India student leader calls for freedom in moving speech

Accused of sedition, Kanhaiya Kumar receives rousing reception at Delhi’s JNU campus after being freed on bail.

An Indian student leader facing sedition charges has called for “freedom in India” in a rousing speech to students at Jawaharlal Nehru University, after being released on bail.

Kanhaiya Kumar received a hero’s welcome at the JNU campus in New Delhi on Thursday night and addressed a large gathering of students and faculty members, cautioning authorities from suppressing freedom of speech and the right to dissent.

“The struggle is long. The more you try to suppress us, the higher we will rise … we are not asking for freedom from India, but asking for freedom in India.”

READ MORE: Loud and clear, Indian students send message of freedom

Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan, reporting from New Delhi, said that the impact of Kumar’s address had been felt across the country.

“It opened [up] a debate on tolerance and freedom of speech. Many say, the final outcome of Kanhaiya’s case will define the line between expressing your opinion and committing a crime,” she said.

On Wednesday, the Delhi High Court granted Kumar six months interim bail while the police investigate his case. His bail conditions include one stating that he will neither actively nor passively participate in any activity that may be seen as anti-national.

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He had spent nearly three weeks in jail after he was arrested on a controversial sedition charge that sparked major protests and a nationwide debate over free speech. 

The Delhi High Court’s order listed some of the slogans shouted at the February 9 event, including “Our war will continue until India is destroyed” and “Death to the Indian army”.

Some rights campaigners say the Hindu nationalist government is using a British-era sedition law to clamp down on dissent [EPA]

The student union leader denies he was among those chanting the slogans at the rally, held to mark the 2013 hanging of Kashmiri Mohammad Afzal Guru over a deadly attack on the Indian parliament.

Two other students, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, are accused of being among the organisers of the JNU event and have been arrested on the same sedition charge as Kumar. 

Sanjay Hegde, a senior lawyer, told Al Jazeera that the judge’s decision to grant Kumar bail leaves “adequate scope for investigators and prosecutors to attempt to curtail his [Kumar’s] liberty one more time”.

“If there is any incident. It is almost as if the university as a whole was being collectively punished or collectively put on good behaviour,” Hegde said.

A Delhi government report published on Thursday said that while no witness or video evidence could be found implicating Kumar, the role of other students at the rally “must be investigated further”.

Sedition carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, although convictions are rare.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies