By Abhimanyu Singh for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Although smaller than previous ones held recently, the protest demonstration Wednesday 3rd March in support of Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya was high on the spirit of dissent.
Around two in the afternoon, the protesters began to assemble near Mandi House. Initially, the crowd looked a bit thin. Later, sources said that the Delhi police had delayed the buses coming from JNU as the drivers had instructions to drive away from the site of the protest. “The students in the buses had to threaten the drivers to take them to the designated site of protest. It was not the fault of drivers of course. They were only following orders,” the source said.
Others said that the crowd was not as large as on the last two occasions as exams had started in JNU. Senior student activists, however, pointed out that protests had been going on since last year, starting with the Occupy UGC movement and it was “remarkable that they have been sustained till date.”
A member of the JNUTA’s Executive Council told me that the organisation was likely to file a case in Supreme Court against the sedition law but it might take some time as the legal team was currently busy in the defence of the students.
However, approximately 3000 people assembled to demand bail and justice for the three arrested students. Kumar’s bail hearing was due for yesterday and it was granted late in the evening following which the mood turned celebratory at the site of protest – the police did not allow the protestors to march till Parliament as was the plan originally and the crowd gathered for speeches near the Parliament Street police station bus stop.
While the protesters were hopeful that bail would be granted to Kumar, the same optimism was missing where Khalid and Bhattacharya were concerned. Banojyotsna Lahiri, formerly with the Democratic Students Union and now a guest lecturer at Ambedkar University, told me that she expected a “protracted legal battle”. Nevertheless, she emphasised that the police did not have any grounds to try Khalid and Bhattacharya for sedition and the High Court had also flagged this.
Lahiri has been reportedly identified as the “mastermind” behind the event held on February 9. However, she dismissed the allegation in at least two conversations with me. “This is media speculation. Even police officers have told me that they don’t know how such reports are surfacing and that they haven’t reached any such conclusion,” she said.
Lahiri also told me that it would be “absurd” to expect all the Left organisations to support the politics espoused by DSU but expressed satisfaction at the support received for Khalid and Bhattacharya. “This is the beauty of JNU’s politics that we can support each other despite political differences.”
The DSU has been averse to contesting student elections in the campus and has been critical of the Left organisations taking part in them as it does not support “parliamentary politics”. However, she pointed out that the support received from other organisations was also because the DSU had been active in organising movements in the last few years and “going to the people” with their stance on issues.
Office-bearers and activists of the Welfare Party of India, headed by S.Q.R. Ilyasi, were also present at the rally. I spoke to Siraj Talib, president of the Delhi unit of WPI about the charges against Khalid and Bhattacharya. “Such programmes have been held in JNU before. It is a place where people think about such issues and develop an understanding. Though the programme was organised by Khalid and others, they did not raise any anti-national slogans. Some news channels have reported that the slogans of Pakistan Jindabad were raised by ABVP. The tapes are still being looked into. People believe that the tapes were doctored. Till the investigations are completed and the courts pronounce a judgement, we can’t call anyone a criminal, rather they are accused. The way the media is holding trials and pronouncing judgements, and the manner in which some lawyers have conducted themselves in the court premises is condemnable,” Talib told me.
Asked if he saw a difficulty in Khalid and Bhattacharya getting bail soon since they had earlier been with DSU whom the government believes to be sympathetic to Maoists – although no evidence has been put out in the public domain regarding this yet – Talib said that “since they have quit the organisation, this should not be made into an issue.”
He was also quite categorical that Khalid had been targeted because of his Muslim identity. “He has been linked to Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hafiz Sayeed, and Hawala channels for the sole reason that he is a Muslim. Ek toh JNU, uspe sone pe suhaga Musalaman (he is Muslim on top of being from JNU),” he said.
Khalid’s sister, Kulsum Fatima was also among the protestors Wednesday, along with a small group holding placards demonstrating solidarity with her arrested brother and others. I asked her if she felt there was enough support for her brother. “Yes, I think there is enough support, not just for Umar but for Anirban and Kanhaiya too. It is obvious that they have done the worst kind of profiling of Umar. Also, by beating up Kanhaiya in the court they tried to intimidate the students. It appears to be part of a larger conspiracy. I am a Masters student at Ambedkar University and I feel that they want to kill the political culture in the universities and privatise them,” Fatima told me.
While both Talib and Lahiri dismissed reports suggesting Khalid had a hand in the recent attack on Soni Sori, Chhattisgarh-based human rights activist, Fatima had her own take on the allegation. “People are saying that the former police commissioner was investigating Umar’s role in the second World War. Others have said that their candies were missing and Umar must have taken them. Or that Umar knows Victoria’s Secret. It worries us that they are so desperate that they will say anything, even something as bizarre as that,” Fatima said, mocking the reports linking Khalid to the attack on Sori. However, she agreed with Lahiri in assessing that the battle would be long. “The fight (to prove the innocence of Khalid and others) has just begun,” she said.
Later, I spotted Saurabh Sharma, the JNUSU joint secretary from ABVP. However, he demurred to speak.
The gathering was subsequently addressed by Vishwa Deepak, the journalist who quit his job against his organisation’s coverage of the affair, Pradip Narwal, ex-ABVP member who quit his organisation too in support of the arrested students and politburo member of CPM Brinda Karat, among others.
By evening, when news came in that Kanhaiya had been granted bail, the sombre and defiant mood turned joyous. A procession celebrating the development was taken out on the campus.
Meanwhile, Kumar’s lawyer Vrinda Grover has accused Delhi Police of “not playing fairly” by not placing before the High Court the state government’s forensic report that two video clippings of the controversial JNU event were “manipulated”.
“Last evening, Delhi government got its report to show that there is manipulation in the audio. The police did not play fairly, did not speak honestly and did not present this part to the court (today). The observations of the court are coming in the light of the fact that the court has actually not been given all the material,” she said.
Grover further alleged that the “doctored” videos and “hysteria of sedition” were orchestrated by some news channels which were “invited” by ABVP, the students’ wing of RSS.
“Therefore, that nexus needs to be understood. There was no trouble that day, there was no FIR that day, the police did not take any action and the university did not take any action that day. Who wanted this trouble? We need to focus on that. I think we need to have an independent impartial probe into it,” she said.
A forensic probe ordered by Delhi government of certain video clippings of the JNU event has found that two videos were “manipulated” where voices of persons not present in the clips were added.
Grover welcomed the High Court’s decision to grant interim conditional bail to Kanhaiya and said conditions imposed on him are “usual and general”.
“(The conditions) that he (Kanhaiya) will have to give surety, that he will not leave the country and that he will not participate in any anti-national activity…Kanhaiya has never participated in any anti-national activity,” she added.
Kanhaiya, arrested in a sedition case, was granted interim conditional bail for six months by the High Court, which said he will “not participate actively or passively in any activity which may be termed as anti-national”.
The HC also enjoined on him, as president of JNU students union, that he “will make all efforts within his power to control anti-national activities in the campus”.
With inputs from PTI.
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