India students fear crackdown after union leader arrest

Al Jazeera speaks to protesters at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University after student’s arrest over “anti-India” slogans.

Protests in Indian University [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]
Several groups called for a strike and few students attended classes after the student leader's arrest [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Massive protests have paralysed one of India’s top universities in New Delhi after the president of the student union was arrested on sedition charges.

Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on Friday over a protest condemning the 2013 execution of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri convicted of a 2001 attack on India’s parliament.

Kumar, a left-leaning student leader, was arrested amid allegations that anti-India slogans were chanted at that protest.

On Monday, several student groups called for a strike on campus and very few students attended classes.

READ MORE: Indian police arrest student leader on sedition charges

Over the weekend, thousands of students and teachers from several universities and colleges across India held protest rallies at the university.

The arrest came after a student faction linked to the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) filed a police complaint against the campus event.

On Thursday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted that “If anyone shouts anti India slogan & challenges nation’s sovereignty & integrity while living in India, they will not be tolerated or spared”.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, protesters and supporters of the movement decried what they called the police and government’s “fascist” and “terror-like” behaviour, as they feared a crackdown on freedom of expression.

Here are some of their views: 

Nirjhar Mukherjee, teacher in Vidyasagar college, west Bengal
 Nirjhar Mukherjee Nirjhar Mukherjee

I have seen the destruction of India outside the gates of JNU.

Those people who are shouting anti-student slogans outside the gates of JNU are real fascists.

It is first time in my life I have seen the students of this university so terrified. It’s a suffocating situation here.

The government has made curbs and is blocking access to the university.

Its [the clampdown’s] results will be very dangerous.

Syed Zaigham Abas, Guest faculty at JNU, Delhi
 Syed Abas Syed Abas

This campus has a debate culture.

From the day this university was established, there have been discussions and protests.
The students of this university are politically conscious.
They speak for the poor and marginalised communities; protests are part and parcel of this university.
This is the first time the government has tried to suppress their voice, but it is really hard.

Atul SG, MPhil student at JNU

 Atul SG Atul SG

There was no search warrant. The police came in civilian clothing and made a terror-like situation on our campus.

They arrested our student president. It is really undemocratic and unethical.

We will fight until our leader is released

Varsha Nair, Masters student at JNU
 Varsha Nair Varsha Nair

We want to save the political space that JNU has been for a long time.

This space has come after a long struggle and sacrifices.

If the government is going to shut it down, it won’t close without a struggle.

They arrested the president on a false case; it was a proper planned attack on JNU.

The government, for a long time, was waiting for some excuse to attack us.

Now they say we shouted anti-national slogans.

Anna Diem, Masters student on exchange from Switzerland at JNU
 Anna Diem Anna Diem

This university is very politically conscious.

It is an amazing university, it is a free thinking place. I wish we had such an university in Switzerland.

But for the last few days, it is suffocating.

The government is trying to suppress the voice, the government is trying to finish the democratic culture of this university.

Shubra Sharma, MPhil student at JNU
 Shubra Sharma Shubra Sharma

We are opposing the hostile environment created by government over the last few days in the university.

We want the immediate release of our president.

We want the police to go from our university.

The government is trying to ruin the life of poor students. It is really sad to see this kind of situation in our university.

Shreya Ghosh, PhD student at JNU
 Shreya Ghosh Shreya Ghosh

The government has made false charges on the student leader.

It is a conspiracy against the university.

The government does not like the freedom of expression.

It feels like we are living under a dictatorship, not a democracy.



Interviews and photos by Al Jazeera’s Showkat Shafi. Follow him on Twitter: @ShowkatShafi

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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