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Thursday, February 25, 2016

What Passes for Sedition in India

The following statement by Nilanjana summarizes this article, "It has been a turbulent year on Indian campuses, with students speaking out more and more — against caste prejudice, sexist housing rules or the appointment of B.J.P. loyalists as university administrators. Senior members of the B.J.P. and the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (R.S.S.), a Hindu nationalist organization with major influence over Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have responded not with dialogue but with persecution, not with negotiation but with clampdowns."

MikeGhouseforIndia.blogspot.com 

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What Passes for Sedition in India
Courtesy – New York Times

By Nilanjana s. Roy
Hours into the protest march on Thursday, the students were still streaming in. They came from Delhi’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (J.N.U.) and from at least six other universities across the country.

They held red roses and long-stemmed saffron cosmos, and with chants, steady and deliberate, called for freedom, equality and the right to express themselves freely. Some of their placards read, “Dissent is not sedition,” or “Save Constitution! Save Democracy! Save University!”

Flowers and words of hope: These are small things to hold out against the toxic lies of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) and its violent pseudo-nationalist propaganda.

It has been a turbulent year on Indian campuses, with students speaking out more and more — against caste prejudice, sexist housing rules or the appointment of B.J.P. loyalists as university administrators. Senior members of the B.J.P. and the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (R.S.S.), a Hindu nationalist organization with major influence over Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have responded not with dialogue but with persecution, not with negotiation but with clampdowns.

On Feb. 13, Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of J.N.U.’s student union, was arrested on sedition charges. Mr. Kumar, who is from an underprivileged caste, had recently given a speech at an event organized by a group of other students to mark the third anniversary of the hanging of Muhammad Afzal, also known as Afzal Guru, who was found guilty of being involved in the 2001 terrorist attack on India’s Parliament. Afzal Guru’s execution and the Supreme Court judgment upholding his death sentence are still the subject of intense debate.

A bruising, high-voltage clash soon played out in the gladiatorial arena of news television. Prominent B.J.P. members declared that the government would not tolerate any “anti-national” activities, accused the students of having links to terrorists and called for closing J.N.U. NewsX broadcast footage which it claimed featured Mr. Kumar shouting “Long Live Pakistan!” and other purportedly seditious slogans. A TimesNow anchor harangued Umar Khalid, one of the students who had organized the event, calling him a “secessionist” and “unpatriotic.”

ABP News has since proved that these clips were doctored. Some participants in the event had indeed shouted, “As many Afzals will rise from homes as the number of Afzals you murder” and asked for “Bharat ki Barbaadi,” the destruction of India. But it is unclear whether it was students who made these statements, or outsiders trying to cause trouble for them. And Mr. Kumar wasn’t among them.

In his speech, Mr. Kumar had said, “We are of this country and love the soil of India. We fight for those 80 percent of this country’s people who are poor.” He had called for “azaadi,” freedom, picking up a slogan long popular among Kashmiri separatists and women demanding greater rights. And he had attacked the B.J.P., the party’s student wing and the R.S.S. as “traitors to the nation.”


Mr. Kumar had also talked about the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a dalit student at Hyderabad University who killed himself last month after enduring weeks of pressure. The university had stopped paying his stipend and suspended him over a political dispute between a group of dalit students, including Mr. Vemula, and a prominent right-wing student leader.

This is what passes for sedition in India today.

And when Mr. Kumar was taken to court for a hearing last week, he was assaulted. A couple of days earlier, at the same courthouse, a group of lawyers had attacked journalists and J.N.U. faculty. The police had made little attempt to stop the violence. Vikram Chauhan, a lawyer who led the assaults and identifies himself as a B.J.P. party worker, was not arrested. Instead, he was allowed to lead a march of self-appointed patriots to India Gate, the iconic war memorial in the heart of official Delhi.

The message is clear: Violence in the name of ultra-nationalism is acceptable. Not even the courts are safe spaces. Challenge the state, or the B.J.P., at your peril.
  
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Budhia, a 55-year-old factory worker who had traveled with a friend from the neighboring town of Manesar, said, “The B.J.P. doesn’t like the poor. You will find it’s mostly the poor and the backward castes who are called seditious in this country. I am here for Rohith. I am here for Kanhaiya. I am here for Umar Khalid and all the people in this country who suffer from the lies thrown at them.”

In his suicide letter, Mr. Vemula had written: “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind.”

At the back of the march, a cluster of students held up handmade signs in rejoinder, echoing Mr. Vemula’s despair with a new hope: “We are no longer just a vote, a number, a thing. We are young. The future is ours.” For now, this imagined future, of true democracy and equality, is under siege.


Nilanjana S. Roy is the author of “The Wildings,” “The Hundred Names of Darkness” and “The Girl Who Ate Books.”

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