JNU Under Siege: Guilty of Sedition or Victims of Persecution?

So what really happened at JNU? Here are the versions of the ‘protest’ that’s making national headlines.

5 min read
Jawharlal Nehru University Student’s Union (JNUSU) President Kanhaiya Kumar has been arrested on charges of sedition. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)
Dude, there are cops everywhere, let me call you back.
Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student to The Quint‘s correspondent

Like the scholar quoted above, not everyone in India’s most prominent ‘red’ campus is engaged with student politics. But some of them are uneasy, at the very least, about the police presence in campus and the arrest of Kanhaiya, the Students’ Union President.

Kanhaiya, a member of the All India Students Federation (AISF), which is affiliated to the Communist Party of India (CPI) has been arrested on charges of sedition. The police has also demanded that five other students, who organised the event, accused of being ‘anti-national’, be turned over to them by the university.

The FIR, filed against unknown persons on 11 February claims that students, including those belonging to Left unions indulged in anti-national activities at an event to commemorate and protest Afzal Guru’s execution on 9 February 2013.

The RSS-affiliated Akhil Bharitya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) supports the version of the events, on which the the FIR is based on. Many other student unions, especially those associated with Left parties, have a different tale to tell.

Speaking to both police sources, and the student body, The Quint has been able piece together both versions of what transpired on 9 February at the JNU campus.

A Legitimate Protest or an ‘Anti-National’ Meeting?

Since his execution in 2013, Afzal Guru’s death anniversary has witnessed protests and counter-protests from various student groups. This year too, a splinter group of the Democratic Students Union (DSU), a relatively small Left student organisation, planned an event at the Sabarmati hostel dhaba in the campus to protest and commemorate Guru’s execution.

Posters and pamphlet’s inviting students to the event have been cited in the FIR as supporting ‘anti-national’ activities.

(Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153315350230796&amp;set=gm.449675378568698&amp;type=3&amp;theater">The Country Without a Post Office  facebook page</a>)
(Photo Courtesy: The Country Without a Post Office facebook page)

The invite did not sit well with ABVP’s Saurabh Kumar Sharma, Joint Secretary, JNUSU. He shot off a letter to the Vice-chancellor, demanding that the ‘anti-national’ event be stopped and the organising students be rusticated.

A copy of the letter sent by ABVP’s Saurabh Kumar Sharma to the JNU Vice-chancellor.
A copy of the letter sent by ABVP’s Saurabh Kumar Sharma to the JNU Vice-chancellor.

The Vice-chancellor denied permission for the event, but the organisers decided to go ahead, albeit without using any loudspeakers or microphones. This is a common practice in student politics on campus.

According to some students present at the event, both the organisers and the ABVP started raising slogans. Again, this is a common occurrence on campus.

But things turned out to be different this time, as police arrived.

One Event, Two Narratives

ABVP activists protest against an event at JNU supporting Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru in New Delhi. (Photo: PTI)
ABVP activists protest against an event at JNU supporting Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru in New Delhi. (Photo: PTI)

According to students, such gatherings are usually relatively small, with organisations like the Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association (BAPSA) on one side and ABVP on the other.

This year though, there was “heavy police presence”, along with members from a host of other student organisations including the CPI-affiliated AISF and the CPI(M)‘s Students Federation of India (SFI).

So what happened? Here are two versions of what happened that evening, one from the Delhi police’s FIR and the other from students who were present at the event.

Police’s Version: Already having taken note of Saurabh Kumar Sharma’s complaint to the Vice-chancellor, the Delhi police had been in touch with Chief Security Officer (CSO) Navin Yadav. The police was also deployed at the campus’ north gate, in case the situation got out of control. Plain clothes policemen were placed in the campus. At 7:15 pm, the Vasant Vihar police station received reports of clashes between 80-90 students led by JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid, and 60-70 students led by ABVP’s Saurabh Kumar Sharma. Both groups were heading towards Ganga Dhaba (near the north gate), raising slogans at each other. A TV news channel aired footage of students shouting ‘anti-national’ slogans. These included slogans in support of Afzal Guru, Kashmir, Azadi and Pakistan Zindabad.

Below is a video from police sources, in which one can hear the alleged ‘anti-national’ slogans.

Student’s Version: Along with the ABVP, there was heavy police presence at the campus which had created an atmosphere of tension. Kanhaiya Kumar led students from various Left unions and joined the meeting, standing between the organisers, and the ABVP and the police. Both groups proceeded towards Ganga Dhaba, shouting slogans. ABVP members attacked some students from BAPSA who were at the back of the rally. There was a minor scuffle, but no major injuries were incurred by anyone. Over the next few days, Kanhaiya was arrested by plain clothes policemen and even hostels were searched by the police.

The following video, posted by organisers of the event, shows ABVP members allegedly attacking people. The authenticity of the video cannot be verified.

09 Feb 2016/ JNU: ABVP manhandling and assaulting JNU students who organised the event The Country Without A Post Office.

Posted by V Arun Kumar on Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Solidarity, But Not (Necessarily) Endorsment

In a speech made hours before his arrest, Kanhaiya attacked the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), as well as the BJP government for cracking down on dissenters. The speech, high on political rhetoric, also condemned some of the statements made by the organisers of the event, and expresses faith in the Constitution of India.

You can watch the full speech below.

As far as I saw, the [JNUSU] President only criticised the government, and did not make any anti-national statement. The issue is whether students should be arrested and targeted for expressing uncomfortable views. When has disagreeing become anti-India? Isn’t it the job of a patriot to criticise their government when they think it is against the national interest? Are they trying to make another Rohith Vemula in JNU?
MPhil Scholar, Department of Political Science, JNU

While organisers of the event are yet to be arrested, Kanhiya Kumar is currently in custody. There were, what the police calls ‘anti-India’ slogans on Afzal Guru and ‘Azad’ Kashmir, but it is not clear if Kanhaiya or his comrades were the ones raising them. Some students, also left sympathisers, doubt whether Kanhaiya would make a statement that is against the country, quite simply because it goes against the AISF and CPI ‘party line’.

With all the conflicting narratives leading up to Kanhaiya’s arrest, and the national attention the incident has received, the police will have to make a strong case for sedition to put at least a part of the student community at ease.

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