15 March 2016| 2:00 PM: The call for the protest march by JNUSU and supported by JNUTA to demand the release of Umar and Anirban, in judicial custody since 23 February, saw some 500 students gathered at the Ganga Dhaba at 2:00 PM. At around 2:30 PM, 5 buses left for the protest site—Mandi House—escorted by police jeeps.
On reaching Mandi House at 3:30 PM, the JNU contingent joined others who were already waiting at the spot to begin the procession. The place was intensely guarded; in fact, the entire route up to the Sansad Marg, the final destination of the procession, was heavily manned by the police.
Representatives from Hyderabad Central University, Aligarh Muslim University, Delhi University, and Jamia Millia Islamia joined students and teachers from JNU for the protest. The number could be anywhere between 1000–1200. The march was also supported by a number of independent organizations like DMS, Lok Rajya Sangathan, Welfare Party of India, and other concerned individuals. One could spot flags and banners of SFI, AISA, AISF, NSUI, CFI, KYS, DSU, and DSO in the march. It was reportedly attended by Umar Khalid’s family members.
The procession started from Mandi House at around 3: 30 PM reaching Sansad Marg at around 4:15 PM, through Connaught Place, Janpath, and Jantar Mantar, sloganeering for the release of “UmarBan”, dropping of sedition charges, and putting an end to the witch-hunting. The venue near YWCA at Sansad Marg was barricaded and heavily guarded by some 100–150 policemen; the place was also dotted with reporters and journalists from all the leading media houses.
Arundhati Roy made a surprise visit at the gathering; she later also addressed the crowd from the makeshift stage (on top of a truck). Referring to the movement, she said: “The most dangerous slogan for RSS, that has rise[n] from JNU and HCU is ‘nila asmaan, mein lal tara’ and this solidarity that has been formed, of radical Ambedkarites, of non-Brahminical Left, the OBCs, we should all come together to question their authority.” She added, “We are not many people here but we are the beginning of a battle between those who know how to hate and those who know how to think … and I’m sorry but they are gonna have to listen about caste, they are gonna have to listen about capitalism, they are gonna have to listen about Kashmir, about what was wrong about the murder of Afzal Guru and the murder of Rohit Vemula because these things are connected.
Speaking on the comparison being made between students and soldiers, in the media, and public shaming of students from JNU she said, “Whenever people try to speak, they say how dare you anti-nationals speak while the soldiers are dying in Siachen, we know that those in the army are also poor, and the people against whom they are deployed—the peasants and the tribals are also poor. The so called nationalists will never tell you, that since independence there has not been a single day when the army and the security forces were not deployed against their own people, in Kashmir, in Mizoram, in Assam, in Punjab, in Telangana, in Junagadh, in Chattisgarh; not a single day when the Government did not wage a war within the border, against Christians, against Sikhs, against Muslims, against Tribals, against Dalits … ours is an upper-caste Hindu state if you go by its DNA, it’s a very sick business that they are trying to foist on us, this kind of soldier-worshipping, we don’t have to be scared by it, we will not be scared by it.”
She ended by saying, “So from here on, I would like to join the rest of you, in demanding the release, the unconditional release of Anirban, of Umar Khalid, of Prof Geelani and Prof Saibaba, please don’t forget all four of them.”
General Secretary Rama Naga had earlier initiated the public address by informing those present about the recent occurrences at JNU regarding students facing charges of sedition: The report of the High Level Enquiry Committee (HLEC), the show cause notice issued to 21 students of JNU, the lack of transparency in the enquiry process, and the decisions taken by the JNUSU and JNUTA in this regard. He announced that JNUSU condemns the extension of the judicial custody of Umar and Anirban for two weeks, and the seizure of laptops and documents from their hostels the previous night by the special cell.”
He was heard saying, “Umar’s family is not separate from JNU’s family, Umar’s family and JNU stand together, and till we get both Umar and Anirban back, till we secure their bail and get them released, this fight, this revolution will continue, it will continue till they take back the charges of sedition.”
Prof. Bikramaditya K. Choudhary, Secretary JNUTA, said: “There are sinister designs still being played inside and outside the university, you saw an instance of which yesterday, when someone leaked the report, which has not been shared by the Dean or any other official. It was denied to JNUTA. That’s the reason why all the numbers [of students charged for sedition] are being announced in the media … so that attention can be diverted from the real cause, to create all sorts of jingoism and stories … how without a proper inquiry it can be established what is [their] guilt?”
Condemning the issue of show-cause notice to students by the HLEC, he said: “As long as JNUTA is concerned, the vague show-cause notices, where it’s not even mentioned, for which specific charges and criminal activities, they must furnish an application that will be unacceptable … we are not going to accept such bullying tactics or a vague basis for [enquiry] even in a disciplinary manner. If somebody has broken a discipline it has to be specific. You cannot say that under clause so-and-so X has dreamed that there is a breach of discipline and henceforth guilty. There has to be a specific charge of what is he guilty [of] or is being accused of guilt [for].”
He reiterated JNUTA’s demand for dropping of all charges and said JNUTA condemns the stone pelting that happened at Muzaffarpur when students and teachers had gone there to promote the cause last week.
JNUSU President, Kanhaiya Kumar, spoke at length criticizing the administration, and the governance and policies of the Centre. His speech interspersed with choicest Bhojpuri phrases and satirical comments on the Centre, the Prime Minister, and the HRD Minister drew cheer and applause from the audience. “This march is for democracy, for social upliftment, for preserving the Constitution”, said Kanhaiya.
Universities and educational institutions are the first to be targeted in a Fascist state, said Kanhaiya, therefore the need of the hour is that we resist such forces, in order to save the democratic nature of the state. On JNU students being called “anti-nationals”, he urged parents to not believe in what is being said on the media, and instead have faith on their children, on the youth of the country. He spoke against what he calls the “divisive politics” of the ruling party, of pitting students against soldiers—one section of the society against the other.
“It is being said that JNU is a dangerous place, it is dangerous because it is here that Government’s policies are questioned, where one learns about democracy, the Constitution and how to end social evils like casteism … this is the reason why universities are being targeted”, he said.
Later he added, “Nobody is poor out of choice, nobody commits suicide out of his or her choice, if somebody is poor it is because he or she is being forced to, if someone commits suicide it is because he or she was forced to … it will be very difficult to talk about individual rights if we don’t question their hegemony.”
On rumours of his entering politics he said that he will not join any political party or get into politics: “main andolan ka admi hoon, andolan mein rahunga” (I will always belong to the revolution, commit myself to the revolution).
On allegations that slogans like “Pakistan zindabad” were raised in JNU, he said that why should we limit to a few nations, and be forced to hail only one country, let us instead hail all countries, let us hail the world, let us say “humanity zindabad”.
At the end of the speech he laid out JNUSU’s demands that the Centre immediately release “UmarBan” and drop the charges against others implicated in the 9 February case. He also asked the Government to stop interfering in the functioning of academic institutions, increase in non-NET scholarships, better employment prospects, enactment of the Rohith Vemula Act, end to class-caste-sect-religious-gender-sex based discrimination, end to saffronization of education, recognition of the right to dissent, question, and criticize and the autonomy of educational institutions.
His speech, which lasted for about 45 minutes, was disrupted once on account of someone from outside trying to assault him while he was speaking. Though Kanhaiya did not seem much perturbed by this and asked to let the man approach him to discuss the matter with him. The press on the other hand lapped up his speech; earlier there was quite a pandemonium when he was asked to address the crowd, with photographers, reporters, and cameramen, trampling and falling on students sitting near the microphone to get a view of him.
Kanhaiya’s speech was followed by an address by Rajya Sabha MP and Leader of CPI (ML) Sitaram Yechury. Rajya Sabha Member (CPI) D. Raja, Kavita Krishnan, AISF President Vishvajeet were some of the others who addressed the crowd.
At around 6:30 PM the crowd appeared to be thinning visibly. No instance of violence was reported apart from the lone attack on Kanhaiya foiled by the police. However, few arrests were made by the police during the public address.
—The Informer correspondent.