Violence in JNU campus: Legal angle

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On 5th of January, 2020, more than 50 masked individuals armed with sticks, stones and iron rods attacked the Jawahar Lal Nehru campus, Delhi and injured approximately 40 students including staff members of the university. The incident occurred around late evening hours between 19:00 to 21:00, amidst the alleged darkness of intentionally switched off street lights in the vicinity.

This incident finds its root to the ongoing protests by the JNU Student’s Union against the hiked fee structure drew by the administration under Vice Chancellor of JNU prof(Dr) Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar in the year 2019. However, the right wing student political party ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad), had contrary views that JNU Student’s Union was compelling the students to not register for the winter semester, which was obstructing bona fide students from pursuing their studies.

This led to a series of to and fro incidents even involving violence which ultimately led to the final attack on 5th of January, causing widespread annihilation in the campus and severely injuring students and teachers who tried to interfere.

Many believe, members of ABVP to be the miscreants backed by external support. ABVP finds its origin to the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) which is a right-wing, Hindu paramilitary volunteer organisation and is also “ideologically” related to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) which is currently suffering severe backlash on its recent Citizenship Amendment Act.

Some speculate that JNU, being one of the most vocal against the CAA, and having a supposed majority of leftist students in the campus, might have been a reason behind the attacks.

This incident in JNU has led to widespread protests around the country with protesters asking for immediate action to be taken against the miscreants. One of the most alarming detail is the apparent support of Delhi Police in the violence.

According to some witnesses, it was the police who switched off the street lights during the attacks and who were encouraging the attackers. Though these allegations on the police for the time being remain unproven, there is no denying to the fact that there was no swift action by the police.

At this juncture, it becomes pertinent to answer a few imperative questions. What are the laws under which the miscreants could be convicted? What is the conviction rate of such cases? And how to prevent such further incidents?

What are the laws under which the attackers could be convicted?

The Indian Penal Code, 1860 being the substantive law for criminal acts in the country has various provisions under which the attackers could be accused and convicted if found guilty, they are as follows:

  1. Section 34: Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention, makes each one equally liable.
  2. Section 120A, 120B: Under these sections the offenders would be charged with criminal conspiracy and shall be given the mentioned punishment.
  3. Section 141: Unlawful assembly.
  4. Section 142, 143: Being a member of unlawful assembly and its punishment.
  5. Section 144: Joining unlawful assembly armed with deadly weapons.
  6. Section 148: Rioting, armed with deadly weapons.
  7. Section 149: Every member of unlawful assembly, guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object.
  8. Section 150: Hiring, or conniving at hiring, of persons to join unlawful assembly  
  9. If it is found that people were promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony, then they shall be charged under Section 153A.
  10. Section 158: Being hired to take part in an unlawful assembly or riot.
  11. Section 350: Criminal force.     

Provisions under which the abettors could be convicted:

There have been speculations that the police, higher authorities including politicians as well as staff members of JNU might have been involved in the attack by aiding the attackers. If certain evidences are found they could be tried against the following sections of The Indian Penal Code 1860 and if found guilty, be convicted.   

  1. Section 107 and 108: The people who abetted the attackers are liable under this provision.
  2. Section 116: The authorities who abetted the commission of the attack can be punished under this section as this section talks about the abetment by public servant whose duty was to prevent such offences.
  3. Section 119 and 120: Public servant concealing design to commit offence which it is his duty to prevent; concealing design to commit offence punishable with imprisonment.
  4. Section 117: Abetting commission of offence by the public or by more than ten persons.
  5. Section 157: Harbouring persons hired for an unlawful assembly.

History of college violence in India and their conviction rate:

There have been various instances of violence in Educational institutes in India. It is pertinent to analyse such violence in educational institutes and know if the convictions were made.

In the case of Musakhan And Ors. vs State Of Maharashtra(1977)1 SCC 733, there were clashes between the students of an engineering college and a mob of a hotel; the offenders from both sides were convicted according to the appropriate sections of IPC at the time.

In the case of Macchindra Namdeo Deokar vs State of Maharashtra 1993 CriLJ 1957, a student of Chaturchand Tulajaram College at Baramati in the Pune District was killed in fight among the students. However, the accused student was not convicted owing to exceptions in certain provisions of IPC.    

In Kerala, in the year 2007, a cop was killed amid clashes between student unions in the NSS Hindu College which lead to a wide spread uproar against the incident. However, campus violence is still rampant in the state. There are numerous incidents of campus violence across the country, with the rates of conviction remaining low. The most recent being the attacks by the police on Jamia Millia Islamia Delhi in December of 2019, with no major convictions.

It becomes very difficult for the justice delivery system to properly function when the incidents of campus violence get ensnared in political controversies, with an array of people dishonestly trying to manipulate the process.

How to keep colleges safe?

In 1990, during the agitation against the Mandal Commission, Rajeev Goswami, a student from Delhi University, set himself on fire. This lead to a nationwide uproar against the Mandal commission as well as the incident questioning the safety of the students.

One of the first things that comes across our minds while thinking of ways to reduce college violence is to make colleges politically neutral and demote any kind of political activities. But one needs to understand that student politics is a need for the society. It not only makes the youth politically aware but also gives them a very significant voice. It is through the Student’s Union that students can express their genuine grievances.

Rather than focusing on student politics, the authorities should focus on redressing the grievances of the students. The Universities should have a campus which promotes freedom of speech, expression and equality.

Conclusion

The attack on the 5th of January at the JNU campus raises some serious questions in one’s mind. The safety of students inside a college campus is a crucial one, as the students were unexpectedly attacked inside their hostel rooms. It is also believed that the Delhi Police was involved in abetting the offence.

Thus, it becomes important to bring the offenders to justice. The Indian Penal Code contains various sections under which the attackers as well as the abettors could be convicted. Nevertheless, the ratio of incidents of college violence to the convictions happening, remains low.

A rigorous administration as well as a sense of freedom of speech, equality etc. should prevail; ensuring a democratic atmosphere in the college to prevent such incidents in the future.

Author: Utsarga Dash from KIIT School of Law, Bhubaneswar.

Editor: Farsana Sadiq from Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia.

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