The student movement is offering remarkable resistance to prime minister Narendra Modi’s war on campuses and democracy.
Police arrested the students’ union president and two others at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on charges of “sedition” last month. It is part of an assault by the government on civil liberties and democratic rights.
A further eight JNU students are also suspended from the university without any due process of enquiry because they are accused of sedition.
Thousands marcedh to parliament today, demanding the arrested students’ release and for the charges against them are dropped. The protest will also demand the enacting of a law to protect Dalit and all other oppressed caste students from discrimination on campuses.
They asserted that raising slogans is not sedition, and demanded repeal of the anti-sedition law.
Above all, they resisted the attempt by the government to brand as “unpatriotic” those who dissent, who care for the rights of people, and who speak truth to power.
The government is eager to use the occasion to incite hatred and violence against activists who raise issues of the rights of religious minorities, women, oppressed castes or the question of self-determination for Kashmir. The government claims that they are “anti-India”.
The colonial sedition law is being invoked against such activists. Convictions are not common under the sedition law, but it continues to be a tool used by governments to criminalise dissent.
But the courageous student and youth movement in support of JNU and Rohith Vemula has exposed the government’s authoritarian agenda.
Last year, ministers branded a young research scholar and activist Rohith Vemula “anti-national/anti-India”. They had him expelled from the Hyderabad Central University in southern India.
Rohith, a Dalit who had battled discrimination all his life, killed himself. Ever since, a strong student movement has demanded action against the ministers who had driven him to such action.
The student movement in India is now connecting the dots between the way in which Rohith and the JNU students have been branded “anti-national”.
The crackdown is not on students alone.
Striking car workers in the industrial area of Gurgaon, near Delhi, have recently been subjected to a brutal police assault. Indigenous rights activists, human rights lawyers and journalists have also been branded “anti-national”.
Teachers and students have responded to the “anti-national” tag by holding lectures on nationalism, which are being attended by thousands of people. The government is not finding its campaign against campuses and activists easy going.