Concerned by the same, we condemn the extra-constitutional detention of the JNU Students’ Union leader Kanhaiya Kumar alongside seven other students on February 9, 2016. In free societies, universities must be places of academic freedom, and sites for constructive dissent, critical thinking, and open debate between scholars and citizens, free from the threats of politically-motivated violence, threats, or intimidation. The JNU students facing charges of sedition – a relic of colonial law that has been the subject of intense scrutiny by the Supreme Court of India itself – were exercising this very academic freedom. In questioning the controversial execution of Afzal Guru, accused of plotting the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, these students breached no law; their detention is an affront on the paramount value of freedom of expression.
In the wake of the events of February 9 on the JNU campus, students, faculty, journalists and lawyers have been intimidated, threatened, and assaulted – not least when attending court in support of Kanhaiya Kumar’s hearing. From our vantage, and the reports of our colleagues and friends in India, the events transpiring in Delhi appear part of a wider assault on free expression, public education, and the tolerance which has been a hallmark of Indian civic life. We are concerned about the rise of an atmosphere where questioning the state’s role in entrenching caste and class hegemony is cast as “anti-national,” and where dissent or critique of a ruling party is rendered seditious.
We, members of a vibrant academic community with extensive professional ties to our colleagues in India, offer our solidarity to the students, staff, and faculty of Jawaharlal Nehru University. We view this struggle as part of a larger, global effort to resist mounting attacks on democratic expression, political dissent, and the academic freedom which stands at the heart of free societies the world over.