Journalists getting assaulted or killed in the line of duty do not make for big news in this day and age. But even by today’s standards what happened in New Delhi’s Patiala House Court, where mediapersons and students were beaten up by unruly lawyers for simply being present in the court in which the case of a JNU student leader, charged with anti-Indian activities, was to be heard, is crossing all lines. It should be stressed that a court of law is where people go for legal redress. The picture at the court seemed to suggest just the opposite. Equally appalling was the role of the policemen, who stood there watching innocent people being assaulted. A member of the Delhi legislative assembly was among the offenders. All that the police did was to ask the mediapersons to leave the place and not tempt providence by staying on further. There are reasons to suspect they were acting on orders. It is a classic case of the lawmakers themselves throwing law, order and justice to the wind.
It is a really frightening feature of our times that people who act in the name of religion and patriotism seem to do so on the assumption that no law can circumscribe what flows from these things. It is as though the law must bend itself to accommodate anything that these give rise to, as was enacted on the premises of the Patiala House Court on Monday. It is sad that it is the same spirit that informs the actions of the fanatics here and those who operate from beyond the border. What does all this boil down to? It is your nationalism versus my nationalism, your religion versus my religion. What is missing? It is the spirit of accommodation and a willingness to listen to others’ views. People who slapped journalists on Monday simply forgot that what applied to the so-called ‘anti-nationals’ of JNU applied to them as well: Reasonable restrictions in conduct and speech. Equally execrable has been their sense of propriety, which allows them to assault whosoever they please on the premises of a court in which they conduct their legal practice.
The government richly deserves the legitimacy to govern India. But it is this legitimacy that will be called into question if such incidents are replicated. Hence it should act now by immediately ordering an enquiry into who was guilty in Monday’s incident. If it doesn’t, it would mean giving a handle to those who question the unity and integrity of the country — from the Maoists of Dantewada to the separatists in Kashmir. Surely that is something no one wants.