Dec 15: Jamia attack anniversary
In a Youtube LIVE, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves tells Teesta Setalvad how students and activists continue to be penalised by a vindictive state even a year after the attack
Teesta Setalvad: In the Jamia case, your arguments finished four months ago. There are 92 testimonies. I believe that the petition contains the CCTV footage and yet the case is stuck. It doesn’t seem to be moving. I mean, where do students of Jamia and other citizens turn for justice?
Colin Gonsalves: That’s a million-dollar question as to where they go for justice in a circumstance where the government and police are working totally out of the boundary of law. As if the police are the bodies of organised crime rather than peace keepers or law keepers. Well, I start with few words about what is happening in the case. I remember this was the night when all of us and all of our friends in Delhi, turned up at these kinds of situations. All of us were in the police stations, hospitals and the students were being brought with broken legs, broken hands. So many of them were sent to the I.C.U.
Teesta Setalvad – One young man lost his eye.
Colin Gonsalves: That’s right
Teesta Setalvad: And there were women who were sexually assaulted.
Colin Gonsalves: They were taken from the I.C.U (when they were not even recovered) straight to the police station to record their statements. So, there were people who were following the police van to the police stations and parents and relatives of the injured and fellow and friends of the injured were desperate to know where was their child or friend because nobody knew the exact hospital where the injured was taken or where they have to go to which hospital or to which police station.
We went to some of the police stations and boys, who were obviously very student like, they were not even political people or tough revolutionaries, were crying bitterly in the police station. But I think the overall experience harden them in a good way, because I think when they went through that experience, it was a very important political learning for all of them. This is how the police behave and we have to take it in our strive; not panic or not react with fear even we have fear inside us but not to show that to the police. Anyway, the beatings were very ferocious and we started recording the testimonies of about 100 students and it was so nice to see the students come forward and record the FIRs with their own handwriting which we gave to police later on.
Now there were some interesting moments in the case. One is that somebody gave us a video of policeman actually entering the buses which they were torched by the agitators and shows them carrying in a kind like a jerrycan and pouring it on the seats of the buses and going away. So, we submitted that in court as well and said that we don’t because we have no idea about from where this video has surfaced but it shows that the Jamia area and it shows the agitation and it shows the policeman in uniform pouring some liquid on the seat. We actually pleaded that it appears as if and this is the story circulating that the police actually set fire to the buses in order to blame the protestors for what they have done. Now the vice chancellor also took a strong stand at that state. The vice chancellor also spoke up in favour of the student. Some of the officials from Jamia also, they were very shattered by what happened. They were shattered by what they saw in the hospitals particularly. Anyway, now these videos of police entering Jamia library was a real bonanza because it showed how incorrect or false the police case was because the video showed them that brutally beating the students inside the library.
Teesta Setalvad – Pulling them out and they were hiding there.
Colin Gonsalves: I think the person lost his eye was a person in the library at that stage. I saw a very interesting thing. I was standing there near the hospital and I saw a young man. I forgot his name. He was being brought out and his both legs were broken as they smashed him so hard. He was getting out of the ambulance in a stretcher and he was looking at something at his palm of his hands and he was being very nonchalant like looking around. He was very brutally beaten, very badly. So, I asked a friend next to me about what he was looking. He was watching videos on his mobile phone, absolutely calm and nonchalant. So, in my opinion these situations make us grow up. All our friends were there to try their best to help at that situation in the night.
Anyway, the idea was when we file the case, we put all this information on record including the cd and vice chancellor’s statement and then was the proctor’s statement. So, there were lots of information. We also had CDs of the beating video tapes and they were all connected and put together and then when we got statements of about 99 to 100 students. We sent them off to police and we sent them off here and there and ask them to register an FIR which they did not do and they have not registered those FIRs to this day.
So, in Laleeta Kumari (case) the constitution bench decision of supreme court basically said that you have to register. Earlier there was a confused situation in law with different courts holding in different ways and supreme court judgements in different directions may be you can do an inquiry may be you can do a preliminary inquiry may be you can satisfy yourself about the truth of the fire before you register but now this all that non sense is gone and you must register the FIR immediately and check about the truth of that fir later you can do an he case was filed and as the case began to proceed the students from Jamia during the Covid period were called to the police lock ups and we advised many people to say that we are not allowed to travel during the period of Covid but the police were very insistent. They said all right if you can’t travel then we’ll send the police van to your house and take you so many many people were called eventually some people were arrested that judge sheets were filed but it was a very harrowing time because on top of this very traumatic incident of beating now you have to during the Covid period and so on. What does the petition ask for? The petition asks for basically if you have many many prayers but the main thing is you cannot have the police force that beats you also do the investigation.
Teesta Setalvad – So, you asked for a special SIT right?
Colin Gonsalves: We asked for a special SIT. I think I discussed it with you and you know we had some discussion on that and we walked actually given the names of the DGPs of older years, earlier years and said that these are persons said to be persons of integrity who don’t have any allegiance to any political party or government and therefore we are asking that you appoint them remove the Delhi police completely and appoint them as the investigators for the chase that’s our main point that we are pressing on the interesting thing in the reply of the police was really taken aback by this
Teesta Setalvad – I was going to say that the reply by the DCP is atrocious you know.
Colin Gonsalves: Yeah but there’s another reply I’m not sure which one that is but there’s a reply or it’s a counter statement or something where they say and I can’t understand who did the drafting of this affidavit because it’s so unpolice like. They say not a single Jamia student was responsible for any of the damage. Not a single Jamia student is responsible for any criminal action and we have not filed any FIR and we are not going to arrest any student from Jamia eventually they did three or four or five or six people they did but the affidavit was strange it almost seemed as if a friend of mine yeah or something like that but there’s not an allegation. So when you argue in court you say please look at the counter of the police and the counter of the police does it make a single allegation of people from japan if that is so if the Jamia students have not done anything wrong then why did you beat 99 students, why did you go into the bathrooms and beat the women, why did you burn the mosque, if the Jamia students are not doing anything you want the mosque and why did you go to the library and beat everybody you know so there’s not a single Jamia student really caught up in that whole thing. I think that strengthens our case.
Teesta Setalvad – Why is the case not being heard? **********************
Colin Gonsalves: Well it’s like this. It’s just that there are two or three things apart from our case, that we find there are about six or seven other cases. So, there’s a battery of very good lawyers who are appearing for the Jamia students. It just that we took our matter first and then everybody argued. Now we finish the arguments. We didn’t allow a single day to go by so we finished. I took I think two days or something we finished the arguments from our side and the prosecutor, the police, the government is just dragging it all now. Achievement is running into one month, when you supposed to finish the case quickly. Like I said, the government lawyers argued may be for six days seven days in between you get a one-month adjournment or a three weeks adjournment. So, delaying tactics on behalf of the government, and the police, and the case drags on. So, we finished and we’re waiting for them to argue and it’s a horrible situation to be in and it’s horrible to see that the bench was not very inclined to go quick to put it diplomatically not inclined to go quick at all so there’s so much of anger and frustration and there was a situation in court where I think it was where they some of the participants and may be you know said shame shame shame shame and a thing like that happened and everyone turned around and people were saying shame shame shame shame for the adjournments and so on. The injury records also have been put on record so it’s not as if we’re joking when we say that upwards of 50 students were seriously injured and you had kind of exploding grenades which if you try to pick them up and throw them back, they explode in your hand and then you have some kind of grenade which has a very toxic burning element inside so it’s not just like normal tear gas which will make you cry but it also burns your skin and burns your eyes when the police use them. So, we have asked for all because you know under the judgements now of the supreme court whenever there’s an agitation or demonstration and so on the police have been told by the supreme court that if you want to punish anyone and if you want to file FIRs against people you must always have a police videographer ready.
Teesta Setalvad –Yes
Colin Gonsalves: Who will take the videos and so on. So, in our petition one of the prayers is that you give us the videos because if you say the public outside Jamia but in that area responsible for this and we say you’re responsible. We’ll go by your videos we have no problem with that so give us your videos as well and so that’s the long and short of the story of Jamia .
Teesta Setalvad – Okay. Collin I just want to ask you in your years of being counsel for human rights abuses I mean do you feel things are getting much worse in terms of accountability of the state or is it just an impasse which is it’s just because institutions have not really learned from the various judgements that have come out the better moments that have come out from institutions those have not been internalized enough across the country because I mean every time we seem to ask for the same thing we are asking for independent investigation we are asking for efforts and prosecution of police officers. But here you are actually seeing a situation where there’s an attempt to conceal or destroy the evidence. There is an attempt to change the narrative completely there’s an attempt not as an attendee they have actually managed to criminalize those who have been victimized with the police themselves who are peaceful protesters and students. So I mean how would you place this in India?
Colin Gonsalves: I would say it’s become a thousand times worse and I think there’s a paradigm shift in how the police understand things and the judges understand things, that’s a big shift. As far as the police are concerned and this is linked to the judiciary. They somehow feel that no judge is going to really go against them and I think that’s burn out of their experience of many many cases where judiciary you know treats the police with a great deal of respect whereas actually, they should be catching them by the collar and putting them behind the bars. So, because they feel that the police are right, the judges are soft on the police, they feel they have absolute immunity and I have seen this growing exponentially say over the last… particularly after this present central government came to power. Now what happens then when they feel they are immune, they began to lie with impunity. They give you all kinds of cock and bull stories they put it in writing, they swear, affidavits. You know there’s perjury. There’s contempt of court on such a big scale they just don’t care. So, they have got complete disregard. They laugh at the court. The laugh at the legal system and so on and they become a lawn to themselves. That is why I use the phrase. The police in India today are the largest body of organised crime in the country and I have said that in many meetings where people say we should have police training and so on. I know there’s some organisations specialising in it. I mean I find it laughable that anyone should try and create awareness among the police. They are the most aware of us all as to where they stand where the public stands where human rights activists stand, and as far as the police are concerned we are worse than dogs. Okay, just garbage and so on. So that’s enormous thing. Judges have taken our system to the pits. Because if the judges are going to allow this kind of thing as in Jamia. You give them the video of this MLA, MP member of Parliament, cabinet member in Delhi. We have got three, four, five, six videos and then coming down from the stage and doing a procession. What a phenomenal thing.
Teesta Setalvad – Middle of the night, yes.
Colin Gonsalves: And I made a mistake, you know this time I made a big mistake. I knew in my bones, they were going to do something in the night. I should have…… I should have first I should have told the court, “Please sir, don’t wait for tomorrow to complete your just. Just finish it today” and second is the moment they did it I should have taken contempt of court against them in this in the high court. Contempt of court. It is contempt. So in the middle of the arguments when you find the arguments against you, I regret that I didn’t do contempt of code you know and so beautifully done.
So, no judge can survive today. No honest judge can survive. Why?
Okay, we know the government is against judges and all that. But your judges are against judges. If your chief justice doesn’t protect you, if the chief justice of your court is a little happy that you are being bundled up somewhere else. And the other thing I have noticed which is again linked to this whole thing is that judges are politicised? They support political parties in power? They belong to that political party? Maybe, you know. So if you are politicised and you support the executive because you know are from the same background, you know as the government and you as a lawyer and a young judge, you became a judge. So from the same background, the same political party, then what you see is, there is no analysis of evidence like we had in the old times, when you are arguing and there is judgement and there are facts, the judge is just sitting, okay, I have to hear you, I am hearing you, finished. Thank you very much and you know exactly what’s going to happen. So that is the degeneration of the entire system and that is why police have become totally uncontrollable today and I think we’ve gone past the point of no return.
Teesta Setalvad – But in this Jamia case do you plan to take any steps? Do you plan to do anything?
Colin Gonsalves: Yes. We are filing a petition, saying that this is what has happened. This is how the matter has been adjourned, this is how long it is taking and we want you to hear it here because we have no faith and in the Delhi riots case will definitely say that. You too said it should be finished in six months, a year has passed, and it has not even started and we have no faith that the high court will hear us fairly. We will say, plainly we will say. Then if supreme court says all right, now finish it and we will say, if it’s not good if that court is not able to hear it you send it to another court to hear it. One has to follow certain norms. Certain language has to be used and all that. But we are very frustrated and fed up you would say.
Teesta Setalvad – And what do you feel about the spirit of the Jamia students, even after the arrests and after the calumny and the misinformation?
Colin Gonsalves: I think Jamia… the attack on the Jamia students was a huge political education of the students. Not just of Jamia but of the whole country including Aligarh and everywhere, they took a beating. They might have lost morale, they might have become terribly frightened. But this is going to be the best education of their lives and they will in the years to come do something very phenomenal. I recruit Jamia students for and I cannot imagine how extraordinary they are. They are just unbelievable. I am used to years and years of recruiting people who are you know completely politically zero good hearted people etc etc and you get a little sad, when you see the quality of the young. But the Delhi police have done us a very big favour. They have done a political class for the country and a political like a tutorial for the country on understanding power, understand state power, understand the police, understand judiciary, understand that law doesn’t work in the country. It is only muscle power and guns that work and learn to organize, mobilize, educate, stay there no matter. It’s been a tremendous political education of the young.
Teesta Setalvad – Thank you so much Colin. It’s not a very hopeful note that on which we’ve spoken. But I still feel that the fact there are people like you and many other lawyers and many other activists who keep on fighting these cases. I think to prize open the spaces that are there. Just to remind our viewers that this petition, this series of petitions that have been filed in the Delhi High court on the issue of the attack on Jamia. The story began actually 9th and 11th last year when the Citizenship Amendment Act was rammed through Parliament without debates without referring it to a joint parliamentary committee ninth in the Lok Sabha, 11th in the Rajya Sabha, notified on the gazette overnight and on 13th of December there was a peaceful march that the Jamia students organised. The country saw it. All of us saw it and then on 15th of December both in Jamia, inside the premises of Jamia police brutality of a scale we have not seen in a long time. Maybe we have seen it in Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, parts of like that but we have not seen it in quote – unquote mainline India on video like this,
There was brutality unleashed on students of Jamia and what I found was a moment of hope. I was in Malegaon at that time addressing a public meeting on CAA, NPR, NRC and across the country including IITS and IIMS and 300 colleges and universities students protested. Protested against what they saw happening to their colleagues in Jamia. So, I do agree with Mr Gonsalves when he said that it was a political wake-up call and then of course we had the brutal attack on JNU on the 5th of January this year.
So the new began year on a very very somber note, and we saw of course the strong protests and we saw the amazingly inspirational protests that they spawned across the country, democratic protests. We saw the Muslim leadership, young Muslim leadership. Women of all ages among the Muslim community take leadership in those protests, claimed nationalism, claimed patriotism for their own, reclaimed the Constitution in the streets. So, but it’s been a harsh year and it’s been a harsh year especially particularly after the daily violence of February 23rd and 24th. I don’t know if there is anything else you’d like to say but I would just like to say that to the students of Jamia, to the students all over who faced this kind of brute state power whether it’s Hyderabad central university when Rohit Vemula’s institutional murder took place or JNU, I can only say that you represented a spirit of opposition to extremely brutal regime when so many were quiet. Colin few last words for you.
Colin Gonsalves: Well well, I just want to say despite the gloom and the darkness, you know all around may be some level of demoralisation. I think this is a period of awakening and I think from the Jamia struggle, the Aligarh struggle, CAA struggles and NRC struggles, the state has sown the seeds of rebellion, the fighting against injustice and that is a very powerful thing. The police may be very proud of themselves for what they do and the government may pat them on their back, but the seeds of resistance have gone deep into the Indian soil and the shoots will come and the flowers will come, the trees and the branches will come. The seeds of rebellion and the fight against injustice starts from here. So, in that sense, I see, maybe I may not live to see it, but I think it’s a real time where the younger activist particularly will play a very powerful roles in the years.
Courtesy : Sabrang