Men dressed in the black robes of lawyers held court proceedings to ransom in the heart of the National Capital on Wednesday.
In a shocking sequel to the incidents of February 15 in the Patiala House courts complex, violence was unleashed barely moments before a hearing on sedition charges against JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar was to start at 2 p.m.
The Delhi Police again filled the role of a “silent spectator” as attackers defied the Supreme Court’s order for restricted entry to the trial court complex, bashed up Mr. Kumar en route to his court hearing and hurled the choicest abuse, gravel and a jagged end of a flowerpot piece at a six-member team of senior advocates, including Kapil Sibal, hand-picked by the Supreme Court to verify and report back on the ground situation in the court complex.
The morning saw a tense hearing during which politics and nationalist passions sidelined legal arguments before a Supreme Court Bench of Justices J. Chelameswar and A.M. Sapre.
The court was hearing a petition filed by JNU alumnus N.D. Jayaprakash, seeking “free and fair access to justice” to Mr. Kumar and condemning the February 15 violence on and outside the Patiala House premises.
The surcharged atmosphere in the Supreme Court hall shot up a few notches when a lawyer shouted Vande Mataram — a slogan which found an echo in the court complex later in the afternoon — from the rear as another asked the Bench if the expectation was to “keep quiet if somebody attacked our motherland.”
“We are all patriots here. If somebody attacked the motherland, do you take the law into your own hands? Moderation is a forgotten word in all spheres of life today,” Justice Chelameswar shot back.
The hearing ended with the Bench restricting entry to the trial courtroom only to lawyers appearing in the sedition case, five journalists, four immediate family members of Mr. Kumar or one JNU faculty member or student each - all certified by the Delhi High Court Regisrar General to be present in person at Patiala House courts - in a bid avoid overcrowding of the courtroom said to be hardly 15x10 feet in size.
Repeat of Monday’s violence
Wednesday saw a shocking sequel to the violence unleashed on February 15 in the Patiala House court complex barely moments before a judicial hearing on sedition charges against JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar was to start at 2 p.m.
On February 15, lack of seats for lawyers was said to be one of the reasons which led to verbal exchanges and altercations inside the court room before slipping into full-fledged violence.
But it took only a few minutes after the Supreme Court hearing for the Delhi Police’s assurances of calm to hit rock bottom. In a rewind of Monday, a group led by a man identified as Vikram Chauhan, who made the headlines for claiming to have organised the February 15 attack on innocent persons in the court complex, climbed the gate of the court complex and barged in, waving the national flag and shouting 'Vande Mataram'. This was minutes before the trial court was to sit.
Magistrate Loveleen Singh, hearing the case, quickly ordered her courtroom to be locked from the inside. Lawyers, journalists and persons authorised by the Supreme Court were ushered into the judges’ chambers as attackers prowled the court complex armed with batons. Senior advocate Rajeev Dhawan, a member of the lawyers’ team, later described to the Bench the “tearful” condition of the Magistrate.
Bassi denies violence
Despite the chaos inside the court complex, the Delhi Police attempted to escort in Mr. Kumar as the mob closed in to get their hands on the accused. But Police Commissioner B.S. Bassi denied Kumar was “beaten up” and described the violence against the student as mere “jostling”.
Kumar later claimed he was attacked. In a statement written as he lay trapped and injured inside a room in the court complex, he said he believed in the Indian Constitution. He appealed all to maintain calm so that the trial could go on without fear or favour. He was ordered to be sent to Tihar Jail on judicial remand for 14 days.
When the violence began in Patiala House, advocate Prashant Bhushan had rushed into Justice Chelameswar's court to interrupt an ongoing hearing to apprise the Bench about the mob's defiance and the police's apparent inability to control the situation.
Cancelling other cases listed for the day, the Bench decided to focus on what was happening at Patiala House, saying “never have we seen lawyers stoop to such levels”.
But the Supreme Court refused Mr. Bhushan's plea to summon Mr. Bassi. “A general cannot be summon when hostilities are on,” Justice Chelameswar said.
Instead the Bench made police counsel Ajit Sinha call up the Police Commissioner in open court to convey the Bench's “immediate concern” to extricate the people being held hostage inside the Magistrate court.
The Bench then chose the team of six lawyers, who were besides Mr. Sibal and Mr. Dhawan, senior advocates Dushyant Dave and Harin Rawal, Delhi High Court counsel A.D.N Rao and the police counsel Ajit Sinha to visit Patiala House complex and report back.
Though Mr. Sibal voiced initial reluctance to be part of the team, saying it would be misconstrued as playing “politics”. Justice Chelameswar check him, observing that “you are going there as an officer of this court”.
Half an hour later the team was back to give a grim report of the violence. They described how they themselves barely escaped being “beaten up black and blue” despite the security personnel provided to them from the Supreme Court police contingent.
Mr. Dhawan recounted how at one point, Kumar was “thumped” by a “gentleman in dark glasses” in front of the Delhi High Court Registrar General and senior police officers in charge of the accused's security on the apex court's orders.
“This gentleman removed his dark glasses, walked up to the accused sitting in a room, thumped him and coolly walked out of the room. The police refused to detain this man despite repeated requests from the High Court Registrar General. The incident has terrified the student to death,” Mr. Dhawan reported to the apex court.
“Ask the Police Commissioner to take him (Kumar) out of there safely. If anything happens to him, the Commissioner will be held responsible,” Justice Chelameswar told Mr. Sinha. The lawyer, after yet another call to Mr. Bassi, reported back that the police chief was “100 percent sure” about the accused's safety.
The apex court dismissed the idea of shifting the trial venue, saying it would only send a wrong signal. It directed the Delhi High Court and its lawyers' team to tender their reports on the incident at 2 p.m. on Thursday. The police, on its request, was given time till Friday 10.30 a.m. to hand over its report. The apex court will hear the case on Monday next. eom