The topic of sedition is raising a storm in university campuses and political circles in India with the arrest of a student leader from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
The Delhi Police arrested JNU Students Union President Kanhaiya Kumar and others, charging them with sedition for allegedly raising anti-India slogans at the university campus.
According to the Indian Express, Kanhaiya considered the arrest as politically motivated.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh suggested the strongest possible punishment for the agitating student leader.
“Whatever is happening at JNU, I have given the required instructions and strict actions will be taken against them. We will not forgive them.”
The incident came to light on Tuesday, when a group of students shouted slogans at an event on the JNU campus, condemning the hanging of Afzal Guru in 2013. The Supreme Court of India awarded a death sentence to Afzal for his alleged role in the attack on Indian Parliament in 2001. A group of students at the university believed Afzal was not given a fair trial by the Indian Judiciary.
The arrests happened despite the JNU administration instituting an inquiry on the issue following complaints filed by the Right Wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). ABVP is the student wing of the ruling BJP government. JNU is reportedly a strong bastion of left politics in India.
Following media publicity, the JNU incident raised up a storm in political circles and opinions on sedition started trending in Twitter under the hashtag #ShutDownJNU
The JNU faculty expressed anguish and pain on the matter. Reportedly, some of the university students and teachers protested outside the vice chancellor’s office asking the administration to intervene. They expressed concern over students targeted as “terrorists” and arrests from the campus on sedition charges.
Tarun Vijay, a member of Parliament, recommended harsh punishments for the students in an op-ed piece.
“Should punishments for those on a university campus who support terrorists be turned into a murky political debate and should the university authorities look the other way, giving space to such elements?”
On the other hand, some of the star media personalities in India criticized the government action, calling the sedition charges as “juvenile” and “insane.”
Shekhar Gupta, an Indian journalist and TV anchor, posted on Twitter.
Govts of grown-ups don't get knee-jerked into invoking sedition for stupid slogans, raiding campuses to arrest unarmed students #JNU— Shekhar Gupta (@ShekharGupta) February 12, 2016
With the Right Wing BJP in power, a large section of intelligentsia in India shared the opinion that the government is targeting bastions of left activism, and the arrest of students raises doubts about the sedition charges on the student leader.
Meanwhile massive protests inside the JNU campus against the police presence and detaining of students on sedition charges.
The arrest of the left-leaning students comes close to the suicide of Rohith Vermula, a Ph.D. student at the Hyderabad Central University. Rohith was suspended from the university over a political dispute with the right-wing students union of the varsity.
Rohit’s suicide letter raised serious questions and discussion among academic and political corridors on the discriminatory side of caste-ridden Indian society and the overall premise of identity politics in India.
The arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar seems to have triggered acrimonious debates on the freedom of speech, signifying an evolving Indian democracy. Can a distinction arise between dissent that is tolerable and the justifiable sedition penalty when citizens offend the state through hate speech?
[Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images]