We the undersigned, from the India Chapter of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT), would like to place on record our solidarity with the students and teachers of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). We find the recent events that have taken place in JNU – arrest of the JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar on charges of sedition, and a lookout by the police for several other students who allegedly raised anti-national slogans – extremely disturbing. We also feel that the use of the sedition law, which was enacted by British colonial government, draconian and has no place in India. A fundamental principle in a democracy is the right to free speech. Article 19 of the Indian Constitution grants it as a fundamental right, and the Indian courts have recognised this in the past, including in the case of Balwant Singh vs. State of Punjab. In this context, the framing of charges against the students of JNU is unacceptable, and should have no place in a democratic society.
The events in JNU are a continuation of the systematic attack on students in various campuses across the country by the ruling party and its student-wing, the ABVP. From the ban on the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle in IIT-Madras (the ban was eventually lifted), to appointing people not necessarily qualified in various administrative posts at the Film and Television Institute in India (FTII), to the attack and suspension of Dalit students in the Hyderabad Central University (HCU), which eventually led to the suicide of Rohith Vemula, there has been an increasing attempt at controlling students on campuses by the BJP and its affiliates, the ABVP and the RSS.
In many instances, the ruling government has used the State machinery, including that of the police, to carry out its agenda, either through intimidation or inaction – the attack by lawyers on Kanhaiya Kumar while he was produced in Patiala House in police presence, or the intimidation of lawyers Shalini Gera, Isha Khandelwal and journalist Malini Subramanian of scroll.in in Chhattisgarh, who are being forced to leave Jagdalpur due to continual police threat and intimidation, are examples of this.
We fear that this environment that has been created by the State and some members of the media fraternity, where labels like “anti-national” and “traitor” are freely thrown around, is creating an atmosphere of fear and will suppress voices of dissent. Many media houses have been filing stories and conducting debates that do not adhere to basic principles of journalistic practices. The strength of a democratic nation is its ability to give space to its dissenters, as also to those who raise questions about the excesses of the State and about what the idea of a nation-state means. The fundamental right to free speech and dissent has been guaranteed to the citizens of India by the Constitution and cannot be violated for any political agenda if we are to remain a vibrant democracy.
We, the members of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT), India, demand:
1) JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar be immediately released
2) Stop the witch-hunt against Umar Khalid and other students of JNU
3) Segments of the media have been whipping up mass hysteria against students of JNU. They should be reined in by their own Press Councils and Broadcast Associations.
4) Repeal Section 124(A) of the Indian Penal Code
Aaradhna Kohli, Independent Filmmaker
Ananya Chakraborti, Filmmaker, Film Teacher, Activist
Anjali Monteiro, Academic and Filmmaker, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
Anupama Chandra, Film Editor and Director
Anupama Srinivasan, Filmmaker
Archana Kapoor, Managing Trustee, IAWRT, Filmmaker and Radio Producer
Geeta Sahai, Media Professional
Iffat Fatima, Independent Documentary Filmmaker
Iram Ghufran, Independent Filmmaker
Kavita Joshi, Filmmaker and Media Trainer
Nupur Basu, Journalist and Media Educator
Priyanka Chhabra, Filmmaker
Radha Misra, Academic
Reena Mohan, Filmmaker and Editor
Samina Mishra, Independent Filmmaker and Writer
Sania Farooqui, Journalist
Smriti Nevatia, Film Festival curator, Researcher and Writer, Text Editor
Subasri Krishnan, Filmmaker
Teena Gill, Filmmaker and Development Consultant
Uma Chakravarti, Feminist Historian and Filmmaker
Vani Subramanian, Filmmaker and Women’s Rights Activist
Yashodara Udupa, Filmmaker