An open letter to the Chief Justice of India by law students

SHAHID TANTRAY for the caravan
04 February, 2020

The Chief Justice of India

23rd January, 2020

Respected Lordship,

For the past several decades, the Supreme Court has stood as the guardian and protector of the fundamental rights of the citizens of this country, and the Navtej Singh Johar and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors. (AIR 2018 SC 4321) and Justice K.S. Puttaswamy and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors. (AIR 2017 SC 4161) judgments are two of the most recent examples of the same. However, with the recent turn of events, we, as law students of a democracy, find ourselves in a state of fear and absolute shock.

As countrywide peaceful protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (“CAA”) spread to several university campuses, numerous reports of the police committing atrocities against the students of Aligarh Muslim University (“AMU”), Jamia Milia Islamia (“JMI”) and other universities across the country in an attempt to suppress the peaceful protests emerged. As per reports, over 80 students had to undergo treatment after the violence at JMI, around 20 students suffered injuries including fractures and three students were left with severe eye injuries (India Today, 2019). Further, the fact-finding report on police action in AMU states that around 100 students were reportedly picked up by the police, another 100 injured, 20 seriously, and doctors had to amputate the hand of a student who suffered injuries due to a stun grenade that exploded in his hand. To our utter dismay, the Supreme Court refused to step in and order any inquiry into the police action. In what can only be described as a violation of basic principles of natural justice, the students were not even given an opportunity of being heard.

These events, coupled with, more specifically, the violence that unfolded in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (“JNU”) campus on the 5th of January shook our formerly unwavering faith in the administration and the Judiciary of this country. Hence, we feel compelled to write this open letter to you.

On 5 January 2020, the JNU campus witnessed a horrific mob attack involving masked men and women who entered the campus with sticks and bricks, broke into hostels, ransacked rooms and beat up occupants. The Delhi Police, however, responded in a rather slow, ineffective and lukewarm manner to a crisis that endangered the lives of several students and members of the faculty. Audio and video evidence and numerous gut-wrenching eye-witness accounts clearly indicate that the police did not enter the campus to control the violence, but instead, made arrangements for the miscreants to safely exit the campus after the attack.

My Lordship, the police forces are duty-bound to safeguard and protect the rights of the citizens. In view of the same, the failure of the police to identify the culprits and take anyone connected to the violence into custody or make any arrests is absolutely unjustified. Moreover, the FIR against the students, including the JNU Students' Union President Aishe Ghosh who was thrashed by the mob, is completely undemocratic and reeks of the high-handedness of the police. This amounts to the muzzling of voices of dissent and sabotaging the students' right to democratic protests.

Further, we believe that colleges and university campuses are meant to be safe spaces that nurture freedom of thought and expression. The attack, however, indicated a total breakdown in campus safety. In this light, we demand that a formal inquiry be initiated against the Registrar Pramod Kumar and Vice Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar on account of their failure to prevent the occurrence of said attack, and their suspension till the completion of such inquiry.

In our humble opinion, the attack on the students not only sacrifices their human rights under the law and the Constitution, but is also likely to produce an adverse effect on the administration of justice and the rule of law in the country. Such an attack by masked assailants in university campuses should not only be unequivocally condemned, but also a free and fair judicial probe should be ordered and due punishment should be given to the perpetrators, lest such acts gain a level of legitimacy.

Your Lordship, more than anything else, the citizens of this country crave for their fundamental rights to be protected. As law students of this country, we urge the Supreme Court to take suo motu cognizance of the matter, and prevent the situation from culminating into one of tacit acceptance of disproportionate violence against students.

In this light, we, the undersigned, urge and implore you to take active steps for ensuring justice to those who were injured and affected by the violent mob attack in JNU. It should be unpardonable to commit crimes of such nature against students for merely exercising their right to protest peacefully.

We have taken the liberty to make a few suggestions and we hope you will consider them:

This must be done immediately to restore public confidence in the Judiciary and in the Supreme Court.