Opinion

'Anti-national' hysteria is exploding: JNU, SAR Geelani, Rohith Vemula and now Jadavpur students

A jingoistic frenzy is sweeping the country.

SAR Geelani was arrested by the Delhi Police on Tuesday on charges of committing sedition against the government. Geelani, a former Delhi University professor, had allegedly organised an event in memory of Afzal Guru, who had been convicted in the Parliament attack case and hanged in 2013. Geelani had himself been accused in the case but was declared innocent by the courts.

The programme, organised at the Delhi Press Club on February 10, saw slogans being chanted in praise of Afzal Guru and supporting Kashmiri independence. Taking cognisance of the incident on its own, the Delhi Police registered a case against Geelani, claiming that he had organised the event.

Ali Javed, a Delhi University professor and Press Club member, under whose membership number the hall for the event was booked, claimed that Geelani hadn’t informed him that the event was in support of Afzal Guru. “Request for booking a hall at the Press Club was done through Mr. Geelani’s email,” a Press Club official told the Hindu.

Sedition hysteria wave

Geelani’s arrest comes after the Delhi Police raided the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus also in connection with sedition and Afzal Guru. Last week, a section of JNU students had organised an event called “A Country Without a Post Office: against the judicial killing of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhatt”.

On campus, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party, opposed the event. In response, the Delhi Police arrested Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the university’s students union for allegedly shouting “anti-national” slogans. The Delhi Police has also identified five more students to be questioned in this matter: Umar Khalid, Ashutosh Kumar, Anirban Bhattacharya, Rama Naga and Ananta Prakash.

Some frenzied television channels have already put out reports of Khalid being a “Jaish-e-Mohammad sympathiser”, citing an unnamed Intelligence Bureau report. What being a “Jaish-e-Mohammad sympathiser” entails or how the journalists in question reached such a conclusion is simply left unanswered and these shadowing leaks from unnamed sources are allowed to build up public hysteria.

Sedition, as a concept, is out-dated in liberal democracies such the United States or Britain. Moreover, even in India, the sedition law as it exists only penalises direct incitement of violence against the government. Legal experts have rubbished claims that these incidents constitute sedition against the government.

As such questions are debated, charges of being “anti-India” are now being applied liberally all across the country. Just before the JNU incident, a BJP Union minister had hounded Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula at the University of Hyderabad, calling him “anti-national”. Like JNU, the incident was related to students clashing with the ABVP and tragically ended in the suicide of Vemula. And now the latest charge of being “anti-national” has been made against the students of Jadavpur University in Kolkata, spreading the frenzy across the country.

Update, February 17, 12:30 pm: The Delhi Police have now sent teams all across the country to try and apprehend the JNU students who were raising "anti-national" slogans. NDTV reports that teams have been dispatched to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and Jammu and Kashmir. It is near farcicial that students shouting slogans is more of a law and order issue for the Delhi Police than the rapes, murders and robberies taking place in the city

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