On a topsy-turvy day, the Uttar Pradesh government withdrew sedition charges hours after they were slapped on a group of over 60 Kashmiri students of a Meerut university, who had cheered for Pakistan over India in a cricket match on Sunday.

“The sedition charges against the students were withdrawn after a preliminary inquiry conducted by the district administration,” principal secretary (home) of the state, Anil Kumar Gupta, was quoted as saying by The Hindustan Times.

The authorities of Swami Vivekanand Subharti University, Meerut, who had on Sunday suspended 67 Kashmiri students for chanting anti-India and pro-Pakistan slogans after India's loss to Pakistan in the Asia Cup one-day cricket tournament, lodged an FIR at a local police station on Wednesday evening against "unidentified students of a particular group".

"You cannot pass judgments against your own national team," the university's vice-chancellor, Manzoor Ahmed, was quoted as saying. "Their behaviour was not conducive to peace on the campus. It creates bad blood with the local boys."

Following the FIR, the Meerut police registered a case against under Sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups) and 427 (damage to government property). The sedition charge carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

This escalated the matter as various political parties came out either for or against the decision. While the Bharatiya Janata Party demanded strong action against the Kashmiri students, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah described the sedition charge an "unacceptably harsh punishment" and asked for it to be reversed. He said that the decision could ruin the students' future and further alienate people of the state.

In a series of tweets, Abdullah accepted that the Kashmiri students may have been "misguided", but it "certainly isn't illegal, regardless of who they were cheering". Still, he also called for the students to introspect about their actions, since some of them were beneficiaries of the Prime Minister's Special Scholarship Scheme for Kashmiri students. As the day progressed, Abdullah reportedly spoke personally to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, after which finally the charges were dropped in the evening.

However, the UP government’s actions sparked a heated debate about whether the actions of the Kashmiri students were grave enough to warrant section charges – and about the necessity of the sedition law itself.

"I don't think that raising pro-Pakistan slogans requires this section of the IPC [Indian Penal Code] – one that can get you life imprisonment," said Kavita Srivastava, secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, which has been campaigning for the section to be repealed. "It is a case of complete loose interpretation. The section can only be implemented if it causes violence."

The section states: "Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine."

The sedition law, a legacy of colonial rule, has been a matter of debate right from the time of the Constitution was framed. In 1950, in the Romesh Thapar vs. State of Madras case, the Supreme Court said that banning a publication that was critical of the Jawaharlal Nehru government because it would endanger public order "was not supported by the constitutional scheme" and "had to entail a danger to the security of the state".

In Kedar Nath Singh vs. State of Bihar in 1962, the court noted that "a citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the Government, or its measures, by way of criticism or comment, so long as he does not incite people to violence against the Government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder".

However, as Siddharth Narrain, a legal researcher with the Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore noted in this essay in Economic and Political Weekly, "While the Supreme Court has limited the scope of the sedition law (at the same time upholding its constitutionality), successive central and state governments in the country continue to file charges of sedition against journalists, media practitioners, human rights activists and anyone who dares express dissent."

This is exactly why the PUCL is campaigning for it to be repealed, said Srivastava. "Till this law remains, it will continue to be used and misused."

The application of the sedition law against the students led to an outcry in Kashmir. "The 67 boys who were suspended did not have any guns and did not incite any violence,” said Khurram Parvez, a human rights activist in Srinagar. “They were just expressing their political opinion. The government of India knows that every Kashmiri, right up to Farooq Abdullah, supports Pakistan. It is the hard reality of the place. But if you are going to book those students with sedition, then they should go ahead and book each and every Kashmiri with sedition as well."

Basharat Peer, a senior Kashmiri journalist and award-winning author of 'Curfewed Night', concurred with Parvez. "It is outrageous that they were charged with sedition. Is the nation so fragile that they would take such a measure? If this is the case, then they should officially file sedition charges against the whole of Kashmir."

Peer added that he wasn't surprised by the Kashmiri students' celebration of Pakistan's win over India. It was just one of the means for a "largely powerless" population of Kashmir to vent their anger against India. "They are young, honest and open kids with boiling blood,” he said. “It wasn't surprising what they did. I did the same when I was in college in India. But as we get older, we get wiser."

Parvez also pointed out that this wasn't the first of such incidents. "For Kashmiris, cricket was never just cricket. Even in 1983, when India and West Indies played a match in Srinagar, Kashmiris supported the away team, so much so that Viv Richards described it as playing on their home ground."

The reasons why Kashmiris support the Pakistani cricket team over India “are as complex as the theory of relativity”, said Muhammad Faysal, a journalist based in Srinagar. "The fact of the matter is that there is a historical, political, cultural, religious and sentimental belonging towards Pakistan, driven by the hate of the Indian occupation in Kashmir. It is very much a general view among most Kashmiris. Though Kashmiris would prefer being independent, Pakistan will always and has always had a special place in Kashmiris' hearts."

However, there are some Kashmiris who take a different view – or rather, an indifferent one. "I don't really care about cricket," said a Kashmiri journalist working in Delhi, who requested anonymity. "I even asked my family why they get so personal about it. What has Pakistan done for us? I don't prefer Pakistan over India.”

But the Pakistan cricket team is a different story, he said. "I don't know why, but I feel overjoyed when they beat India,” he said. “Maybe it is a cultural thing imbibed in me since childhood. We have always seen firecrackers being burst when the Indian team lost a match, especially to Pakistan. Maybe on some level it is even pressure, because in Kashmir, if you support Pakistan then you are considered loyal and if not, you are a traitor. However, whether we accept it or not, we are politically a part of India."

Read about other cases in which the sedition law has been applied here.