After Mumbai, a student in the city of Mysuru in Karnataka has been charged with sedition for carrying a “Free Kashmir” placard at a solidarity march in support of Jawaharlal Nehru University students, News 18 reported on Thursday. The protestor has not yet been identified.
The placard was displayed during a torch rally on the University of Mysore campus organised on Wednesday evening by the Dalit Students’ Association and the Mysore University Research Students’ Association. The Students’ Federation of India, and the All India Democratic Students Organisation also participated in the rally, according to Deccan Herald.
“What do you mean by ‘Free Kashmir’?” asked state Higher Education Minister CN Ashwathnarayana. “It is something we have been facing in this country for the past 72 years, we cannot continue to suffer these kinds of issues. We need to send a clear-cut message that these kinds of disruptors cannot be entertained.”
Police Commissioner KT Balakrishna said a suo motu case was taken up against the protest organisers under Section 124-A (sedition) and Section 34 – acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention – of the Indian Penal Code. The FIR named “Maridevaiah and unknown others” as the accused.
In Mumbai, a “Free Kashmir” poster displayed at a protest at the Gateway of India stoked a controversy, with Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis targetting incumbent Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray for allowing an “anti-India campaign” right under his nose.
However, the woman who held up the placard defended herself the following day, explaining her intention. Writer Mehak Mirza Prabhu said the demonstrators had gathered to not only protest against the JNU violence, but also to speak in defence of the right to enjoy freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. “Right now, because of the internet shutdown in Kashmir since the last five months, people of Kashmir do not have that right,” she added. “If we believe Kashmiris are like us [Indians], we should also treat them in a befitting manner. They should get the basic rights we are getting. They should have the freedom to express themselves. And that is why I picked up the placard.”
Though the Mumbai Police and Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said Prabhu would face legal action, Uddhav Thackeray’s son and state minister Aaditya Thackeray said it was important to understand Prabhu’s intent.
The Shiv Sena also defended the writer, and criticised the BJP for not being able to tolerate any criticism. “A Mumbaikar Marathi woman could understand the pain of Kashmiris,” the party said in an editorial in its mouthpiece Saamana. “The Opposition feels this is sedition. There can’t be a dirtier example of irresponsibility. If the Opposition and its supporters feel expressing yourself fearlessly is sedition, it is not good for them [Opposition] and the country. The Opposition has fallen flat on its face after the woman’s clarification.”
Jammu and Kashmir has not had internet services since August, when the Centre scrapped its special constitutional status and split it into two Union territories. SMS services and other forms of communications were also stopped on August 5. Some services have since returned but several restrictions are still in place.
The Centre, apart from imposing a lockdown in the erstwhile state, also put mainstream political leaders such as National Conference President Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti – all former chief ministers – under house arrest. They have not yet been released.