New Delhi: On March 18, the Patiala House court in Delhi granted JNU students Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya interim bail for six months. The bail amount has been set at Rs. 25,000 for each of them.
Khalid and Bhattacharya were arrested and placed in judicial custody for three weeks after being charged with sedition for ‘anti-national’ sloganeering on campus on February 9.
JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar had also been arrested on the same charges, and was granted bail on March 2.
Unlike Kumar’s bail order that criticised the February 9 event on campus and warned of an ‘anti-national infection’, Khalid and Bhattacharya’s order did not make any value judgments on the matter. Also, unlike in Kumar’s case, the order did not come with any out-of-the-ordinary conditions for the bail.
Though the allegations against the two have been called “per se serious in nature” by judge Rateesh Singh, he has said that the allegations levelled against Kumar at his bail were of a similar nature (he had also been called an organiser of the original event), and for the sake of parity Khalid and Bhattacharya should be granted bail as well.
In addition, the judge said he was also taking into account factors such as whether there was reasonable ground to believed the accused were guilty, the nature and gravity of the accusation, danger of the accused absconding or fleeing, reasonable apprehension of witnesses being influenced, etc. On taking these factors into consideration, the judge deemed bail appropriate.
Khalid and Bhattacharya are expected back on campus on March 18 night, and the JNU students’ union has organised a solidarity march to mark their return.
In fresh attack on the NDA government, JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar today vowed to wage a “direct fight” against “dictatorship” as he accused it of targeting universities across the country and sought support of all democratic forces saying it was about saving the country.
He said those talking about the constitution should allow the law to take its own course in the sedition case in which he as well as JNU PhD scholars Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya were arrested. Delivering justice on the street was not acceptable, he said.
“You may not agree with my politics. It is not about JNU only. The universities are being attacked across the country. Now our fight is direct against dictatorship. All democratic people will have to come together. This unity is required in the country,” he said at the India Today conclave here.
Kanhaiya said that while the question confronting the people today was about saving the country, the whole JNU episode was given a national versus anti-national spin.
“The whole episode has been portrayed as a case of national versus anti-national. The job of a patriot is not to use a black law like sedition against the people of the country, against youngsters and students. You are behaving with them in a way as if you have become the British and we are the soldiers of Bhagat Singh. If you don’t hesitate to use a black law like sedition, then we don’t have any problem in becoming the sipahis of Bhagat Singh,” he said.
Speaking on the occasion, JNUSU Vice President Shehla Rashid said the very idea of India which stands for accommodation and acceptance is under threat.
“Since politics decides our future, we will decide our own politics. Universities are democratic places. We need to protect them from the RSS,” she said.
During her short but passionate address, Shehla, who hails from Jammu and Kashmir, said she grew up watching a very violent image of India but JNU gave her the democratic space.
She said the ABVP raises very violent slogans as well – which are specially directed at women – but students largely do not complain against them out of respect for the spirit of free speech.
“We do not want to see you behind bars,” she said looking at ABVP’s JNU leader Saurabh Sharma who was also part of the discussion.
She said that since the NDA government came to power, the ABVP has been misusing its power to frame students.
Earlier, Kanhaiya said the sedition law must be scrapped.
Welcoming the bail granted to Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, he said all parties and people supporting democracy must come forward to demand abolishing the British-era law.
Targeting a section of JNU teachers, National Media Convener of ABVP Sanket Bahuguna, also a panelist, alleged that there are few “comrades in the faculty” whose “only job is to help Naxals and anti-nationals.”
Kanhaiya distanced himself from the controversial slogans raised at the February 9 flashpoint event at JNU, saying he does not support them. But he wondered why those trying to fix responsibility for that event on him are not doing the same to Home Minister Rajnath Sing who had claimed an LeT hand behind the incident.
“The constitution, which is our only guiding principle, has no use of the word ‘national’ in it. When there is no mention of ‘national,’ how can someone be ‘anti-national’. When someone was not present in that function, how will one know what happened there? Those who are talking about the constitution, they should allow law to take its own course,” he said.
However, ABVP’s Saurabh claimed that Kanhaiya not only supported the protesters who raised anti-national slogans but also raised them.
On her part, Shehla said she never thought of herself as a Muslim, but the only time she felt a little pained was was when the controversy over love jihad, ghar wapsi and cow protection were raging.
“It hurts. When the Dadri lynching happened it pained. When we say that Kashmir is an integral part of India, how exactly is that going to be achieved? It’s not about the army being involved in rapes or not. The Justice Verma committee acknowledges that,” she said.
She also observed that the ABVP raises controversial slogans such as ‘Khun se tilak karenge goliyon se aarti’, ‘jo Afzal ki baat karega wo Afzal ki maut marega’ and that she would never raise the ‘Pakistan zindabad’ slogan as she was aware of the “inequalities” there.
“They also say give one more chance to the rapists of Gujarat. But do we say that they should be behind bars for that? No. Because the university is a place to say.”
“I happen to be a Kashmiri and the controversial event revolves around Kashmir. In JNU, I have not faced discrimination. I can get elected to the union with the highest number of votes without any bias. That is JNU, where I am looked at as a political activist first. That is how you can integrate people, not by imposing AFSPA,” she asked.
Kanhaiya also said he was against capital punishment and that he would oppose it even if an ABVP activist is sent to the gallows.