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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 30, New Delhi, July 11, 2020

The NHRC’s report on Jamia Violence has relied on the Dominant Narrative of Delhi Police and ignored the Victim’s Point of Views | Badre Alam Khan

Saturday 11 July 2020

by Badre Alam Khan

 Recently the NHRC (National Human Right Commission) has released its report on ‘Jamia Violence’ which took place on 15th December 2019 at night. The Commission in its report has largely blamed the protesting students (who were peacefully and non-violent manner against anti-constitutional Act like CAA, emphasis mine) and said that they were found being indulged in violent protests without permission from concerned authority. The report while doing some ‘soft criticism’ to the Delhi police, however, has given a more or less if not entirely ‘clean chit’ to the Police. In this respect, democratic-minded people in general and students (who witnessed shocking violence and police brutality) in particular have expressed their deep disappointments in the public domain. In doing so, they have said that the NHRC’s report is not based on facts and evidence, as available in the public domain.

 Hence, the report is not acceptable to us (students who were victims of police violence) because it has not done justice to several injured students and thereby upheld the dominant narrative of the Delhi police. To note that one of Jamia’s student had lost his eye during the course of police violence. However, Commission’s report instead of taking legal action against police personnel said: the police were law bound to control “unlawful assembly” so that ‘law and order’ situation can be ensured. After the disappointments with the NHRC’s report, now they (affected students which include both girls and boys) have demanded that an independent, impartial and a high-level inquiry must be conducted by senior and retired Judges, so that truth and justice could be brought out in the public domain. While showing their disagreements on the report, they have also said that it is not acceptable to us that the Delhi police who had directly involved in the gruesome act will conduct further details inquiry-based on ‘merit’ for identifying who was ‘real perpetrators’ of violence, as recommended by the NHRC in its report. After the report came out in the public domain, ‘collective professionals’ and human right activists including Campaign Against witch-hunt of Anti-CAA activist have also sadly expressed their disagreements and said that the report is a ‘politically motivated’ (seems to be guided by the current ruling establishment) and it is a ‘farcical’ in nature.

The NHRC report has also endorsed in it’s the recommendation that Jamia’s students had been influenced by ‘outsiders’, ‘local goons’, and ‘petty politicians’. As a result, the protests had taken a violent turn and protesting students had damaged and destroyed the public and private properties including burnt buses that took place 1.3 KM away from Jamia. To control violence in the future, the NHRC in its report has recommended that Jamia’s administrations must develop a ‘better communication’ with ‘student fraternity’ so that ‘outsiders’ cannot be able to influence students in the future. While doing so, the Commission’s report has largely put blames on Jamia’s students who were the victim of police violence and its brutality. However, the report has also recommended that the Delhi government and its authority on the basis of ‘humanitarian ground’ should provide compensation to those students who were affected and got injured during the course of violence.

 Contrary to the version of the NHRC report, students of Jamia who had experienced horrific violence and police brutality have sadly expressed that the report has largely upheld the dominant narrative of the Delhi police and ignored facts, evidence and more importantly, testimonies of several victims, as documented by Campaign Against witch-hunt of Anti-CAA activists in his report titled as ‘The Night of Broken Galas: Testimonies from Jamia Millia Islami’, 2020. The NHRC’s report rather than recommending for taking immediate legal actions against those police personnel and paramilitary forces who had vandalized the library’s infrastructure and broken chairs, CC T.V cameras and glasses, on one hand, brutally beaten up and treated inhumanly to Jamia’s students on the other. To note that even the ex-member of the army’s guards of Jamia who were on duties had been also manhandled by police personnel. In the light of evidence and facts available in the public domain, rather than recommending strict legal action against the brutality of the Delhi police, the report has largely blamed students and given advice to senior officers of Delhi police to focus on giving proper training, development of professional skills and sensitize to police personnel, so that such ‘law and order’ situations can be controlled and ‘avoided’ in the future. However, the report has also recommended that that police forces that had entered [without the permission of Jamia’s Administration, as the concerned authority of Jamia, had emphasized in his official statements] Jamia campus and vandalized the library infrastructures such as CC T.V cameras must be identified and if found guilty ‘suitable action’ should be taken against them.

 The NHRC is supposed to submit an impartial, unbiased report and must recommend appropriate legal actions against perpetrators of violence (for instance, against Delhi police and Paramilitary forces who had brutally beaten up innocent students and vandalized Library infrastructures,) so that the human rights of ordinary citizens such as the right to life, liberty, equality, and dignity, as mentioned in the Protection of Human Rights Act-1993 can be protected and ensured. But if one could analyze report holistically from perspective of victims, it tangibly appears that the NHRC‘s report has not done justice with the affected victims who experienced horrific violence and police brutality, as stated above.

 Conversely, the Commission has sided with the establishment and Delhi police to the large extent if not completely while giving some recommendations and ‘soft criticism’ (take for instance, while underlining that it was the ‘apparent failure’ of local police), so that such kind of violence could be avoided in the future. In short, the report of the NHRC seems to be a ‘politically motivated’ and has ‘communal overtone’ and it has not done entirely justice with those several injured students of Jamia who were earlier hoping for some positive recommendations. In doing so, the report of the NHRC has compromised with its own Constitutional responsibilities, as mentioned in the Protection of Human Rights Act-1993. For further greater clarity on this point, let me cite an Annual Report (2017-18) in which NHRC Chairperson Justice H.L. Dattu in his preface ( who was also the former Chief Justice of India) has underlined the role of the Commission since its inception in the following words:

 “The Commission [NHRC] has relentlessly endeavored to fulfill the aspirations of the citizen of the country in leading a life of dignity and self respect, over the past twenty five years. It has consistently worked towards bringing a human rights-centered approach in functioning of the Government at central and state level, as well as towards creating human rights awareness and sensitization amongst public authorities and civil society”. (Annual Report, 2017-2018, accessed on 27th June 2020)

While further highlighting the NHRC as a role model in terms of protection and promotion of Human rights across the world, its websites mentions;

 “The world looks at NHRC of India as a role model in promoting and monitoring effective implementation of promotion and protection of human rights”. (Accessed on 27th June 2020)

Let me also underlined here how PHR (Protection of Human Rights Act-1993) has defined the human rights of citizens. In this respect, the NHRC official website says,

 “Section 2(1) (d) of the PHR [Protection of Human Rights Act-1993] Act defines Human Rights as the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India”. (Accessed on 27th June 2019 form official website)

 On the basis of above official statements of the NHRC which are available on its website, one could argue that report of the Commission has not performed its ‘Constitutional duties’ and responsibilities thereby and failed to protect life, liberty ensured justice and dignity to victims of police the violence that took place on 15th December 2019 at Jamia campus. The report also appears to be conflicting in nature because it has not differentiated properly between ‘people’ (especially outsiders) and ‘students’ and therefore, who had really incited violence and damaged public property.

 In this piece, I am not going to give my own ‘value judgment’, especially who are responsible and committed gruesome violence whether Delhi police or innocent students of Jamia? The mater is currently under the legal scrutiny in the Delhi’s High Court. And let the high level impartial and independent judicial inquiry should be conducted by senior retired judges, (who were having earlier good official records and faith in the Indian, Constitution) so that matter could be impartially resolved and truth and justice must be brought out in the public domain. However, from the point of victims, the further inquiry should not be conducted by Delhi police (who were involved and party on Jamia violence) and by its senior officials, as recommended by the NHRC’s report.

 Before moving further on said problems, let me add an anecdote here. As was having done winter internship programmes (from 18th December to 17th January, in 2006-7) from the NHRC and aware of the positive role played by the Commission on various matters related to violation of the human rights of citizens especially under police custody. However, I got disappointed after listening to the news that in the case of Jamia violence, the NHRC’s report has given if not completely ‘clean chit’ (as done in the case of Batla House encounter which took place in 2009) to the Delhi Police but largely hold innocent students responsible for holding a protest against anti-CAA without permission. In doing so, protesting students had done damage to private and public property and brunt buses along with found involved in stone-pelting on police forces. As a result of ‘unlawful assembly’ of students, violence which took place near vicinity of Jamia, the report states that police had no option but entered Jamia campus to contain ‘unruly mob’ who were involved in violent activities, as stated above. However, the report has stated that violence against students done by police personnel (for instance, beating students and vandalizing library infrastructures) could have been avoided. The fact of the matter is that students had registered their protests against anti-constitutional Act like CAA peacefully and non-violent manner as said earlier.

Before critically analyzing the report of the NHRC and dealing with problems that happened inside Jamia campus, let me share here my own past experience that I had got during my winter internship programmes in the NHRC in 2006-2007. During the course of the internship, I had got an opportunity to read the various annual reports and recommendations are given by the NHRC where it had been earlier taken several positive measures and stood with victims and recommended to take strict actions against the police personnel or concerned authorities who have had been violated norms of human rights and done gruesome violence against citizens.

Here, I am not going to discuss previous reports and especially positive steps taken by the NHRC in several cases. But if someone is interested to read positive contributions of the Commission can visit its official websites and look at Annual Reports and Newsletters of the NHRC.

The fact cannot be denied that there are still increasing trends of custodial killings and tortures including fake encounter, as happening in our country, reported in media recently. In the past, if state agencies especially police personnel who found guilty and violated human rights of a citizen, the NHRC had recommended for taking appropriate legal actions against perpetrators of violence. In doing so, the Commission had recommended for providing compensations and rehabilitation to affected victims. However, in the case of Jamia violence, it is a disappointing moment for me and other progressive-minded people simply because the NHRC has not performed its Constitutional duties — for instance, by giving recommendations to heal wounds of victims based on evidence and facts- as enshrined in Protection of Human Rights Act-1993 and stated by its Chairperson cited above.

 It needs to be recalled that in the case of the infamous Batla house encounter which took place more than a decade ago in 2009. At that time too, the report of the NHRC had deeply been disappointed to several human rights activists and people at large when the Commission’s report had given ‘clean chit’ to the Delhi police.

 It has to be remembered that various civil society and the then JTA’s reports had shown that encounter in the case of Batla house was fake in nature and hold the Delhi police as a guilty. For the greater clarity on this matter, the JTA and other human rights activists had demanded that let a high-level CBI inquiry must be constituted, so that truth and justice could be brought in the public domain. However, then the so-called secular UPA (United Progressive Alliance) regime had declined and shown a commitment to conduct a high-level CBI investigation.

 However, I am not going to enter into the Batla house episode here, my discussion will be limited to Jamia violence. In the case of Jamia violence, once again the role of the NHRC is now under the huge suspicion and the report appears to be a ‘politically motivated’ rather than based on facts and evidence, as stated above. It is unfortunate to note that once again the NHRC has produced the report which has not held the Delhi police accountable for having done violence and has largely ignored the perspective of victims. Rather than doing justice to several brutally injured students (both boys and girls) who were harshly beaten up and treated inhumanly by the Delhi police, as demonstrated in the report which has been prepared by the Campaign against witch-hunt of anti-CAA activists in light of testimonies collected from several injured students of Jamia.

 On the basis of the CC TV footages and other related videos which had been circulated on social media after police violence, one can say that it was Delhi Police who were involved in manhandling and beating up students brutally alongside destroyed and damaged the library’s infrastructures such as chairs, glasses, and other stuff. Besides, they had also used disproportionately tear gas shells and fired bullets on the students, as medical reports and testimonies of victims, have clearly underlined. This evidence and several testimonies are enough materials to demonstrate and ask a critical question especially how students can be held responsible for being involved in violent protests (after having influenced by ‘outsider’ and ‘local goons’) and damaged public property, as shown by the NHRC ‘s report.

 Before concluding this piece, let me honestly admit that while doing winter internship programmes in the NHRC, I had benefited a lot, and truly speaking, my understanding of human rights had sharpened and became extensive. Besides, I along with other interns had got opportunities to visit several places and civil society organizations including in Tihar Jail which had further sharpened my understanding of human rights. In addition to that, I had also got an opportunity to interact with senior civil servants and human rights activists who used to take classes rigorously. Honestly speaking, at that time I really felt proud of being part of the NHRC as an intern. From my class of Human Rights (M.A), only two students were selected to attend winter internship programmes (2006-7).

 Let me conclude here, for many progressive-minded people and students of Jamia, it was the Delhi Police who had grossly violated human rights norms by having done the gruesome crimes and police brutality against innocent students who had registered their protests peacefully against anti-constitutional Act like CAA and much expensive and unnecessarily exercise of NRC-NPR. It must be noted that holding a peaceful and non-violent manner protests, is our Constitutional rights, as a citizen of India which is duly enshrined in Chapter-3 of the Fundamental Rights especially in Article 21 ( Right to life with dignity) and Article 19 (Right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly). However, the report has cited Article 19 and underlined that there is ‘constitutional limitations’ to exercise, the Fundamental Rights. In this respect, the report says,

“Law enforcing authorities are the best judge for meeting a situation prevailing in a particular locality based on which appropriate decision is to be taken either to grant permission to conduct the meeting or protest march in a particular place”.

 The ruling establishment and Delhi Police often vilified and created distorted images (as happened in the case of Gandhian leaning and committed social activists like Harsh Mander and others) of the students and those who had participated in the anti-CAA protest peacefully. To note that state and its agency including a section of communal forces and Godi media (lap media) often put forth propaganda that anti-CAA protestors had created chaos, anarchy, and tensions in society. However, after released and given bail by Delhi High court to Safoora Zargar ( M.Phil. student of Jamia) who was booked by Delhi police under UAPA for allegedly inciting violence that led to riots in north East Delhi in the month of February 2020, has once again exposed Delhi police and nefarious design of communal forces for defaming the peaceful and non-violent anti-CAA protestors.

 Now let me end here with an optimistic note that no doubt the report of the NHRC has disappointed all of us who were having earlier faith in the Commission’s commitments towards the cause of Human rights. Let me admit that having done internship programmes, I had earlier a bit of confidence that NHRC will submit its report on the basis of facts and evidence and hence, the Commission will perform its Constitutional duties rather than succumb to the pressure of ‘political class’ and the Delhi police and hence, compromised with ‘Constructional morality’ and Protection of Human Rights Act-1993.

However, amidst the dark times (as the people of India are experiencing now after the spread of Covid-19 pandemic and economic downturn), we the progressive-minded people, social activist and students must not lose their hope and there is need to fight on the plank of the democratic, peaceful and non-violent manner in days to come; as our founding Fathers like Mahatma Gandhi and other nationalist leaders had fought against the authoritarian British regime. Let me end here by saying that while launching the second unfinished agenda of freedom (especially from hunger, unemployment and corruptions and discriminations on the basis of religion, caste, creed and of course against the threat of corona pandemic), we have to draw a lesson and democratic inspirations from our founding members of nation-buildings (like Gandhi, Nehru, Babasaheb Ambedkar, and Mulana Azad) to how to make a ‘self-reliant’ India in true sense (Atma Nirbhar Bharat) in days to come.

The author is a Research Scholar at the Department of Political science, University of Delhi

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