JNU Erupts With Competing Protests Over Free Speech And Dissent

16/02/2016 2:31 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Indian right-wing activists try to break down a barricade outside Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi on February 16, 2016. A student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on Friday for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans at a rally in protest against a Kashmiri separatist's execution three years ago. AFP PHOTO / Money SHARMA / AFP / MONEY SHARMA (Photo credit should read MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI -- The Jawaharlal Nehru University campus erupted in competing protests carried out by those who accuse the Modi government of crushing dissent, and those who believe that freedom of speech does not include raising anti-national slogans and eulogizing Afzal Guru, who was convicted of masterminding the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament.

On Tuesday, civilians, students, teachers, army veterans, and activists affiliated with political parties as well as right-wing groups like Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, held demonstrations inside and outside the JNU campus.

While one side believes that slapping sedition charges against JNU Students' Union President Kanhaiya Kumar is a massive overreach by the authorities, the other side wants stern action against other students who are accused off raising anti-national slogans in the government-funded university.

Kumar, a student from Bihar, was arrested for a speech he gave following an event to mark the third third anniversary of Afzal Guru's execution on Feb. 9.

According to BJP President Amit Shah, slogans raised included, "Afzal we are ashamed because your killers are free,"War will continue until Kashmir's freedom," "Go India Go Back" and "Long live Pakistan," but observers have pointed out that Kumar's speech did not have objectionable content.

The Delhi High Court today ruled out a probe by the National Investigation Agency against Kumar.

On Tuesday, former Delhi University lecturer SAR Geelani was also arrested on charges of sedition, criminal conspiracy and unlawful assembly for allegedly organizing an Afzal Guru event at the Press Club of India on Feb. 10. Geelani was arrested in connection with the 2001 parliament attack but acquitted of all charges in 2003.

Addressing a press conference today, Kapil Sibal, a senior Congress Party leader told reporters, "When Sakshi Mahraj eulogies Nathuram Godse why is he not smacked with a sedition charge."

"The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) did not fly a national flag at Nagpur for 52 years," he said.

On Sunday, Sakshi Maharaj, BJP's lawmaker from Unnao in Uttar Pradesh, said that traitors should be shot.

The JNU Teachers' Association also carried out a protest to register their objection to the Delhi police entering the JNU campus, and arresting Kumar. They have written a letter to the JNU Vice Chancellor asking him to stop the police personnel from conducting searches within the campus.

Faculty members also said that they would take classes on "nationalism" every evening in front of the administration block.

"The entire world is now referring to JNU as a hub of anti-nationals on basis of propaganda of few people in power. It is time we teach our students what nationalism is," said Rohith Azad, a faculty member, PTI reported.

Erupting just days after 10 Indian soldiers were killed in an avalanche in Siachen Glacier, the JNU row has also become an emotional issue, with several army veterans expressing their anguish over the anti-national slogans.

Journalists also carried out a march from the Press Club of India to the Supreme Court to demand police accountability for failing to intervene when a group of lawyers threatened and beat up reporters, who were reporting on Kumar's appearance at the Patiala Court House on Monday.

Meanwhile, the JNU row continued its spiral into a political slugfest, with the BJP lashing out at Congress Party Vice President Rahul Gandhi for speaking out against the government's crackdown on the student, while other parties including Sitaram Yechury's Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) accused the BJP of crushing dissent.

"We dissociate ourselves with students who do not believe in the unity of India and its constitution. But Kanhaiya Kumar has not said anything against the Constitution then why has he been arrested for sedition. This is inappropriate," Ghulam Nabi Azad, senior Congress Party leader and Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, told reporters.

"We are committed to press freedom. There are several ministers who fought for press freedom and individual freedoms during the Emergency. Should in a central university, located in Delhi, should rank anti-India slogans be permitted?," Communications and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told Times Now.

Gandhi today accused the BJP government of placing RSS Vice Chancellors in every university.

"The way journalists were beaten up was very wrong and we condemn it," he said. "They're suppressing the voice of Indian students whether it is in Delhi, Hyderabad, Lucknow. We'll not accept this, we will fight this."

READ: Amit Shah Has 5 Questions For Rahul Gandhi

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