Leading Indian American Advocacy organizations have condemned the recent suppression of student protests and violation of civil rights at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. Controversy erupted on account of the government’s brazen attempt at suppressing dissent by arresting the student body’s President Kanhaiya Kumar in an open abuse of sedition laws. Evidence has emerged that anti-India slogans were actually raised by Hindutva affiliate student body ABVP, in a brazen attempt at framing the students.
The Alliance for Justice and Accountability (AJA), a broad coalition of Indian American organizations working to safeguard pluralism and democracy in India, along with prominent Dalit organizations such as the Ambedkar Association of North America (AANA) and the Dalit History Month issued a joint statement condemning the arbitrary arrests and the open violation of civil rights of the protesting students.
The abuse of sedition laws is especially egregious as it represents an open affront to freedom of expression. As far back as 1962, the Supreme Court of India had added a caveat to the sedition law; that it must be accompanied by violence, or direct incitement to violence. Raising anti-India slogans to protest the hanging of Afzal Guru, even if this charge were true against Kanhaiya Kumar, does not amount to incitement of violence. The threat of violence has to be real and credible for sedition laws to be applicable
“Use of sedition laws belongs to the colonial era, not to a modern democracy. It makes a mockery of the freedom of speech provisions of the Constitution”, said Mr. Umar Malick from Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC). “It clearly points to the penchant of the government to use the law, even archaic ones, as a political tool to silence student protests,” Mr. Malick added.
“We unequivocally condemn the action of the government and the portrayal of student protests as seditious. All citizens that value democracy should be concerned at this development and raise their voice in demanding that government and police stay out of campus politics. This is a direct assault on democracy,” read the statement. The arrests come in the wake of the recent suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad after continuous harassment and suspension at the behest of ministers in Mr. Modi’s central government.
The Indian diaspora is keenly following these developments in recent months and is alarmed by the labeling of student protests and challenge to BJP allied ABVP as ‘anti-national’ activity. “An India without the freedom of speech is not a democracy,” said Mr. Bhajan Singh, founding director of the Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI). “Students with differences of opinion are the natural byproducts of a vibrant and healthy atmosphere in education, which should be encouraged and not stifled by the ruling party in government.”
The role of Hindutva organizations in fomenting trouble and framing students in violation of their basic rights is unmistakable. “The police is mindlessly patrolling the campus and the students are being witch-hunted and demonised. What is the proof that Kanhaiya was there among those raising anti-India slogans? Has he been spotted in any picture or video? Why are all JNU students being given ‘anti-national’ certificates? We condemn the arrest,” said JNUSU vice president Shehla Rashid Shora.
ABVP has now started a campaign to shut down JNU, one of the leading campuses and a constant thorn for the Hindutva bandwagon. The RSS and its affiliates are creating a toxic and divisive environment in premier educational institutions, with the implicit support of the ruling party. ABVP is playing as its active carrier in university campuses.
“It is a travesty that protesting students are booked under sedition, while RSS members are freely celebrating the killing of Gandhiji and openly calling for the scrapping of the Constitution”, said Mr. Ganganithi Sivapandian of AANA, referring to the actions and statements of Pandit Ashok Sharma, national Vice President of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha. The organization has been consistently organising protests against the Constitution of India for the last five decades. Mr. Sharma, who was quite categorical in declaring that he didn’t believe in the Constitution of India, told The Hindu: “The purpose of my life and that of millions of people like me who are present in this country, is to make this country a Hindu Rashtra. Nobody can stop this country from becoming a Hindu Rashtra”.
The Indian American organizations have demanded a judicial probe into the civil rights violations of the students and the role of Hindutva organizations in fomenting trouble by framing students as anti-nationals.