Just a few days ago the NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) has released its report on ‘Jamia Violence’ which took place on 15th December 2019 at the night. The Commission in its report has largely blamed students and said that they were found being indulged in violent protests without permission from concerned authority. The report while giving some ‘mild criticism’ to the Delhi police, however, has given an almost if not entirely clean chit to the Delhi Police. In this respect, democratic-minded people in general and students (who witnessed horrific violence and police brutality) in particular, have expressed their deep disappointments in the public domain. In doing so, they have said that the NHRC report is not acceptable to us because the Commission has not done justice to the affected victims and upheld the dominant narrative of Delhi police.
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 high-level inquiry must be conducted by senior and retired Judges, so that truth and justice could be brought 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 are directly involved in the gruesome act will conduct a further inquiry on Jamia violence based on ‘merit’ as recommended by the NHRC in its report. After the report came out in the public domain, collective professional and human rights 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 hence, it is ‘farcical’ in nature.
The NHRC report has endorsed in the recommendation that Jamia’s students (who had registered their protest peacefully against an anti-constitutional act like CAA, as evidence indicated) had been influenced by ‘outsiders’, ‘local goons’, and ‘petty politicians’. As a result, the protest had taken a violent turn and protesting students had damaged and destroyed the public and private properties that took place a few distances away from Jamia.
To control the violence in the future, the NHRC in its report has recommended that Jamia’s administrations must develop a culture of interactions and ‘better communication’ with ‘student fraternity’ so that ‘outsiders’ cannot be able to influence students in the future.
While doing so, the Commission in its report has put largely blames on Jamia’s students. However, the report has also recommended that the Delhi government and its authority based on ‘humanitarian ground’ should provide compensation to those students who were affected and got injured during the 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 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 its report titled as The Night of Broken Glass: Testimonies from Jamia Millia Islami, 2020. The NHRC’s report rather than recommending for the immediate legal actions against those Delhi police personnel and paramilitary forces who had vandalized the library’s infrastructure and broken chairs, CCTV, and glasses, on one hand, brutally beaten up and treated inhumanly to Jamia’s students on the other.
In the light of evidence and facts, rather than recommending strict legal action against the Delhi police, the report has largely blamed students and advised senior police officers of Delhi police to focus on giving proper training and development of professional skills and sensitize to police personnel, so that such situations and incidents can be controlled and ‘avoided’ in the future. However, the report has also recommended that the police forces that had entered (without the permission of Jamia’s Administration, emphasis mine) Jamia campus and vandalized the library infrastructures such as CCTV 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 the 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 the 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 a large extent if not completely while giving some recommendations and ‘soft criticism’ so that such kind of violence could be controlled and avoided in the future. In short, the report of the NHRC seems to be a ‘politically motivated’ and it has not done justice with those ‘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 duties, as mentioned in the Protection of Human Rights Act-1993. For further clarity, an Annual Report (2017-18) can be cited 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 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 the 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 the effective implementation of promotion and protection of human rights”. (Accessed on 27th June 2020)
Let us understand 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 failed to protect life, liberty, ensured justice and dignity to victims of police 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’ and ‘students’ and who had incited violence and damaged the public property.
Having said that, let us try to critically analyze the report of the NHRC on ‘Jamia violence’ in the light of facts and evidence including testimonies that are now available in the public domain.
The matter is still under legal scrutiny in the High court; so the high level impartial and independent judicial inquiry should be carried out by the senior retired judges, who have earlier good official records and faith in the Indian Constitution. 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 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, I got disappointed after listening to the news that in the case of Jamia violence, the NHRC report has given if not completely ‘clean chit’ (as done in the case of Batla House encounter) to the Delhi Police but largely hold innocent students responsible for holding a protest without permission and had done damage to private and public property.
Before looking critically at the report of the NHRC, let me share here my own experience that I got during my winter internship programmes in the NHRC in 2006-2007. During 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 violated norms of human rights and done gruesome violence against citizens.
The fact cannot be denied that there are rising trends of custodial killings and tortures including fake encounters done by police forces, as human rights organizations, had documented in their reports.
In the past, if state agencies and public officials who found guilty and violated the human rights of a citizen, the NHRC had recommended taking appropriate legal actions against perpetrators of violence. In doing so, the Commission had recommended 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 Jamia Teachers Association’s reports had shown that encounter in the case of Batla House was fake 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 that occurred in 2009; my discussion will be limited to Jamia violence that took place on 15th December 2019. In the case of Jamia violence, once again the role of 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 accountable to the Delhi police and has largely ignored the perspective of victims and dissenting voices of Jamia’s students including testimonies and medical reports which are now available in the public domain.
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.
Based on the CCTV footage, cameras, and other related videos which had been circulated on social media, one can say that it was Delhi Police who had 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 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 frankly 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 broad. 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 felt proud of being part of the NHRC as an intern. From my class, 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 crime and police brutality against innocent students who had registered their protests peacefully against an 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 are ‘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.
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 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 based on facts and evidence and hence, the Commission will perform its Constitutional duties rather than succumb to the pressure of political class and Delhi police and 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 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. As a result of tireless struggle and relentless fight, finally, India got independent from colonial rule. 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-building to make a self-reliant India in true sense. (Atma Nirbhar Bharat) in times to come.
The author is a Research Scholar at the University of Delhi.