Pheroze L. Vincent
On Friday, plainclothes police picked up a photocopy machine operator in Ber Sarai, a crowded settlement between JNU and IIT Delhi known for its bookshops and eateries, and detained him for the night at a police station.
“They asked him if he had printed ‘anti-national’ posters for JNU students. Many JNU students come here to photocopy pamphlets – we don’t even read them,” said a friend of the operator.
The detainee, who didn’t want to speak, was picked up again this evening by the police’s special cell as this copy was being filed. The special cell investigates terrorism-related cases and is now handling the JNU sedition case.
Since Saturday, Ber Sarai’s shops have been refusing to photocopy pamphlets.
“We know the students, they are all familiar faces. We’ve done this work for several generations of students, often on credit. The loss of business will hurt us but it’s better than going to jail,” a photocopy shop attendant said. “Times are bad.”
Last night, as the owner of a photocopy shop inside the JNU campus was downing shutters, a man in plainclothes approached him and introduced himself as a police officer.
“He asked if I print anti-India posters. I said, ‘Sir, I know nothing about this. We just photocopy books, pamphlets, whatever the students give us’,” the shop owner told this newspaper.
“He asked me if I had taken the vice-chancellor’s permission before printing anything. I didn’t know what to say. I folded my hands and said, ‘Sir, pardon me’.”
Today, the shopkeeper delivered a bunch of photocopies of pamphlets the students had ordered and told them he wouldn’t photocopy pamphlets any more. “From now on, please get the VC’s signature, I told them.”
The JNU students’ union has condemned the police “clampdown” on photocopying of posters.
“This blanket order banning the printing of pamphlets and posters in JNU smacks of a brutal clampdown on the culture of free speech, debate and discussion in our campus,” it said in a statement.
“We see this as the latest episode in the continuing assault on JNU’s plural, democratic spaces…. This (the agitation) has clearly irked the powers that be.”
Police sources said no such ban order had been issued.
The large wall posters seen at the university are usually hand-painted but the smaller pamphlets are designed on computers and printed out. These are photocopied and pasted.
Students, individually or in groups, bring out pamphlets and cartoons on everything – from the political history of the potato to the gender perspective of Chinese communist Lin Biao’s political thought.
Students’ union vice-president Shehla Rashid said the immediate difficulty was in publicising the march to Parliament on Wednesday.
“We’re getting it (photocopies) done in shops in north Delhi (more than 20km away). This shows the level to which the State can stoop.”
University registrar Bupinder Zutshi denied any role by the administration.
“We’ve had no communication with the police. Individual shop owners are free to do what they want – the JNU administration has not sent them (those on the campus) any notice,” he told reporters.
New police chief
Senior IPS officer Alok Kumar Verma today assumed charge as the new commissioner of Delhi police at a time the force is battling widespread criticism of its handling of the JNU controversy.
Verma succeeds B.S. Bassi, who had found himself at loggerheads with the state’s Aam Aadmi Party government on a range of issues. The Delhi police report to the Union home ministry.
A 1979-batch officer from the Arunachal Pradesh-Goa-Mizoram and Union Territory cadre, Verma had been director-general of Tihar jail since August 6, 2014, after having served as special commissioner of police (administration). The St Stephen’s graduate has 17 months before he retires.
Verma has served the Delhi police in several positions, including deputy commissioner (south), joint commissioner (crime branch) and special commissioner for intelligence and for vigilance. He has been inspector-general of police in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and director-general of police in Puducherry.