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Jamia: Inquiry commission sought on 'excessive, unauthorised' use of police force

Counterview Desk
A six-member team of the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), which conducted a four-day fact-finding from December 16 to 19 into the incidents at the campus of the Jamia Milia Islamia on December 13 and 15, has sharply criticized the Delhi police’s “combative and communal treatment” of the student protesters against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, passed by Parliament on December 11.
Asserting that PUDR investigations suggest “a picture of police terror” and police “as a lawless force” seeking to “quell dissent”, the report, based on interviews with students, teaching and non-teaching staff, doctors, injured students and their parents, local residents and eyewitnesses, says that its use of force inside the campus “was entirely unauthorized and unjustified” .
The PUDR team saw “broken locks, empty tear-gas shells, broken windows and furniture, blood on the floor, among many other visible signs of the destruction” on the campus” as a result of the crackdown on December 15, the report says, adding this was preceded by “a similar crackdown December 13, when the police “attempted to stop a rally comprising thousands of students and residents of neighbouring areas from marching to Parliament street.”
“The Delhi police used unauthorized and excessive force to restrain the rally from proceeding further through indiscriminate lathi-charging, teargasing and destruction of public property in and around campus”, the report says, adding, “The crackdown on December 15 was an escalation of the same strategy ... to overpower students through indiscriminate force.”
“Apart from confirmed bullet injuries and the use of approximately 400 tear gas shells, injuries were predominantly on the head, face or legs, showing intent to maim or cause maximum damage”, the report notes, pointing towards how the police “forcefully entering campus by breaking locks at gates, assaulting guards, breaking CCTV cameras, proceeding to indiscriminately lathi-charge, tear-gas, beat up, communally abuse and humiliate every single person – men and women alike.”
During the anti-CAA protests, the report says, till December 23, about 1,500 persons were detained in Delhi at Jamia (December 13 and 15), Arts Faculty Delhi University (December 17), Red Fort and Mandi House (19 December 19), UP Bhawan (21 and 23 December) and Assam Bhawan (December 23).
Also, there were “targeted attacks at Muslim neighbourhoods were seen at Seelampur-Jaffrabad, Daryaganj and Seemapuri (December 20), the most brutal being at Daryaganj where a dozen minors were detained at until 3 am, with denial of medical and legal aid.

Text of PUDR’s major findings:

The crackdown on students on December 13, 2019 by the Delhi police forms the backdrop to the incidents of December 15, 2019. The decision by the Delhi Police to disallow students from conducting a march to Parliament on 13 December was immediately followed by the use of brute force in the form of an excessive and indiscriminate lathi charge. Far from being limited to pushing students behind the police barricade, it was aimed at causing injury to the protesters.
The police force caused wanton damage to vehicles parked nearby, and reportedly detained around 50 students. Far from dissuading students from protesting against the CAA, this action ensured larger presence of students and of other residents from the neighbourhood of the University in subsequent protests. The massing of police forces closer to the campus set the stage for a more violent attack.
The Delhi police used excessive force against students and protestors outside and inside the university campus on December 15, 2019. The police action from its start near the Mathura Road was ruthless. We found no evidence of any attempt to make announcements asking the protestors to halt or to retreat. Use of lathi-charge and tear gas was unrelenting and cruel, continuing well after the crowds had already started to disperse.
Protesters who were retreating were attacked and those who were injured were subject to further assault. The use of firearms with live rounds by the police is without authorisation and without the necessary safeguards. More serious is the attempt by senior police functionaries to deny and to obfuscate this serious transgression.
Delhi police and paramilitary forces launched unprovoked and brutal attacks on students and staff in the library, mosque, and other parts of the university campus. The entry of the police into the campus is without authorisation and even without informing the University authorities, failures that cannot be justified by statements that the police was chasing protestors. In this fashion the police has precluded the necessary presence of a University official to accompany the police party.
The destruction of CCTV cameras by the police force at the gate, inside the campus, and at the library and reading rooms is clear evidence of the intention of the police force to indulge in actions that are prohibited and amount to criminal offences. The attacks on guards, students, the imam and other employees inside the campus was indiscriminate.
Everyone that the police could lay their hands on was subject to severe beating with the police lathi, amid a barrage of communal abuses against Muslims and Kashmiris. Widespread use of tear gas affected everyone in the campus.
The entry into the library, reading room and masjid; and the attack on the students there; marks a deliberate choice of targeting persons unconnected with the protest demonstration and those attempting to protect themselves from a savage police attack. The extent of cruelty shown by the police is wholly unacceptable. 
Lack of a students' union at Jamia implies that there is no official body that takes responsibility of, plans, controls and directs protest demonstrations
People were attacked with lathis specifically on the head, face and on the anterior side of the legs. The force used was sufficient to cause deep gashes and bone fractures, and the nature of injuries make clear that they were intended to cause maximal damage. Thus, incapacitated students were further maltreated by leading to additional injuries. This onslaught appears to have been orchestrated to only terrorize the university and neighbouring areas.

Illegal detentions and deliberate denial of medical help

The detentions were completely arbitrary. Many of the people injured in the police action were brought to the police stations. At least one account suggests that students were detained only on account of questioning the police. The detained were also prevented access to family members and lawyers for a long time.
When some people were permitted to visit those detained, all writing material and phones were taken away lest the detained sign a vakalatnama or photographs of their injuries get recorded while in police custody. Many of the detainees were seriously and gravely injured but as a rule, those detained were denied medical aid. Hospital could be accessed only when the detained were released or else when they were taken for the MLC to a hospital.
There are also instances of more deliberate action to block medical help to the injured. These include reports of injured receiving treatment being removed from hospital, ambulances being prevented from reaching the injured and those seeking medical help being intimidated.

Destruction of property

The day witnessed widespread damage and destruction of property, especially in the university library. The incidents of arson on public buses need to be investigated as reliable accounts are not forthcoming and contradictory evidence and statements abound.
Some persons from the protest rally are responsible for damage to private vehicles parked in the NFC area and arson on one motorcycle, while other protestors tried to restrain them from doing so to ensure peace and calm.
The police is responsible for damage to parked vehicles of students and other residents in and around the Jamia campus on 13 and 15 December. The police parties that entered the campus are also responsible for the destruction of CCTV cameras, window panes and other library property of the University as well as cell phones belonging to a number of students.
Facts gathered reveal significant cause for higher judiciary to take suo moto action against the Delhi police for brutalities. The scale and brutality of the attack by the police, the unauthorised entry into the University campus, the destruction and damage, as well as the disregard for norms and procedures is reason enough for the higher judiciary to take suo moto notice of the happenings and to issue appropriate directions to ensure medical relief and to enquire into the conduct of the police forces.
Both the Supreme Court and the High Court had the opportunity to do so, since the matter was brought before them, but both refused to intervene immediately. The Supreme Court stated that it is not a court of first instance for determination of facts, and the Delhi High Court adjourned the matter until February. 

Aggravating factors

The residents of the area surrounding the Jamia campus have a high degree of distrust of the police. The police have, on its part, provided reason on past occasions to earn this distrust. The spiteful verbal abuse noted in this report is a reflection of the same. This historical situation has certainly contributed to the barbarity by the police and to the stone pelting by the residents.
The conduct of the police on December 15 can only reinforce the mistrust. The lack of a students' union at Jamia implies that there is no official body that takes responsibility of, plans, controls and directs protest demonstrations. It also means that there is no student representative in communication with the police. This lacuna could easily hamper any attempt to prevent matters getting out of hand.

PUDR demands:

  1. That the right of citizens to protest must be recognized as inalienable and the practice of routine refusal to grant permission must be stopped.
  2. That an FIR should be registered against the police for brutal use of force inside the campus in Jamia Millia Islamia. 
  3. That a Commission of Inquiry be instituted to examine the unauthorised, unjustified and excessive use of force and wanton acts of destruction by the Delhi Police. 
  4. That the police personnel to be posted at police stations in the Jamia area need to be sensitized to counter a communal outlook and to ensure civil behaviour as becoming of a public servant. The police personnel and officers who were part of the attack on students need to be shunted out of the police station without delay.
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