Former Supreme Court (SC) judge Markanday Katju, in a Facebook post on Monday, urged the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students protesting the inaction following the disappearance of fellow student Najeeb Ahmed, to file a petition before the SC to further the investigation.
Katju asked the students to file a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution, thereby forcing the Delhi Police, that falls under the jurisdiction of the Central government, into action. Najeeb has been missing for the past 24 days, following an alleged quarrel between two student groups in the university.
One of the writ petitions available to citizens under Article 32, for enforcement of their fundamental rights, is Habeas Corpus. Under this right, the court can issue appropriate directives to the police authorities to make serious efforts in finding the missing student.
The protest, led by the JNU Student Union (JNUSU), has been not been effective enough, owing to the insensitive approach employed by the Delhi police. On Monday morning, pictures of the police dragging Fatima Nafees, Najeeb's mother, into a bus along with other protesting students were splashed on the front page of many national dailies.
It is truly perplexing how the Delhi Police, which was so efficient in curbing these protests, has failed to find the missing student till now.
In an interview with Firstpost, former JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar, while responding to a question on why this issue had not received the same support from the student community as his arrest had.
“This time around, there are many versions of the issue. My arrest was seen as a crackdown and an attack on the university, and that united the students. On this particular issue, the current student union has not been able to forge a unity,” Kanhaiya said.
Responding to the protestors' allegations that Najeeb had been abducted and ‘harmed' by Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) members, Kumar said, “I don’t think so. This is not the culture of JNU. There is a difference between ABVP of JNU and ABVP of other campuses."
He added, “The fact that some outsiders were also involved in the alleged scuffle is an important aspect and if some untoward incident took place because of their involvement, I cannot say.”
Saurabh Sharma, former member of JNUSU, said, “We too are concerned about Najeeb's safety but what is happening here is politics. I am not condoning the police action against Najeeb’s mother but the police has to maintain the law and order. She is being misled by the Left parties. What is the need to drag her in these protests? She should rather meet the Delhi Police Commissioner and people like Katju, who are trying to help her.”
The JNU administration has been persistently making appeals to the protesting students to maintain peace but 24 days is too long a period for just appeals to work. This has led to a growing discontent that can easily be felt in the campus.
Since Najeeb's disappearance, all stakeholders have acted irresponsibly, overlooking options that would have actually borne results. On 19 October, JNU vice-chancellor M Jagdeesh Kumar and other top university officials were confined in their office for an entire day by the protesting students. Following that, the Delhi Police has stopped every protest by the students, creating even more discontent.
Adding to this, the JNU administration, on 26 October 26, issued a 25-point bulletin detailing the timeline of the case and the actions taken – which was quickly marked as ‘biased’ by the students and teachers alike.
According to an Indian Express report, the varsity’s teachers association criticised the administration for “selectively omitting” the fact that he was attacked during a brawl, the night before he went missing.
Ayesha Kidwai, a professor at JNU, wrote in a Facebook post, “At the heart of the matter is who committed the violence on 14 October. By the warden's report on 15 October, it was only Najeeb, who is said to have admitted his mistake of striking a fellow student without any provocation,"
"Just yesterday, 83 teachers of JNU had pointed that out in a context that Najeeb had been allegedly beaten (as per several eyewitnesses who have also lodged a complaint)...such an admission of culpability cannot be said to have been made in free and fair conditions,” Kidwai said in her post.
She added, “This bulletin clearly indicates that the JNU administration is still proceeding with the 'Najeeb-as-accused' narrative. It has completely suppressed all reference to the contents of the wardens' letter of 16 October and takes no cognisance of the fact that eyewitnesses have clearly named the alleged perpetrators of violence and abuse against Najeeb. However, there is no mention at all of the counter allegations throughout the report; indeed if anything, the aim of the whole exercise seems to be to avoid naming them. Indeed, even the terms of reference of its own proctorial enquiry have been vaguely worded.”
While the ABVP is being accused of ‘hurting’ Najeeb, its supporters are stressing that he has been hidden by some professors and students, who want to take political advantage of this incident.
While such claims cannot be verified, it just hints at the intense polarisation of the discourse in the campus, where the question that who did it to Najeeb has become more important than what actually happened to him.