for lawyers alone. The police kept on just watching and did not intervene to stop them. Some of us even got up and told them that they could take our chairs and we would just stand, but they started physically trying to push us out of the courtroom. Our younger male colleague, Dr Rohit, who was standing at the back, was grabbed by his collar and dragged towards the centre of the courtroom. Chauhan said “maar do isko” and began raining blows on Rohit. Women faculty close to him tried to stop him physically, but the lawyers continued hurling abuses, and some of us were pushed and jostled and touched inappropriately in the process. The attempt was clearly to intimidate and harass us into leaving the courtroom, and indeed Patiala Court premises. The police and court staff kept on watching and did not intervene to stop them.
Profs. Neera Kongari, Rohit, Himanshu and Janaki Nair were pushed outside the courtroom. Most of the men dressed in lawyers’ clothes rushed out after them. Extremely abusive language was used by the lawyers.
Those of us who remained inside could hear sounds of men shouting from outside, and fearing that we would be subjected to even greater physical violence, five women faculty – Profs. Ayesha Kidwai, Madhu Sahni, Nivedita Menon, Susan Visvanathan, and Chitra Harshvardhan, once again sat down. A larger contingent of policemen entered the courtroom and asked us to vacate the courtroom. Some of the aggressive lawyers came back in and although we requested the police to hold them back, they did not even ask these lawyers to leave. Instead they were allowed to enter and leave the courtroom as they wished. We asked the police to bring us orders from the magistrate asking us to clear the courtroom and demanded to be escorted out of the building. We were told that the magistrate had given verbal orders to the police to clear the courtroom, but we insisted that we be given police protection throughout. When a contingent of policewomen arrived, it took the police 10 minutes to find a way to escort us out of the courtroom as the doorways and the courtyard was blocked by shouting lawyers. The police were forced to find another exit and led us to another ground floor exit but that was blocked too by shouting and screaming lawyers. We were led then up the stairs and at least two other stairwells were tried but we were led away as the police was unsure that they could get us out safely.
Other lawyers who passed us on the corridor kept up the threatening tone, saying we should all be sent to Pakistan. Finally, a safe exit into the ground floor shed where the notary publics sit, was found. The police escorted us to the gate and bundled five of us into autorickshaws as they feared that we would be assaulted even if were to walk to our cars parked in the parking lot.
JNU faculty who had been pushed outside the courtroom were completely silent, and they noted that the lawyers led by Chauhan, when finally obstructed by the police, sent in two women lawyers who also shouted abuse at the JNU faculty assembled in the courtroom. A few minutes later all the lawyers rushed out of the courtroom saying ‘nikal gaye’ and began beating up every young person assuming they were JNU students, including a very young couple.
Later media coverage confirmed that students and the media people, as well as a CPI member, were assaulted by the mob outside.
Kanhaiya Kumar was not produced in court on that day, and when he was produced on 17th, only one JNU faculty member was present, Prof Himanshu; in fact we were asked by Kanhaiya’s lawyers to stay away so that our presence would not create the opportunity for further violence. It was on that day, when only one faculty member was present, and only the same handful of JNU students and CPI activists, that Kanhaiya was physically assaulted and the media terrorized and beaten up for the second time by the same lawyers in full view of a passive police force.
So the claim of provocative slogans from “3 to 4 busloads” of JNU people rousing lawyers to physical assault is patently false.
The Bar Council report surprisingly fails to mention two crucial bits of evidence.
- The WhatsApp message in Hindi that was circulated over February 14-15, that clearly mobilized for the attack. The message, snapshots of which are freely available in the media, calls upon all recipients to assemble in large numbers at Patiala House on Monday 15th to ‘peacefully and legally’ ‘produce befitting consequences’ (anjaam tak pahunchana) for the traitors who have been conspiring in Ganga Dhaba (JNU) and
- The sting operation by India Today that reveals Vikram Singh Chauhan and others boasting about their violent assaults on Kanhiaya and others.
From the transcript of the deposition of Kanhaiya Kumar to the Supreme Court judges’ panel after the attack on him the second day, made public on February 27th by CNN-IBN, it is also clear that the Registrar General of the High Court had been present at the time, and had asked Jatin Narwal, DCP, New Delhi, ‘to catch the guy’ whom Kanhaiya identified as his attacker, but he failed to do so. When the DCP claims at one point that he was not in the room when Kanhaiya was attacked, the Registrar again intervenes, saying ‘No sir, he was inside the room along with 10-12 officers.’ (Transcript available in The Indian Express of February 28, 2016).
It is shocking that the Bar Council of India should produce such a patently false account of events that exactly matches the claims of Vikram Singh Chauhan and BJP MLA OP Sharma who led the violent mob. Even more appalling is the fact that a body that represents practising lawyers should justify physical violence on the grounds that anti-India slogans were raised, which is any case, a blatant lie.
Is the legal community now going to subvert due process and rule of law and take matters into their own hands whenever they feel their sentiments are hurt? This is particularly paradoxical given Vikram Singh Chauhan’s recent interview to The Hindu (February 27, 2016) in which he says the media has ‘already found him guilty’, for it seems BCI not only justifies Kanhaiya’s being ‘found guilty’ by self-proclaimed nationalist lawyers, even before he is produced in court, but also their attack on him on the basis of their perception.