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India’s Crackdown on Dissent - selected editorials and commentary Feb 2016

28 February 2016

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The New York Times


India’s Crackdown on Dissent


FEB. 22, 2016

India is in the throes of a violent clash between advocates of freedom of speech and the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its political allies on the Hindu right determined to silence dissent. This confrontation raises serious concerns about Mr. Modi’s governance and may further stall any progress in Parliament on economic reforms.

The crisis began with the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of Jawaharlal Nehru University’s student union, by the Delhi police on charges of sedition. Mr. Kumar’s arrest followed an on-campus rally on Feb. 9 that marked the anniversary of the 2013 hanging of Muhammad Afzal, who was convicted of participating in the 2001 terrorist attack by an Islamist group based in Pakistan on India’s Parliament. The circumstances of Muhammad Afzal’s trial and execution remain controversial.

The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, a student group affiliated with Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, and new university leadership appointed by Mr. Modi’s government were involved in calling the police on campus and singling out Mr. Kumar.

The court in New Delhi where Mr. Kumar’s hearing took place last week was a scene of chaos, as lawyers and B.J.P. supporters chanting “glory to Mother India” and “traitors leave India” assaulted journalists and students. The police refused to intervene. A B.J.P. member of India’s legislative assembly, Om Prakash Sharma, who was recorded on camera severely beating a student, said later, “There is nothing wrong in beating up or even killing someone shouting slogans in favor of Pakistan,” as some students were accused of doing.

Responsibility for this lynch-mob mentality lies squarely with Mr. Modi’s government. On the day after Mr. Kumar’s arrest, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said, “If anyone raises anti-India slogans and tries to raise question on the nation’s unity and integrity, they will not be spared.” India’s Supreme Court has limited the definition of India’s colonial-era crime of sedition to speech that is “incitement to imminent lawless action.” Mr. Singh apparently does not realize that, in a democracy, voicing dissent is a vital right, not a crime.

Meanwhile, hundreds of journalists marched last week in protest from the Press Club of India to the Supreme Court in New Delhi. Thousands of students and faculty at universities across India have turned out to protest in recent days. These Indian citizens are right to voice their outrage at government threats to the exercise of their democratic rights. Mr. Modi must rein in his ministers and his party, and defuse the current crisis, or risk sabotaging both economic progress and India’s democracy. The charge of sedition against Mr. Kumar should be dropped. As Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, warned in a recent opinion piece, members of Mr. Modi’s government “have threatened democracy; that is the most anti-national of all acts.”

A version of this editorial appears in print on February 23, 2016

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See also an editorial in the French daily Le Monde, 20 février 2016:

En Inde, l’inquiétant nationalisme de Modi

La liberté d’expression en Inde est le fruit d’un long et riche héritage qui remonte à l’empire d’Ashoka, au IIIe siècle avant notre ère. Elle est en passe de devenir un luxe réservé à quelques téméraires. Les attaques contre la liberté d’expression ne datent pas d’aujourd’hui

Comment in 25 Feb 2016 issue of the Italian paper Il Manifesto:

Il campus minato dell’India di Modi

comments in the German dailies Frankfurter Rundschau and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Indien - Indiens Nationalisten greifen zum Knüppel,1472596,33792642.html

Indische Universitäten Wie viel Religion verträgt ein Bildungssystem?

editorial in the Pakistan daily The News

The News February 19, 2016

Editorial : Fighting fascism in India

The reaction to the protests at the Jawaharlal Nehru University has shown the real face of today’s India, not the Shining India propaganda we hear about so much. First there was the police which manhandled protestors and arrested student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar. They then produced a report saying the protestors were seen eating beef, a big no-no in Modi’s India, and revealed they had been spying on students for two years. Then there was the BJP government which called the protestors anti-Indian and desperately tried to find a Pakistan link, first saying Hafiz Saeed was behind the protests and now accusing Umar Khalid, a PhD student at JNU of being part of a Pakistani militant group. Then you have the lawyers, who should be upholding the right to protest and rule of law, chanting slogans against Kumar at his hearing and pelting reporters with stones. Even the jailors have shown the same instincts, throwing Kumar into the same cell in which Afzal Guru – the anniversary of whose judicially dubious conviction and execution sparked the protest – was once held. These protests are now not only about Afzal Guru or the occupation of Kashmir; they are really a test of whether dissent is allowed in India.

To show their peaceful intentions, JNU students, joined by labourers in Delhi, marched on Thursday armed with nothing but flowers and tricolour flags. They were rerouted by an apprehensive police force but this was more than compensated by the solidarity shown at universities around the country. It is a sign of how this protest has grown that disenfranchised workers too have joined in. The BJP, mixing xenophobia with neo-liberalism, is the most anti-worker government possible. One of its MPs, Gopal Shetty, has even said that farmers are committing suicide not because of starvation and poverty but because it is in ‘fashion’. The government also ordered that the Indian flag be flown at all central universities. None of this stopped students, not just from JNU, but around the country, from taking out solidarity rallies. They even had to endure clashes with BJP goons in places like Bihar. Congress has also taken the side of the protestors, although one cannot be sure if that is for opportunistic political reasons. The Aam Aadmi Party, which rules Delhi, has shown its name to be a misnomer. While it has attacked the government, it has done so on the wrong grounds. It taunted the BJP, claiming that if it cannot arrest a few anti-Indian protestors it will never be able to find those who carried out the Pathankot attack. Calling the brave students of JNU anti-Indian is a slur. They are holding up the best progressive traditions, aspiring to form a more democratic society.

see also Op-Eds and Reports:

Attempts to crush dissent in India will not succeed

The JNU controversy is a frightening and sad reflection on the country’s vast democratic landscape (Editorial, Gulf News - February 18, 2016)

This is a watershed moment for India. It must choose freedom over intolerance by Priyamvada Gopal

Protests erupt over sedition charges for student leader by Brendan O’Malley

JNUCrackdown: politics of paranoia around sedition can singe Rajnath by Bharat Bhushan

Presumed guilty, until cleared by NDA: India’s new template on dissent by KumKum Dasgupta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi - Feb 23, 2016

How television media uncritically reproduced the Sangh’s narrative of “nationalist” versus “anti-nationalist” by Sandeep Bhushan [28 Feb 2016]