In February last year, the Delhi Police came under criticism for standing by as a mob assaulted students, professors and journalists gathered at the Patiala House Court, where then Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union President Kanhaiya Kumar, arrested in a sedition case, was to be brought for remand proceedings. Just a little over a year later, the city police went a step ahead when they not only failed to control violent clashes between student groups in and around Delhi University’s Ramjas College but also reportedly participated in them.

Despite their poor show at Ramjas, police officials insist that the probability of a similar mob attack breaking out at the Patiala House Court when the sedition case is next take up for hearing is close to zero.

Mob memories

In February last year, three JNU students – Umar Khalid, Kumar and Anirban Bhattacharya – were arrested in a sedition case after members of the Right wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad accused them of chanting anti-national slogans during an event on campus. On February 15, a mob that included several lawyers attacked students, professors and media persons who had gathered at the Patiala House Court, where Kumar was to be brought. Some fellow laywers were also beaten up. Violent scenes were reportedly witnessed inside the court room too, despite heavy police deployment in the Patiala House complex. A repeat of this was seen on February 17, when a group of lawyers assaulted Kumar while being brought to court.

A year later, the Delhi Police, who were heavily criticised after the assaults, claim that they have increased security measures at the court complex and maintain that such an incident will not take place again.

“At Patiala House Court, we have intensified security in the past one year, which is regularly monitored by senior officials,” Special Commissioner and Delhi Police Spokesperson Dependra Pathak told Scroll.in. “We are ready to deal with any situation.”

Senior lawyers at Patiala House Court said security arrangements at the complex – including increased deployment and equipment such as a baggage scanners and CCTV cameras – has been at an unprecedented level since last February’s violence, which they insisted was a one-off.

“The possibility of something terribly wrong happening can never be ruled out,” said advocate Manoj Taneja, who has been practicing at this court for more than 26 years now. “What matters are the arrangements and strategies of the security apparatus to deal with such situations. And the picture now seems to be much better than what it was till one year ago. There is no reason for lawyers to feel unsafe.”

R K Wadhwa, who was the president of the New Delhi Bar Association when the Patiala House Court incident took place, said that over the past year, there has been “tremendous change” in the security arrangements in the court complex. “The police have definitely learnt a lesson after the February incident in the court last year which has led to much higher police presence in the court,” he said. “I believe that now the police are in a position to handle any unexpected situation much better than what they did in 2016. Lawyers are safe.”

Lawyers clashed in Patiala House in 2016.
Lawyers clashed in Patiala House in 2016.

Nationalism debate

Scroll.in also spoke to the three lawyers – Vikram Chauhan, Yashpal Singh and Om Sharma – who had been chargesheeted for their alleged role in Patiala House assault last year. The three, who are yet to receive court summons, did not speak about last year’s incident as the matter is sub-judice.

According to Singh, the events in JNU last year had led to a “wave” of nationalism across the country. “This is a good thing,” he said. “And later we witnessed the Supreme Court guideline on National Anthem too. But there was a negative impact too. We have witnessed the anti-India rhetoric being dragged with regard to several issues, including the Kashmir issue, in universities across the country. There is also a wave of dissent – like protests even against the guideline of standing for the national anthem. Such subjects are not meant for debates.” The apex court in November said it was mandatory for cinema halls to play the national anthem before screenings, and that moviegoers must stand up for when it is played.

Sharma, meanwhile, said he had done nothing wrong. “I will boycott all those who speak against the country,” he said. “I have not done anything wrong and I have full faith in the judicial system.”

Chauhan said he was a a victim of media trial. “If an entire group shouting slogans against the integrity of India inside a courtroom is not considered a crime, why should I be treated like a criminal for chanting slogans in praise of mother India?” he asked. “There is nothing wrong in anti-nationals getting beaten up for the things they say.”