We, the undersigned, students in the social sciences and humanities programs at KU Leuven, strongly condemn the Indian state’s heavy handed and politically motivated action against the students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi.
We condemn the brutal police action against students, especially the arrest of JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) president, Kanhaiya Kumar on 12 February 2016 – who has been charged under colonial-era sedition laws. We equally condemn the witch-hunt against and media trials against JNU, its faculty, and its students – especially Umar Khalid, an atheist-Leftist activist, who is wrongfully being called an ‘Islamist’ by some in the media.
Over the last few months, Indian universities have become a crucial site to contest and resist the arbitrary and concerted efforts of the Indian state to quash academic autonomy and dissent – from the scrapping of non-NET fellowships in 2015, to the death of Dalit PhD scholar Rohith Vemula at the Hyderabad Central University, earlier in January.
We underscore the fact that universities have historically been sites of critical thinking and politics, and need to remain the same. Furthermore, as the recent cases in India have shown, it is often students from under-privileged backgrounds who raise critical questions against the workings of the state, and also question structures of privilege within universities, in peaceful and non-violent ways.
The government and police action against the students at JNU seriously undermines and threatens these values. These (re)actions are based on questionable facts and charges of anti-nationalism and sedition. Indeed, no is within the space of the university that ideas of the ‘nation’ – who is included within it, and who is excluded – can be questioned and debated.