Democracy vs Autocracy : JNU Sedition Controversy

On 9 February 2016 left-wing students organisation Democratic Students Union (DSU) held a protest at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus against the capital punishment to the 2001 Indian Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, despite the withdrawing of the permission for this event after protests by members of the right-wing students union Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. Reportedly anti-India slogans were raised at the DSU protest, which led to the arrest of the JNU Students’ Union President Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid on charges of sedition.

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Both the cheering of Afzal Guru and the arrests a few days later caused controversy. JNU Vice-Chancellor constituted a disciplinary committee for investigating the controversial event. On the basis of the initial investigation report, Kanhaiya Kumar and seven other students were academically debarred.

Kanhaiya Kumar was granted six month interim bail by the Delhi High Court on 2 March 2016. On 11 March, the involved students were allowed to attend their classes again. The high-level inquiry committee of Jawaharlal Nehru University found out that provocative slogans at the controversial February 9 event inside the campus, were raised by a group of outsiders, wearing masks.

On 9 February, a cultural evening was organised by 10 students, formerly of the Democratic Students’ Union (DSU), at the Sabarmati Dhaba, against the execution of 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru and Kashmiri separatist leader Maqbool Bhat, and for “the struggle of Kashmiri people for their democratic right to self-determination”.

After having alerted the JNU administration, the ABVP leader Saurabh Sharma invited two television channels into the campus to cover the event. According to India Today, anti-India slogans like “Kashmir ki azadi tak jung chalegi, Bharat ki barbadi tak jung chalegi” (“War will continue till Kashmir’s freedom, war will continue till India’s demolition”) were “reportedly raised at the protest meet.”

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Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the Jawaharlal Nehru Students’ Union (JNUSU), said: “We are appalled at the way the entire incident is being used to malign JNU students. At the outset, we want to condemn the undemocratic slogans that were raised by some people on that day. It is important to note that the slogans were not raised by members of Left organisations or JNU students.”

The Delhi Police arrested Kanhaiya Kumar on charges of sedition and criminal conspiracy, under section 124 of the Indian Penal Code dating back to 1860, for allegedly raising anti-national slogans.

The arrest soon snowballed into a major political controversy, with several leaders of opposition parties visiting the JNU campus in solidarity with the students protesting against the police crackdown. Meanwhile, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh reiterated that while the students would not be harassed, the “guilty would not be spared”. Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju said the JNU would not be allowed to become a hub for “anti-national” activities.

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Kanhaiya Kumar has been granted six month interim bail by High court, on 2 March 2016. Justice Pratibha Rani noted that there were no recordings of Kumar participating in anti-national slogans. Going beyond the immediate issue, the judge also held that the alleged slogans threaten national integrity and cannot be considered as free speech. She characterized them as a form of “infection,” which can either be treated or, in some cases, “amputation is the only treatment.” A separate magisterial investigation appointed by the Delhi Government did not find any evidence of Kanhaiya Kumar participating in anti-national slogans. Out of the 7 videos of the event sent to forensic lab, three were found to be doctored including a clipping of a news channel.

The high-level inquiry committee of Jawaharlal Nehru University found out that provocative slogans at the controversial February 9 event inside the campus, were raised by a group of outsiders, wearing masks. The misinterpretation was disclosed when the Aam Aadmi Party filed a complaint, alleging that ABVP students raised “Pakistan Zindabad” slogans. The ABVP admitted that members of their organisation had been present, but shouted “Bharatiya Court Zindabad” and “Indian Army zindabad,” and filed a counter complaint. The police then declared that “the footage had been tampered with.

Kanhaiya is now asking to end social ills such as caste and communalism not anti national slogans.

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