The controversy surrounding Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi is finding an echo in Mumbai. Around 500 students from across Mumbai's colleges have already signed an online petition demanding the release of JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar, who was sent to judicial custody on February 17 until March 2 on sedition charges.
The petition can be signed till today, following which it will be sent to the Central government.
JNU has been at the centre of a storm with Kumar, the president of its students' union, at the center of a storm in connection with an event that was held at the university in which anti-national slogans and some in favour of Afzal Guru were allegedly raised. This was followed by massive students protests at the university and educational institutions across Indian cities. The Supreme Court on Friday refused to grant him bail, transferring his bail plea to the Delhi High Court. His arrest by the Delhi police has divided the country into supporters and opponents, and the scene is no different in Mumbai.
JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar
A group of students from more than 25 colleges launched the petition on February 18. The petition states, "We disagree with the slogans raised by a group of people at the JNU campus…We certainly do not identify or sympathise with those who provoke violence against the people of India and the state. However, the manner in which the government has dealt with the situation is alarming and distressing… A video of his (Kanhaiya's) speech has emerged where he makes it clear that he was not supporting that particular group of protesters and in fact asserts his faith in the Constitution of India.'
Explaining the objective behind the petition, Akshay Marathe, a student of St Xavier's College, and part of the team that launched the petition, said, "It is a dangerous precedent being set in Delhi and we want the voice from Mumbai to be heard. Students' freedom is at stake here." The petition appeals to the prime minister and goes on to call the arrest arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional, and therefore hints at the misuse of political power to stifle opinions that differ from those of the ruling establishment.
Pankti Dalal, a political science student from the same college and a signatory, said, "We are very disappointed with the way the current government is functioning. Be it the Rohith Vemula suicide or the Kanhaiya case, the government has an authoritarian outlook and it seems our institutions are not independent any more. We want to show that we are with JNU in spirit."
Even the city's prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) condemned the arrest last week. Ranjini Basu, a PhD scholar from TISS, said, "We are condemning both, the anti-national slogans and Kanhaiya's arrest through this petition. Both acts were wrong." Basu said the petition is addressed to the Prime Minister who has not yet reacted to the controversy.