When the right wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad won a seat in the students' union body of Jawaharlal National University after almost a decade last year, it set off speculation that the prestigious institution was perhaps not anymore the “left-bastion” that it once used to be.
However, all those claims of the university being divided by diverse ideologies have been put to rest in the past few days, as student outfits on the campus have come out in large numbers to protest against the arrest of its students union president Kanhaiya Kumar on charges of sedition and criminal conspiracy.
And they are not alone.
Campuses around the country have risen in support of JNU and condemned police action on students even as the Delhi Police is raiding localities in South Delhi to look for other students who have been named in the First Information Report, for allegedly shouting “anti-national” slogans on the evening of February 9.
First, it was support from Delhi’s very own citizenry that poured in as soon as Kumar was arrested by the police on Friday. A solidarity protest was taken inside JNU, which saw people from Delhi University, Ambedkar University and Jamia Milia show up and demand his release.
By Saturday, political parties including the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Congress had come out with unambiguous and clear statements of support for the arrested leader.
While CPI(M)'s Sitaram Yechury visited the campus and called for an agitation until Kumar is released, Rahul Gandhi spoke to the students after being shown black flags by the ABVP and said that they shouldn’t let the government bully them and continue to fight strongly against the pushback from the authorities on their freedom of expression.
Not just politicians
As political support piles up, student organisations are not sitting silent either. The students at the Film and Television Institute of India had recently called off their protest against the centre’s appointment of Gajendra Singh as the head of the institution, but they too have spoken up in support of the students at JNU, saying that the issue was of “indiscipline” and not “sedition.”
“The current government had not learnt anything from the tragic death of Rohith Vemula and is continuing with the vilification, harassment and threat to those who dare to oppose its ideology,” the FTII statement said.
This has been echoed by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai where students from the Radical Study Circle put out a statement which said that there is “a state of emergency” on the JNU campus and that this is a “criminal conspiracy” by the RSS, BJP and the student wing ABVP to “suppress student voices.”
Meanwhile, another study group called the Progressive Students’ Forum also issued a statement and said that attempts were being made to “fracture” student unity.
This has been followed by a statement by the teachers of more than 40 central universities who spoke up for JNU. The statement was issued by Federation of Central Universities Teachers Association, which includes Hyderabad University among others.
“The event could be in bad taste but was not seditious,” Nandita Narain, the federation’s president was quoted as saying by PTI. “Whatever opposition the students have is against the present government and not against the Constitution. This kind of police action against the students on the pretext of national security is uncalled for.”
It’s not just the expression of condemnation through statements, JNU’s human chain protest on Sunday attracted large crowds of people even as a solidarity event organised in Delhi the same evening saw hundreds in attendance. The event was organised at Jantar Mantar by some citizens to show solidarity with JNU and many teachers, students and activists went to register their protest.
Similar events have been taking place in Mumbai as well where Mumbai University students came out and protested against the ongoing “witch-hunt”.
In Kolkata, students of Jadavpur University have been organising meetings and have organised a protest on Monday against “Hindutva fascism” on display at educational institutions. The event description added that the protest march will conclude with burning an effigy of Home Minister Rajnath Singh who wrongly insinuated the other day that Kumar has been supported by Pakistani terrorist Hafiz Saeed.
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