The savage assault on eminent lawyer Prashant Bhushan in his Supreme Court chamber last week by hooligans, at least one of whom is a repeated offender, has raised serious questions about measures being taken by the law-enforcing agencies to contain the activities of radical outfits.
Over the past decade, the Capital has been witness to a series of incidents where members of such outfits have resorted to violence as a means of protest. The extremist groups have also been terrorising people by launching violent campaigns against Valentine's Day celebrations in the city, vandalising gift shops and harassing young couples. The police approach towards such incidents of intolerance has varied from taking stern action to almost overlooking them.
Former Delhi Police Commissioner T. R. Kakkar is of the opinion that nondescript groups should not be given much attention as whatever they do is simply for publicity. However, he feels, that a watch should be kept over their activities. Ajai Raj Sharma, also a former Delhi Police Commissioner, insists that the best way to combat the nuisance is through pro-active measures.
Mr. Sharma had taken over at a time when such incidents were growing in intensity and ferocity. In December 1998, Shiv Sena activists targeted Regal Cinema in Connaught Place protesting against the screening of Deepa Mehta's Fire . The following year, Shiv Sena activists dug up the Ferozeshah Kotla Stadium cricket pitch to abort a cricket match between India and Pakistan. Some activists were later arrested and two policemen were suspended for failing to act promptly.
“When the fear of rule of law recedes in society, hooligans and ruffians get the upper hand,” said Mr. Sharma, advocating stringent action against repeated offenders. “Sufficient laws are in place. However, there is a need to keep these outfits under close watch. All relevant provisions must be pressed to pin them down. They should be bound down under the Criminal Procedure Code provisions for maintaining peace and good behaviour. In case of any violation, heavy fine should be imposed on them.”
According to Mr. Sharma, the Delhi Police Commissioner has the power to extern repeated offenders from the city for a year or two. During that period the person can enter the territory only when permitted and by furnishing details of his place and duration of stay. In cases of serial offences, Mr. Sharma suggested that MCOCA provisions can be employed to set an example. “I had got the National Security Act invoked in several cases which were later upheld by the High Court.”Finding fault with the curriculum, a group of suspected Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists ransacked Delhi University's History Department in February 2008. In the same year in November, activists of the same outfit protesting against S.A.R. Geelani, who was acquitted in the Parliament attack case, vandalised the Arts Faculty building where a seminar was in progress. In April 2010, another event at Jawaharlal Nehru University campus was disrupted.
Artists too have also been at the receiving end of such outfits. Shiv Sena activists in December 2007 targeted celebrated artist M. F. Husain's exhibition, damaging two of his works.