We, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with the students, faculty and staff of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India in their ongoing struggle against the anti-democratic incursions of the Indian state. We appeal to the elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi to uphold the Indian constitution, cease the repression of democratic protest across university campuses in India, and withdraw the spurious charges of ‘sedition’ against JNU Students’ Union President Kanhaiya Kumar.
Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested for sedition along with several other JNU students on 9th February for questioning the actions of the Indian state in the disputed territory of Kashmir—particularly the controversial execution of Afzal Guru, the main accused in an attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001. The law of sedition—section 124A of the Indian Penal Code—is a nineteenth-century artefact designed to silence dissent against the colonial state. That this law is now being used by the government of democratic India to curtail peaceful protest is deeply disturbing, and recalls the authoritarian crackdown of student protest during the Emergency of 1975-77.
The illegal detention of Kanhaiya Kumar is symptomatic of a growing intolerance of dissenting voices by the current Indian government. The students who were beaten and arrested on 9th February have been labelled ‘anti-national’ for their peaceful political protest. The events at JNU follow the suicide—which some have termed the institutional murder—of Rohith Vemula, a dalit student at the University of Hyderabad, and concerted attacks on dalit students there, for questioning the state’s role in entrenching caste and class hegemony. Since the events of the 9th February, protesters and journalists in Delhi and elsewhere have been threatened and attacked, and police failed to protect Kanhaiya Kumar himself from vicious assault during his appearance in court at Patiala House on 17th February.
We also condemn the affording of impunity to individuals and groups who have committed or threatened to commit outright breaches of the law—by assaulting other individuals, by threatening violence, rape and murder to those that they deem ‘anti-nationals’. Such is the magic of the claim of nationalism that while peaceful debate has merited police action, blatant criminality has not.
JNU is a flagship institution and an important space of political and intellectual debate. We support the students, faculty and staff of JNU in their struggle, and stand in defence of academic and political freedom across India and elsewhere. We also strongly condemn the behaviour of those parts of the media which have targeted particular students on the basis of their religious background only. To deny individuals the right to be critical of the government of their own country on the basis of their personal affiliations, real or assumed, is an outright assault on citizenship rights.
Signed in a personal capacity by the following UK-based scholars, together with their areas of specialisation:
Dr. Rebecca Williams (History), Dr. Nandini Chatterjee (History), Dr. Gajendra Singh (History), Dr. Gillian Juleff (Archaeology), Dr. Ayesha Mukherjee (English), Dr. Andrew Rudd (English), Meg Kanazawa (History), Dr. Oliver Godsmark (History), Dr. Freyja Cox-Jensen (History), Dr. Becky Jinks (History), Dr. Jennifer Farrell (History), Professor Richard Toye (History), Professor Kate Fisher (History), Dr. Marc Palen (History), Dr. Tim Cooper (History), Dr. Alex Mallett (History), Dr. Gareth Curless (History), Dr. Tom Blaen (History), Dr. Levi Roach (History), Dr. Gemma Clark (History), Dr. Alex Fairfax-Cholmeley (History), Aparna Mahiyaria (Drama), Professor Regenia Gagnier (English), Professor Jeremy Black (History), Dr. Florian Stadtler (English), Dr. Tehyun Ma (History), Francesco Amoruso (Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies)