Scuffles outside India court where student appeared on sedition charge

Indian students protest against the arrest of the president of Jawaharlal Nehru University's Student Union on Feb 15, 2016.
Indian students protest against the arrest of the president of Jawaharlal Nehru University's Student Union on Feb 15, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Violence broke out on Monday (Feb 15) at a New Delhi court where a university student leader was due to appear on a sedition charge, in a case that has triggered protests in India.

Television footage showed unidentified men punching and shoving journalists and students from Delhi's prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) as they gathered to attend Kanhaiya Kumar's hearing.

Men wearing lawyers' robes snatched reporters' phones and notebooks and pushed them to the ground, accusing them of being "pro-Pakistan" and "anti-Indian", an AFP reporter at the court said.

Emotions have been running high since Kumar's arrest on Friday on claims of seditious behaviour at a rally to mark the third anniversary of a Kashmiri separatist's execution.

Kumar and other students are accused of voicing anti-Indian slogans at Tuesday's largely peaceful rally at JNU, charges they deny.

Students have since staged protests at campuses around the country in support of Kumar, accusing India's Hindu nationalist government of overreacting and misusing a sedition law to quash dissent.

The government has stood firm, with Home Minister Rajnath Singh warning that "anyone who raises anti-India slogans or tries to question national unity" will be punished.

Local media accused police of doing little to stop Monday's chaos, amid claims on social media that right-wing Hindu nationalists were behind the violence.

Local lawmaker O.P. Sharma, from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, denied taking part. He told reporters he was only "rounding up those who raise pro-Pakistan slogans" outside the court.

Separatist Mohammed Afzal Guru was hanged in 2013 over a deadly attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001. He had always denied plotting the attack which was carried out by Kashmiri militants.

India and arch-rival Pakistan have fought two wars over the Himalayan region of Kashmir which is divided between the countries. Both claim the territory in full.

Speaking before the violence, Delhi police commissioner B.S. Bassi defended Kumar's arrest, saying there was evidence to back a sedition charge.