Wanted Indian students come out to face justice

Police escorting student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar (centre) to a court in Delhi last Wednesday. The five students who emerged from hiding yesterday were wanted since the arrest of Kumar.
Police escorting student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar (centre) to a court in Delhi last Wednesday. The five students who emerged from hiding yesterday were wanted since the arrest of Kumar.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW DELHI • Five students wanted in a controversial sedition case that has triggered some of India's biggest student protests emerged from hiding yesterday and said they were prepared to face justice.

Police have been searching for the five since Feb 12, when they arrested student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar for sedition over a rally at which anti-India slogans were shouted. The arrest raised fears over freedom of speech in the country's top universities.

Kumar, who like the other five is from New Delhi's prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), says he was not among those shouting the slogans.

He was beaten by right-wing nationalists when he appeared in court last week, an attack that has been condemned by rights activists and scholars around the world.

One of the five students, Mr Anant Prakash Narayan, said he had gone underground because he feared "mob fury", but was ready to face justice.

"We are ready to face everything because we have not done anything that is wrong," he told the NDTV news channel from the JNU campus. "We decided to come out in the open because the situation has cooled down. We were scared of mob fury, not of anything else."

The students' reappearance has presented police with a dilemma because they need permission to enter the campus. Police vehicles were lined up outside the university yesterday, with the vice-chancellor locked in meetings to decide whether to allow them access.

Students have accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi's right-wing nationalist government of misusing the British-era sedition law to stifle dissent.

Mr Modi has not directly commented on the row, although he addressed students at a major university in his northern constituency of Varanasi yesterday.

Last week, as students around the country marched against what they say is a clampdown on dissent, his government ordered all public universities to fly the national flag on campus.

The students were also protesting against the arrest of a former Delhi university professor for sedition earlier this month.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2016, with the headline 'Wanted Indian students come out to face justice'. Print Edition | Subscribe