NEW DELHI ― Massive protests paralyzed one of India’s top universities Monday after the president of the student union was arrested on charges of sedition.
Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested Friday over a demonstration days earlier at Jawaharlal Nehru University to mark the anniversary of the 2013 execution of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri man convicted of an attack on India’s Parliament.
A student faction linked to the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party filed a police complaint, and Kumar was arrested amid allegations that anti-India slogans were used at the demonstration.
On Monday, several student groups called for a strike on campus and very few students attended classes. Over the weekend thousands of students and teachers from several universities and colleges across India held protest rallies.
Later Monday afternoon ugly scenes broke out outside a New Delhi courtroom where Kumar was expected to be produced as several dozen lawyers and BJP supporters attacked students and reporters.
A visibly shaken female correspondent from Indian broadcaster NDTV reported that several journalists and students were beaten and she was threatened with physical assault as she attempted to record the violence on her phone.
The BJP supporters chanted slogans calling the reporters and students anti-nationals and demanding that they leave India and go to Pakistan, the country’s archrival and Muslim-majority neighbor.
Dozens of police officials were stationed at the court house but several reporters said that they made no efforts to stop the BJP supporters from beating journalists and students.
On Thursday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted: “If anyone shouts anti India slogan & challenges nation’s sovereignty & integrity while living in India, they will not be tolerated or spared.”
A day later, Delhi police, who are under Singh, entered the university and searched dorm rooms and demanded audio and video recordings of the pro-Guru demonstration, and arrested Kumar. He has denied making any anti-India comments, according to news reports.
India’s Human Resource Minister Smriti Irani supported Kumar’s arrest, telling reporters “the nation can never tolerate an insult to Mother India.”
Several political commenters said the arrest is an attempt to silence dissent.
“The arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar and the crackdown on political dissent at JNU suggest that we are living under a government that is both rabidly malign and politically incompetent,” Pratap Bhanu Mehta, the head of the Center for Policy Research, a leading New Delhi-based think tank, wrote in an opinion piece over the weekend.
Afzal Guru’s hanging is a highly emotive subject in Indian-controlled Kashmir where most people believe he was not given a fair trial.
The government reaction to the protests at the university known for politically active students is seen by many as part of a rising tide of intolerance in India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP came to power in 2014.
Scores of artists, scientists and historians have returned government awards to protest against what they view as the government’s silence or complicity in creating a climate where criticism is viewed as unpatriotic.