Modi govt faces heat as opposition unites over student’s death, sedition case
Shouting slogans and holding placards, thousands of students and teachers marched through the heart of the Indian capital Tuesday to protest the recent death of a student who faced caste discrimination and the arrest of a student leader on sedition charges.
The protesters from New Delhi’s two main universities marched near the Indian parliament, demanding the student’s immediate release and condemning violence by supporters of the ruling Hindu nationalist party.
Kanhaiya Kumar, president of Jawaharlal Nehru University’s student union, was arrested earlier this month over his participation in events where anti-India slogans were allegedly shouted.
Opposition politicians who addressed the rally accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and his Bharatiya Janata Party of suppressing freedom of expression and fanning communal tensions.
Hundreds of policemen stood silently as the students, joined by thousands of teachers, journalists and ordinary citizens, shouted slogans and waved Indian flags.
“We will not tolerate attacks on freedom of speech,” ‘’BJP government come to your senses,” and “Down with the BJP government” the protesters shouted as they marched to the accompaniment of drums.
A New Delhi court has remanded Kumar in custody until March 2. Five other students who face similar allegations are expected to surrender to police later. The protesters are also demanding justice for Rohith Vemula, a student of Hyderabad University, who police say committed suicide after being subjected to sustained discrimination on account of his caste.
The protesters accused Hyderabad University’s vice chancellor of unfairly demanding punishment for five lower-caste students, including Vemula, after they clashed last year with student supporters of the BJP.
Although caste discrimination was outlawed soon after India’s independence from Britain in 1947, it remains influential. The government sets quotas at universities and in jobs to reverse the discrimination.