Hours after it registered a sedition case against a group of “unidentified” Kashmiri students of the Swami Vivekananda Subharti University (SVSU) in Meerut for reportedly cheering Pakistan’s victory against India in a cricket match on Sunday, the Uttar Pradesh police on Thursday withdrew the charge.
The turnaround came after the move triggered outrage, with Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeting that the “sedition charge against Kashmiri students is an unacceptably harsh punishment that will ruin their futures and will further alienate them”. He later spoke to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) also sought a detailed report from the state government. While the UP police reportedly tried to justify the action, the MHA is learnt to have advised the state government to handle the matter sensitively.
Meerut SSP Onkar Singh confirmed that the charge under Section 124-A (sedition) was withdrawn after the investigating officer found no evidence in this regard. He said the case was registered based on the details provided by the university authorities.
“However, Sections 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.) and UP police slaps sedition charge on Kashmiri students for cheering Pak, then withdraws it 427 (damage to government property) against unidentified students will be investigated,” he said.
While the SVSU suspended 65 students for three days earlier this week, the university authorities on Wednesday evening lodged an FIR at the Jaani police station against “unidentified students of a particular group”. Following the FIR, the police registered the cases against the “unidentified students”. The SSP said the university authorities would be asked to identify the students.
“Very glad that the UP police has withdrawn the sedition case against the boys. Grateful to Akhilesh Yadav for his intervention in the case,” tweeted Abdullah late on Thursday.
Earlier in the day, he tweeted that “what the boys may have done in Meerut is misguided, (but) it certainly isn’t illegal”. He said the “university did what it had to to control the situation but this action by the UP Govt is uncalled for & should be reversed.”
The minimum punishment for a sedition offence is three years and the maximum is life sentence.
PDP spokesperson Nayeem Akhar said the UP government’s action would lead to further alienation. The separatist leadership also expressed concern. “This reflects that Kashmiri people are under suppression in every place’’ said Syed Ali Geelani. Hurriyat Conference Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq termed it as a reflection of communal mindset and racial bias.
Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed tweeted, “Expulsion of Kashmiri students from a university & charges of sedition for supporting Pakistan in cricket explains how ‘democratic’ India is”. He further said, “Indian mindset against Kashmiris is exposed yet again by this sad incident, while immense love for Pakistan by Kashmiris is very clear too.”
Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said it was unfortunate that the students had been booked for sedition. “If these Kashmiri students want to come and pursue their studies in Pakistan, our hearts and academic institutions are open to them,” said Aslam.
“The Nawaz Sharif government says it wants good relations with India, but the foreign office spokesperson meddles in India’s domestic affairs. The two can’t go hand in hand,” said a senior Indian government official.
Meanwhile, many of the students who returned to their homes in the Valley said they would not go back to the university as they feared for their lives. Ajaz Ahmad, a student, alleged that the Kashmiri students were targeted after the match. “The window panes of our hostel were broken. We all slept in one room as we were afraid that we would be attacked at night,’’ he said.
— With ENS, New Delhi
Sedition charge against Kashmiri students is an unacceptably harsh punishment that will ruin their futures & will further alienate them… While what the boys may have done in Meerut is misguided it certainly isn’t illegal, regardless of who they were cheering.
OMAR ABDULLAH, On Twitter