Indian teachers join protests over JNU arrest; govt feels the heat
Hundreds of teachers at one of India’s top universities went on strike Tuesday to protest at the arrest of a student on a controversial sedition charge that has sparked mass protests.
Student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on Friday for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans at a rally called to protest against a Kashmiri separatist’s execution three years ago — a charge he denies.
His arrest has reignited a row over freedom of expression in India, where some rights campaigners say the Hindu nationalist government is using the British-era sedition law to clamp down on dissent.
Violence broke out on Monday at the court where Kumar, head of the student union at New Delhi’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), was remanded in custody.
The opposition Congress Party accused supporters of the ruling nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of being behind attacks on students, academics and journalists who had gone to the court for the hearing. It condemned police for failing to protect them.
“Indian National Congress strongly condemns the barbaric and inhuman attack in Patiala House Court yesterday on journalists, young students and teachers by BJP goons,” said Kapil Sibal, a senior party leader.
“Delhi police remained a mute spectator as young students, teachers and journalists were assaulted and thrashed with impunity, inside the court rooms, in the court complex and outside it.”
Gulshan Sachdeva, a professor at the JNU’s Center for European Studies who joined Tuesday’s strike, said the controversy had “brought a bad name to the university.”
“People are talking without understanding what the real issue is,” he told AFP by phone.
“At the JNU, there is a kind of open space where all kinds of people are free to come and speak what they feel like.” Om Prasad of the All India Students Association said the teachers had been angered by attempts to “defame” the university, which has a long history of left-wing activism.
On Tuesday a small group of right-wing Hindu nationalists burnt an effigy outside the university premises and called JNU students “traitors.”
Many students at JNU have said they will boycott classes until Kumar is released, after staging major protests against his arrest at the weekend. Kumar denies he was among those chanting anti-India slogans at last Tuesday’s rally to mark the 2013 hanging of Kashmiri separatist Mohammed Afzal Guru over a deadly 2001 attack on the Indian parliament.