The police action in Delhi was unacceptable. Find the guilty
It is also important for the political leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party to address the emerging discontent across universities.Updated: Dec 16, 2019 17:04 IST
The passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act has witnessed protests across the country. The response has been the most fierce in the Northeast, where local communities fear an influx of immigrants who can access expedited Indian citizenship, reviving the latent “insider versus outsider” debate. Violence has broken out in West Bengal, with continued vandalism of public property. On Sunday night, the aftermath of the CAA was visible in the Capital, when violence broke out in and around Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) university, followed by a brutal police crackdown on students inside the university premises.
In JMI, as the protests turned violent — students argue that it was not them, but outsiders who turned rogue — the police response was excessive. Social media did not help, with the constant circulation of fake news. All facts are still not clear. But while protestors should have remained peaceful, there is no doubt that the police action was unacceptable. To go into university premises without the permission of the authorities, to walk into the library and force students to walk out, to engage in a lathi charge and injure students who may have had nothing to do with the original protests, and to detain dozens of them was way beyond norms and standard operating procedures. The incident has alienated the student community not only in JMI, but also across universities in India.
Students must be treated as students, and universities as spaces where all ideas and protests are allowed. Students must be allowed the right to free expression; it is through engagement with political issues and contemporary concerns that they evolve and grow. Universities provide precisely this safe avenue for students to discuss issues, debate, learn the art of mobilisation, even make mistakes and correct themselves. Sure, student organisations must be careful and ensure that their protests are not hijacked by vested political interests; for instance, it is laudable that the JMI student community immediately disassociated itself from the violence.
A commission of enquiry should be set up to investigate police excesses and take strict action against all those officials who went beyond the law and took it into their own hands to ostensibly restore order. There can be no grounds to justify attacking students who had little to do with the violent protests. Unless the top police leadership takes strong action against errant officials, it will only promote a culture of impunity. It will encourage security personnel elsewhere to emulate such practices. And it will enhance the trust deficit between the State and India’s young.
It is also important for the political leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party to address the emerging discontent across universities. The fact that the incident has happened in the heart of Delhi shows the depth of anger against the CAA, but it is also symptomatic of a wider sense that the government is not addressing issues core to higher education, and instead, seeking to politicise universities on ideological lines. The fact that other universities have now joined in the protests across cities must ring alarm bells. Continued unrest and strife are both domestically and internationally counterproductive.