Protests by pro-Hindu nationalists broke out at a college campus in New Delhi after students from a left-wing party staged two demonstrations against the executions of two Kashmiris, Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat.
About 10 students from the Democratic Students Union (DSU) group organized a protest on Wednesday at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), a day after the third anniversary of the hanging of Guru for his role in an attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001.
The group also marked the anniversary of Kashmiri separatist leader Maqbool Bhat’s hanging on Feb. 11, 1984, to show “solidarity with the struggle of Kashmiri people for their democratic right to self-determination.”
The protest, which was joined by students from the All India Students’ Association (AISA), All India Students’ Federation (AISF) and Students’ Federation of India (SFI), triggered clashes with members of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad(ABVP), a group affiliated with the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The RSS is an ideological mentor to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that leads India’s ruling coalition.
As the university’s administration monitored the incident, more demonstrations were held again on Thursday on the campus, jointly by the left-wing groups and the Congress party-backed National Students’ Union of India (NSUI).
Barely 10 meters (33 feet) away, about 200 ABVP students held their own protest against what they termed to be anti-national activities and elements.
Accusing the present Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “stifling the speech and expression of the common man,” organizers claimed that the voices of dissent were silenced by the ruling establishment in the world’s largest democracy.
“In a democracy there could well be a dissent. There could be different opinions. Those who have a voice of dissent and have a different opinion are labeled as anti-national by the government. In the past, too, when we had discussions on such subjects in the campus, they (ABVP students) came and stopped us,” Umar Khalid, a DSU member, told BenarNews.
“We are given this fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression by the constitution, and they make every attempt to curb this. We are young critical minds and if such a subject is not allowed to be discussed in a university which is a forum for free thoughts and research, what is the whole education system about?,” he remarked.
‘Sympathies for these terrorists’
Saurabh Kumar Sharma, the joint secretary of the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU), challenged the protesters.
“They have been indulging in anti-national activities. Never once, even on the Independence Day and Republic Day, have they unfurled our country’s flag inside the campus. Instead, they profess their sympathies for these terrorists, which is just not acceptable,” Sharma told BenarNews
“We have submitted a complaint to the vice chancellor and Delhi police along with a video containing all the anti-national slogans shouted by these people. We have asked the police to register cases of sedition against the 10 persons from JNU or from outside for indulging in rebellion.”
University authorities ordered an investigation into the incident.
“An inquiry committee has been formed, which has started to collect evidence. After examining the evidence, the committee could reach a conclusion and take further action,” university public relations officer Poonam Kudesia told BenarNews.
Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand did not view such protests as contempt.
“A protest is a freedom of speech and expression. You can be critical about a judgment. Unless it is derogatory or offensive, it does not amount to contempt,” Anand told BenarNews.
“It is only if a demonstration has elements of violence or criminality that it qualifies as contempt. A country’s judgment is open to public scrutiny and review,” she said.