Dozens of Kashmiri students who cheered for the Pakistani cricket team during a recent match against India could face sedition charges, police have said, but the Indian state’s elected leader has called for leniency.
Authorities were trying to track down the 66 university students for questioning, police officer NKS Chauhan said on Thursday.
Later on Thursday, the Hindustan Times newspaper had reported that a senior state official had told them that the sedition charges had been dropped. AP news agency reported that officials had not yet confirmed if the charges were dropped.
The students of a university in the northern city of Meerut were suspended after Sunday’s televised cricket match, in which India lost to Pakistan, Chauhan said.
“The SVSU administration on Wednesday submitted a written complaint against unknown persons for indulging in anti-national activities and creating a ruckus on the university campus,” Meerut police chief Omkar Singh told AFP news agency.
“We have registered a case and the probe is on,” Singh said. “If evidence is established against the accused, there is a set legal procedure to be followed in such cases. The law will take its own course,” he said, adding the charges would be ones of sedition.
However, the Indian Kashmir chief minister, Omar Abdullah, said any sedition charges would be “unacceptably harsh”.
“I believe what the students did was wrong and misguided but they certainly didn’t deserve to have charges of sedition slapped against them.”
Sedition carries a possible life sentence. Calls to the College of Swami Vivekanand Subharti University in Uttar Pradesh state were not immediately returned on Thursday.
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 suspension 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.