As citizens of India, we need to ask ourselves this: how can mobs in Patiala House Court (comprised ironically of lawyers, who’re supposed to uphold the law of the land) mercilessly beat defenseless students, teachers and journalists? Is our conscience not pricked at the shocking insensitivity and lack of compassion that the mob, an extension of us all, exhibited? Or even more worryingly, do we genuinely believe that what happened is acceptable and legitimate?
A section of India’s burgeoning virtual society, in interceding on behalf of the mob, has vehemently argued that since they felt the victims were guilty of a crime (purportedly, being “anti-national”), their violence was justified. Let’s keep aside the skewed interpretations of national and anti-national that are being paraded around to validate the violence. Let’s not consider the egregious assault that such a rationalization makes on the idea of India as a land of diversity, pluralism and inclusiveness. Let’s also ignore that such an argument is premised on the belief that individuals cannot have the space and freedom to express themselves. If we sincerely claim to be a civilized and modern society, do we really think its justified for a mob to take the law into their hand to mete out what they believe is justice? As citizens, are we going to be as complacent as we are, when these crazed mobs so brazenly challenge and flout the sovereign position of the State, as also the Constitution of India?
And equally important is to ask why have the police been so remiss in this issue? In understanding this, we must first acknowledge that a section of the official apparatus is complicit in furthering the agendas of these regressive groups that are antithetical to the constitutional idea of India. Consider how the Delhi police have conducted itself in the entire JNU fracas. In blindly complying with the ruling dispensation’s whims, it first blindly slapped a sedition charge on Kanhaiya Kumar, the JNU students’ union president, when it is clearly not legally tenable. They have also callously branded students as “criminals” and combed JNU for them, thereby violating the sanctity of a university (it is not yet clear if warrants were acquired for this). The police also did not take any action against those who attacked the media, despite video evidence. Even more shockingly, it has also allowed a mob of lawyers and legislators, some of whom are known to be members of the BJP, to attack Kumar within the court’s premises in broad daylight! At every step of the way, the police have directly contributed to destroying the idea of justice.
It is well recognized that because India’s police forces do not have the requisite manpower, resources or training to handle mobs adequately, they covertly negotiate with community associations (invariably the dominant ones) to prevent their members transmogrifying into uncontrollable mobs, which partly explains why the police stood by idly as the mob ran amuck. However it is equally true that malleable police officers, in kowtowing to their political masters, deliberately allow mobs to violate the law. Secure in the knowledge that they won’t be prosecuted, mobs then consciously undermined the rights which the Constitution guarantees (be it freedom of speech or expression, the right to a fair trial as well as the right to human dignity), which is precisely what happened at Patiala House. Whatever Mr. Kumar has done or not done is up to the judgment of the courts. He simply cannot be prosecuted by the caprices of a mob, and in that the mob was the criminal, and the law did nothing.
The professionalisation of India’s police forces is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges we face as a nation. Along with that, there is an urgent need to re-conceptualise the very rationale of policing. The police aren’t here to regulate and threaten society into a submissive populace (which is a colonial vestige), but are here to ensure a harmonious and cooperative society. They’re here to protect and uphold the idea of India, something a number of police officers genuinely believe in. Therefore, with political will and concerted efforts, the police forces can be made more sensitive, autonomous and empowered. This will go a long way in curbing the threats that regressive caste/religious/regional groups pose to the idea of India. For all our sakes, let us hope we can actualise this.