On 19 December, the Delhi High Court heard six petitions demanding a probe into the Delhi Police’s violent response to the protests by the student community of Jamia Millia Islamia against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019. According to numerous accounts, on 15 December, the police forcibly entered the university campus and teargassed its library and brutally beat students. That night, the police attack left at least two dozen students injured. The police detained fifty students as well, according to one of the petitions in the Delhi High Court. Around the same time, the Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh was also witnessing a similar police crackdown.
The petitioners, who included students of Jamia, sought interim reliefs—asking the court for granting reliefs urgently, without deciding the case in totality—from the Delhi High Court. A couple of these reliefs were a judicial probe into the matter and protection for the students from arrest and other coercive action. But the court did not seem to view the petitions as urgent—it adjourned the hearing till 4 February 2020.
Post the adjournment, we visited the office of the Human Rights Law Network, a non-profit which is providing legal aid to several detainees from Jamia. There, we met three advocates with the HRLN—Choudhary Ali Zia Kabir, Gunjan Singh and Fidel Sebastian—who had attended the high court hearing. The advocates commented on what had happened in the court. Singh said, “A matter of such an importance, such an urgency—when there is violence, when there is police atrocity, when there are media reports of students coming under attack—has been treated like a civil dispute.”
Two days earlier, the Supreme Court had heard the matter pertaining to Jamia and AMU. The petitioners submitted multiple medico-legal certificates and photographs featuring injuries of students to the court. But during the hearing, Tushar Mehta, the solicitor general, said that only three students have been injured. According to Kabir, this was “not a mistake of facts.” He added, “This is not a legal argument. This is just a plain lie. As young lawyers, it shocks our conscience.”
The Supreme Court directed the petitioners to approach the concerned high courts having considered the “nature of the matter; the nature of the disputes and the vast areas over which these incidents are said to have occurred.” Singh disagreed with the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case on the grounds that the incidents are spread over vast areas. “There is commonality in the action—the students protesting and the police attacking,” he told us. “That was totally passing the buck,” he added.