Vikram Singh Chauhan was inconvenienced. Driving towards Bengali Market in Delhi to meet me yesterday, his white sedan had to halt due to a protest march against the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU). Kumar was arrested on 12 February 2016, for allegedly leading an “anti-national” protest in the university. On Monday, 15 February, journalists and students were assaulted for “promoting anti-national interests” at the Patiala House Court a little before Kumar’s remand hearing was scheduled to take place there. The perpetrators of this violence were a group of men in lawyer’s robes along with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) OP Sharma. Chauhan, a lawyer who has been practicing in Delhi since 2002, was identified as the person leading the attack in several video recordings and photographs. This sequence of events repeated itself at the rescheduled hearing on Wednesday. Despite heavy police presence, a similarly violent group of men assaulted Kumar this time. Chauhan was present then as well.
He was late. “Those JNU people have blocked the road,” he said even before I sat down in the front seat. “Where are they going?” I asked. “Pakistan,” came the reply, with a laugh. He began driving, with his seat-belt unhooked, and music booming out of the car.
Chauhan told me that he did not care about the articles written about him. He saw himself redressing the slights done to the country. Dressed in a suit, smoking a chain of cigarettes, he answered most of my questions through a cloud of smoke. “What actually happened on Monday?” I asked. “There were about a hundred students from the JNU shouting slogans.” He replied. “Calling Afzal Guru a martyr, saying Kashmir is not a part of India and so on. Then they started beating us. Fir hamne bhi kiya jo uchit laga. Aapka khoon nahi khaulega ye sab sun ke?”—And then we did what we deemed appropriate. Wouldn’t your blood boil listening to such things? What, I asked, of the provocative Facebook posts in which he called on his friends for a “face to face fight [that will] teach the traitors? “All that I had planned for was a peaceful protest,” he said.
But how does a lawyer, one who claims to specialise in criminal and civil law, resort so easily to an unlawful retaliation, and that too in a courthouse? “What would you do if your bar licence were to be cancelled?” I asked. “There are MLAs in this city who have been elected despite having a fake degree, and there are lawyers who practice law without a licence, what about all that?” he replied. “But doesn’t the law bar you from taking matters in your own hands?” I insisted. “Lawyer hone ka ye matlab nahi hai ki deshbhakti ghar pe rakh ke aayenge,—Being a lawyer does not mean one has to leave their patriotism at home—he said.
Chauhan was born in Revari, a district on the southern border of Haryana. His father, he told me, was in the army and fought the 1971 war. “Haryana produces the most number of soldiers for the country, and I come from that tradition. I had a friend, Kuldip Rathi. He was a soldier and he was killed in the Kargil war. So many friends are still in the army, fighting for this country. And look at these people. The kind of things they say now about people who attacked the parliament.”