Thousands of students, teachers and civil society members across the country protested on Thursday against the arrest of JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar on charges of sedition, as a bitter row over free speech and nationalism spilled into the streets.
Clashes were reported in several states, as the BJP launched a nationwide Jan Swabhiman Abhiyan to back action against students of the Delhi-based university who allegedly raised anti-India slogans on the campus this month.
An estimated 5,000 people chanting “release Kanhaiya Kumar” and “down with state terrorism” marched through the heart of Delhi in one of the biggest student protests India has seen in years.
The BJP said workers from the All India Students Federation (AISF) and All India Students Association (AISA) attacked its office in Patna during their solidarity march, leaving several people injured. The attackers were carrying sticks and hurled stones and water bottles, the party said.
Another clash was reported between RSS-affiliate ABVP and the left-wing SFI at the College of Science in Rajasthan’s Udaipur city. Three SFI leaders including its president Saurabh Naroka were allegedly attacked while they were distributing pamphlets supporting Kanhaiya Kumar.
In Chennai, police detained popular folk singer Kovan and more than 50 others for protesting against Kumar’s arrest.
About a 100 research scholars, students and also some faculty members from the Indian Institute of Science (IISC), National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), and a few other colleges gathered at the Town Hall in Bengaluru and shouted slogans in support of the JNU students.
The Uttarakhand BJP said it organised rallies at its district headquarters to “sensitise” people about the importance of the country’s unity and integrity in the wake of the JNU controversy.
In Haryana’s Yamunanagar, workers from the ABVP took out a Tiranga Yatra (tricolour march) and raised nationalistic slogans. Similar marches were also organised in Ambala, Bhiwani, Hisar, Sirsa and Mahendergarh.
In Jammu, the RSS affiliated BJYM held a demonstration and shouted rallying cries against “traitors”. Workers carried placards saying “Terrorism has no religion” and chanted slogans against Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.