After Kanhaiya Kumar’s return to the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus after being granted bail by the Delhi High Court, opinions of students and teachers are divided over the 9 February incident following which Kumar had been arrested and charged with sedition for allegedly raising anti-national slogans.
Kanhaiya reached the JNU campus late on Thursday night and addressed a large gathering of students, attacking the government for the action following the 9 February incident. He said, “I am not a leader, just a student. I was elected as the president of the student’s union in JNU. I urge the government not to use a serious charge of sedition to ruin the future of students.” He said that Rohith Vemula not Afzal Guru is his icon. The Left parties are deliberating to recruit Kanahiya Kumar as their star campaigner for the upcoming elections in Kerala and West Bengal.
“After the 9 February incident, I was picked up by the police and detained for questioning. They had beaten us up and abused us in their custody. The police was prejudiced to the extent that they were not even ready to listen to our arguments, but to make us confess that we raised anti-India slogans and prove us guilty. They also failed to understand that even the court had ruled that mere sloganeering does not lead to sedition, but they slapped sedition charges upon Kanahiya Kumar without any concrete evidence. We all know how our police functions. There is no doubt that they were acting on the behest of their political masters,” said Ashutosh, a JNU student, who was present at the function that was held on 9 February.
Professor Ajay Patnaik, president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Teacher’s Association (JNUTA), said, “The truth of the 9 February incident is slowly coming out as the mask of lies is slipping. We are getting to learn about the videos that were in circulation being doctored to prove Kanahiya Kumar guilty. The Delhi High Court also finally granted him bail, which again shows that the case has no merit. The lies were being spread by some people who did not want to see this university progress. Having said this, the teacher’s association clearly maintained that if any anti-India sloganeering happened within the campus, we strongly condemn those slogans and we do not stand by anybody who wishes to spread anti-India sentiments in the campus.”
The JNUTA also condemned the police action on the students and demanded that all sedition charges be dropped till established by inquiry. “We respect the autonomy of universities and want an internal inquiry to tell us what had happened and who were responsible and what slogans were raised, since most teachers and students were not present at the event,” he said.
“The police action ordered by the Vice Chancellor was not necessary,” added Patnaik.
Asha Sundaramurthy, another student from JNU’s School of International Studies, feels that the image of this prestigious institution has been hit hard. “The university is suffering a negative image because of the incident. I am a day-scholar and I can clearly say that the image of this prestigious institution has been affected. There are some people who are sympathetic, who know that JNU is not anti-national as people have portrayed it to be, but most people have started to generalise this university and at times even the auto-drivers refuse to take you anywhere, if they get to know you are a JNUite. There are reports circulating about the videos beingdoctored, so somewhere a fair and free investigation should take place to establish the incident and punish the guilty. Universities are places where ideas are born, they are discussed and debated. Having said that, we cannot accept ideas that talk of destroying the very nation that has been giving the space to culminate those ideas. An internal inquiry should have been ordered first to establish the facts,” Sundaramurthy said.
A student at JNU from Germany, who did not wish to be identified, also criticised the “high-handedness of the state” in the entire matter. She said, “Germany would have reacted differently. It is surprising to see how a secular, democratic state has acted upon students. Debates and discussions are the ideals of democracy and I think India claims to be one, so the state would give universities their own space to debate any issue. What is most disturbing for me is seeing how the justice system handled the whole situation, the beating up and the scuffle that happened inside the courtroom. I also think questioning a judicial killing, even against a terrorist, or raising slogans against the government should be okay within the university campus.”
However, a guard outside the Sabarmati Hostel, where the incident took place, has a different story to narrate. He says, “This is not the first time slogans like this have been raised here. They have been doing it for years. I have been here for the past five years and I see they raise slogans not only against the country, but also against the country’s culture. They have come to study here and they should focus on that, rather than wasting their energy on sloganeering. The faculty of this University also does not take any action here. They act like mere spectators. Law and order should be maintained by them. In the name of freedom of expression, they cannot say anything. They say outsiders entered the campus, so I ask how outsiders can enter the campus when they don’t have friends here? It is the students who have brought these elements into the campus.”
Some students also feel that in the name of freedom of expression and free ideas, “hailing of a terrorist” or calls to “destroy India” cannot be termed as freedom of expression. Siddharth Singh, a JNU student, says, “Celebration of Afzal Guru and other terrorists inside the campus is not a new thing. Incidents like this have been happening here for years. They talk of solidarity with the Kashmiris and the North-Eastern people, but they forget they are also a part of India. In the name of free speech and freedom of expression, they cannot shout slogans to destroy India or hail a terrorist who attacked our Parliament. The NSUI and the Congress never opposed this, even though they executed Afzal Guru. This incident came to light only this year because of the growing presence of the ABVP on campus. People have the right to protest, but within the constitutional framework. Some people who came inside the campus and initiated anti-India slogans were friends of the extreme Left-inclined students, they were brought into the campus by them. You criticise the government, the RSS, the right wing ideology, we do not have problem. But when you criticise the nation then we do have a problem. This incident has also tarnished the image of this university as a whole.”
“People who did this should be punished. The decision to arrest Kanahiya Kumar was, however, taken in haste. But students like Umar Khalid and the DSU were the organisers, and they should be investigated. This University is no place for anti-nationals,” Siddharth added.
Professor Amitabh Singh from the School of International Studies in JNU believes in the ethos of the university of giving ideas to even the minority (ideology-wise). He said, “People have got a wrong impression of this university. They believe that this university breeds anti-nationals, which is erroneous. Ideas are never suppressed in this university. This university does not stand for intolerance and I have been associated with this university for over 33 years. JNU does not have narrow, parochial boundaries of region, caste or religion. Everybody’s opinion is respected and everybody is given space to prosper.”
“Having said that, if any anti-national sloganeering had taken place, it should not have happened inside the campus and it should be denounced in the strictest possible terms. We do give space to ideas, but not to convert ideas into movements in the campus,” Amitabh added