Dozens of Kashmiri students who cheered for the Pakistani cricket team during a recent match against India have been expelled from their university and briefly threatened with sedition charges, police have said.
The Indian state's elected leader had called for leniency from the charges, which carries a possible life sentence, on Thursday, while the northern state of Meerut's deputy inspector general of police, K Satyanarayana, said police had charged 67 students with disturbing communal harmony and damage to public property.
Reports said they were being hunted by police, who were considering bringing charges of sedition. However, Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Indian-controlled Kashmir, said sedition charges would be "unacceptably harsh" and ruin the students' future and further alienate them.
"I don't condone what they did, what they did was obviously wrong and misguided," he told Indian news channel NDTV. "That having been said, they are young ... [sedition charges[ will further push them to the fringes," he added.
Nevertheless, several of the students said their expulsion indicated discrimination.
"We didn't do anything illegal,'' said Muteebul Majid, a business administration student in his 20s. "Are they slapping these charges against us for being Kashmiris or for cheering for the Pakistani team?''
Like several other students who spoke to the media Thursday, Majid had returned to his home in Srinagar, the main city in India-controlled Kashmir, after leaving school.
Gulzar Ahmed, also a business administration student, said he and his friends were never given a chance to explain themselves.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's government showed support for the students.
"If these Kashmiri students want to come and pursue their studies in Pakistan, our hearts and academic institutions are open to them," Pakistani Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said.
The expulsion of the students followed a clash with another group of students, who were angered by their celebrations over Pakistan's victory in a limited over Asia Cup match played in Bangladesh.
Nuclear-armed rivals Pakistan and India have fought three major wars since they became independent in 1947, two of them over Kashmir, a divided Himalayan territory that both countries claim.