India: Students defy government-pushed violence, chauvinism

Issue 
Jawaharlal Nehru University students march in support of JNU student union president Kanhaiya Kumar, New Delhi, February 18.

Students, journalists and teachers protested at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi on February 16, demanding the release of an arrested student leader and denouncing violence by Hindu supremacists.

The dispute has sparked new allegations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are cracking down on political dissent in the name of patriotism.

Police blocked Hindu extremists from entering the campus, where thousands of students had been protesting for days. Police also arrested Delhi University lecturer SAR Geelani early in the morning of February 16.

Geelani and JNU student union president Kanhaiya Kumar are accused of sedition for taking part in events where slogans against India were allegedly shouted. Protesters are also accused of criticising the secret hanging in 2013 of Kashmiri separatist Afzal Guru, who had been convicted of attacking parliament.

Participants at the protest held placards with slogans such as, “When dictatorship is a fact, revolution becomes a right”.

Few JNU students attended classes, while outside the campus gates, protesting Hindu hardliners pushed against police barricades in an unsuccessful effort to get in. They questioned how students receiving a higher education at a large university could criticise the country.

Violence had flared the day before when mobs of lawyers and BJP supporters attacked students and journalists outside the courthouse where Kumar was appearing.

The BJP supporters called the journalists and students “anti-nationals” and demanded that they leave India for Pakistan. Some journalists and students were beaten and had their mobile phones snatched out of their hands and broken.

On February 17, students protesting for the third straight day to demand Kumar be released were again physically attacked by BJP-linked lawyers.

Kumar was escorted into court by police as the fracas raged around him. Several reports said he was punched and kicked as he was taken inside. About a dozen of the mob threw stones at journalists and protesters.

Meanwhile, the government has continued stoking tensions. Human resource development minister Smriti Irani said: “The nation can never tolerate an insult to Mother India.” Home minister Rajnath Singh tweeted that anyone shouting anti-India slogans would “not be tolerated or spared”.

[Compiled from the Morning Star.]

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