Protests against the violation of civil rights at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, where its student body’s president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested last week on charges of alleged sedition, based on a complaint by the ABVP, a student’s body linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, reverberated in the United States this week with Indian-American advocacy groups condemning the incident.
The Alliance for Justice and Accountability, a broad coalition of Indian American organizations working to safeguard pluralism and democracy in India, along with prominent Dalit organizations such as the Ambedkar Association of North America and the Dalit History Month issued a joint statement condemning the “arbitrary arrests and the open violation” of civil rights of the protesting students, according to news reports.
Kumar was arrested Feb. 12 for raising allegedly anti-India slogans at an event organized by students on JNU campus to commemorate the death of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, who was executed in 2013.
His arrest has triggered widespread outrage among students and teachers and drawn severe criticism from non-BJP political parties, many of which felt this was yet another instance of the ruling party’s growing intolerance of different opinions and views that do not follow party lines.
The university teachers had rallied behind its protesting students, who had gone on strike, and questioned the administration’s decision to allow the police crackdown on the campus. They however, appealed to students to call off the strike.
“Use of sedition laws belongs to the colonial era, not to a modern democracy. It makes a mockery of the freedom of speech provisions of the Constitution”, Two circles Net quoted Umar Malick of Indian-American Muslim Council, as saying. “It clearly points to the penchant of the government to use the law, even archaic ones, as a political tool to silence student protests,” he added.
“We unequivocally condemn the action of the government and the portrayal of student protests as seditious. All citizens that value democracy should be concerned at this development and raise their voice in demanding that government and police stay out of campus politics. This is a direct assault on democracy,” read the statement.
The Indian Diaspora is keenly following these developments in recent months and is alarmed by the labeling of student protests and challenge to BJP allied ABVP as ‘anti-national’ activity. “An India without the freedom of speech is not a democracy,” said Bhajan Singh, founding director of the Organization for Minorities of India. “Students with differences of opinion are the natural byproducts of a vibrant and healthy atmosphere in education, which should be encouraged and not stifled by the ruling party in government,” he was quoted as saying.
The Indian-American organizations have demanded a judicial probe into the civil rights violations of the students and the role of Hindutva organizations in fomenting trouble by framing students as anti-nationals.
The Indian National Overseas Congress, USA also condemned the attack on Anand Sharma, former Union Minister and party leader who went to the campus after the arrest. “This attack is another illustration of growing intolerance in the country to the basic principles of a liberal democracy and the BJP-led Government seemed to have perfected the art of stifling dissent, shutting down debates especially on campuses and bringing sedition charges to silence any opposition”, George Abraham, chairman of the INOC, USA, said in a statement in New York.
The arrest has been widely criticized by political parties, including the Communist party of India (Marxist), and Bahujan Samaj party. Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of CPI(M), and himself a JNU Alumnus, reacted to the strict action taken by Delhi Police under the instruction of Centre against the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University. “What is happening in JNU? Police on campus, arrests and picking up students from hostels! This last happened during the Emergency,” Yechury said.