The police came first Thursday, the students later, backed by several groups including teachers, artists and citizens for a march to demand release of JNU students’ union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar and retraction of charges against other students.
Those who turned up for the march from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar described it as one to reclaim the soul of democracy. The numbers were too many for Jantar Mantar and the destination ended up being Parliament Street. Police personnel arrived at about 12.30 pm for the march scheduled to start at 2 pm.
People started gathering at Mandi House at the designated time. As the anticipation built up, JNU students reached Barakhamba Road in several buses at about 3 pm and the crowd surged. Several police battalions were on guard at the Mandi House circle and police vehicles patrolled Bhagwan Das Road and Barakhamba Road. More personnel were radioed in before the march. Police came equipped with anti-riot gear, tear gas shells, lathis and shields. On standby was a water cannon.
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The march began and chants rose, decrying the sedition law under which the JNUSU president has been charged.
Students said slapping the sedition law on campuses was the biggest disservice to higher education and free thought. Placards were out in full strength. “Killers of Rohith, Go back”, “First FTII, then IIT-Madras, then HU and now JNU” and “Kanhaiya wadh karega, Kansa ka (referring to a scene from Hindu mythology where Krishna slays his evil uncle)” were among them.
Youngsters sang, clapped to drums and chanted as they marched. Many were in t-shirts carrying the words “Mera Yaar Kanhaiya” with an image of the arrested JNUSU president. Students alleged Kanhaiya was being targeted for raising concerns about the Centre’s policies. “He (Kanhaiya) was at the forefront of the Occupy UGC movement. This is why he is being targeted by the government,” said a student of Ambedkar University.
Leaders Brinda Karat, D Raja and Yogendra Yadav, journalist P Sainath, filmmaker Rahul Roy, theatre and film personality M K Raina, actor Swara Bhaskar, former NSD director Anuradha Kapur and photographer Ram Rahman were among those who participated in the march.
The crowd converged on Parliament Street at about 4.30 pm. Shortly thereafter, JNUSU vice president Shehla Rashid spoke to the gathering”. “We see before us people from all walks of life. This is the support we have. We are innocent, JNU is innocent. Stop tarnishing the image of our institution.”
Condemning the attack on journalists, students and Kanhaiya Kumar at Patiala House Courts on two days, advocate Ashok Agarwal of the All India Lawyers Union said, “The attacks were blatantly against the sanctity of law and in direct contradiction to the words ‘fair trial’. We are in solidarity with the students, teachers and journalists who were attacked and demand the arrest of Vikram Singh Chauhan (the lawyer who led the attacks on Monday and was in the group that assaulted Kanhaiya Kumar Wednesday).”
Many pointed to the resignation of three ABVP leaders of JNU and suggested it was “proof that more and more people are deserting the ranks of the government”. Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, said, “This government is trying to stifle dissent… We argue, we debate, we dissent, we are JNU.”
The march stayed peaceful, with security personnel busying themselves with guiding traffic through Connaught Place and strolling alongside.
Several JNU students came armed with roses, both red and white, and carried the Tricolour to present to people if they faced violence.