Patiala House Court Complex is used to hearing about violence. On Monday, it had to bear witness. Mobs of lawyers thrashed journalists, with some even being attacked inside courtrooms, as they sought to send a message to anyone who was, in their eyes, a "traitor".
The shocking scenes came just as a court was about to take up the matter of Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union President Kanhaiya Kumar, who had been charged with sedition, based on a video showing other students raising anti-national slogans at an event last week. Irate lawyers, insisting that the court complex had to be purged of gaddars formed mobs running around the court complex threatening to attack anyone who looked like they were from JNU or was recording the violence.
"Mediawaale to vaise hi terrorists hai. Journalists are anyways terrorists, and they also look like JNU supporters, this is what they were yelling as they started to get violent," said Sana Shakil, a reporter for the Times of India who was present at the scene.
"There were people in lawyers' attire going around asking others, 'Are you from JNU?' and then they were going around kicking them, beating them," Sonal Mehrotra, NDTV reporter, said in her report. "This happened once, twice, thrice in front of me. When I took out my phone to capture video, that's when they realised I was trying to take evidence. Then they came after us."
Patiala House is one of the most prominent court complexes in the country. It is just down the road from India Gate and frequently plays host to some of the biggest trials involving high-profile subjects, including current and former ministers among others. Indeed, the very same day, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley appeared in court in connection with a defamation case he had filed.
Yet the scenes of violence in the court, with journalists being attacked in broad daylight, took place despite massive presence of police personnel throughout the court complex.
"Police was there all along but they didn't do anything," Shakil said. "Some of the female cops said: 'Understand the mood and get away'. And they were saying this while the lawyers were yelling that we will break your phones and your bones."
There was some indication that things might go awry the day before when messages began circulating among lawyers.
'Leave India and go back to Pakistan'
As the second half of the court's day began, journalists and lawyers were gathered inside the courtroom of the Metropolitan Magistrate who was to hear the Kanhaiya case. There were also a number of professors, many female, from JNU there. This appeared to be the spark for about 10-15 lawyers who appeared to be angry over their presence.
"It started from there. The lawyers started to push and shove, and called the JNU teachers, gaddars and told them to leave India. They called them traitors. And they were pushed out of the courtroom," Shakil said. "Police didn't do anything."
Female teachers were reportedly also manhandled. Once all the faculty from JNU had been threatened and shoved out of the courtroom, another set of lawyers trooped in.
"Minutes later around 50-100 men wearing lawyers jackets came in asking whether we were from JNU, leave this place, what are you doing here. You are anti-nationals you guys should leave India and go back to Pakistan," Mehrotra told NDTV.
Things only got worse from there. Mobs began circulating around reporters who were standing around in the court complex in an attempt to throw them out. Meanwhile, anyone who looked like they were not a lawyer was beaten up.
One journalist, Amit Pandey from IBN7, was locked inside the very court where the JNU case was supposed to be heard and thrashed. His shirt was torn, his phone was broken and he was beaten up.
'Give us your phones or we will break your bones'
Another set of journalists ran to the courtroom of the District Judge – the administrative head of the court complex – to plead for some intervention and an end to the violence. They were unable to get through to the judge, who appeared to be busy, and the rioting lawyers managed to make their way into this courtroom as well.
"When we stepped out of the DJ's courtroom, they were running after us. So we rushed back inside the courtroom. The court's policeman tried to lock the room, but the lawyers again came in and told us we had to get out. They tried to force us and even the court staff were scared," Shakil said. "We told them we didn't trust them and were afraid to step out. So they said, give us your phones. They took all of our phones, and checked our videos, our image galleries, to make sure there was nothing incriminating against them. Then, finally the court staff requested that they leave the courtroom."
This set of journalists eventually managed to make it out through a backdoor and exit the court complex. Meanwhile, elsewhere other journalists were being targeted by the lawyers.
"Around 10 lawyers, they cornered us, said give us your phones or we will break your bones. They went outside to get the police to ask them what the media is doing inside," Mehrotra told NDTV. "WE tried to explain that it's our job to report. Please let us be here, they said no, you've taken some wrong footage, delete that or we'll break your phones and bones. Amit Pandey was beaten up in front of my eyes, his shirt was torn, he was kicked. I thought they would beat me up also. The sad part in this entire thing is that the police was just standing there."
Eventually journalists managed to make their way to safety outside the court complex. Several were badly beaten up, with reports that one who worked for a Malayalam news channel even had to go to hospital.
The event has shocked reporters in the national capital, where one might expect the police to at least be able to handle a mob, particularly in a high-profile court complex such as Patiala House.
Journalists are now planning to walk from the Press Club of India to the Supreme Court at noon on Tuesday to protest against the violence that took place inside the Patiala House Court.
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