Kochi college: Arrest of 5 students sparks freedom of expression row

The students, who faced charges under the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, were produced before a court, which granted them bail.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram | Published: December 22, 2016 4:59 am

The arrest of five students of Kochi-based Maharaja’s College Wednesday, on charges of damaging property and furniture at the institute, has triggered a row over freedom of expression. A section of students have alleged that the five were actually arrested for scribbling on college walls verses from poems of famous Malayalam writers.

The students, who faced charges under the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, were produced before a court, which granted them bail.

The arrest drew protests, with cultural leaders and intellectuals saying that students’ right to draw graffiti should be protected and that the arrest infringed upon the freedom of expression. As the issue came after a few controversial arrests in recent days, police came under fire for alleged highhandedness.

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Police said the five students were arrested based on a complaint from college principal N L Beena over damage of property. “This complaint was lodged last month. We arrested the five students after ensuring that they were the real culprits,’’ said police.

Two days ago, the principal moved another complaint about scribblings on the walls, alleging that they are vulgar and would hurt religious sentiments. Police have registered a case in this regard and investigation is on.

The principal confirmed lodging the second complaint. “I am not against artistic expressions of students or freedom of expression. But these writings should have been avoided. After the complaint, students removed the controversial graffiti,’’ said the principal.

A section of students have said the scribblings were verses from works of litterateurs Sachidanandan and Kureepuzha Sreekumar.

However, CPM student wing SFI, which holds considerable sway in this government college with deemed university status, struck a different note.

SFI’s state general secretary M Vijil said the verses were not from any poem and that they were vulgar and could have hurt religious sentiments. There was nothing wrong in registering a case in the issue, he said, adding that SFI was not associated with the matter and that the five arrested students had earlier been sacked from the organisation.

“Those who were arrested were involved in damaging college furniture and property. Raking up the graffiti issue is a bid to divert attention,” said the SFI leader.

Meanwhile, a section of students gheraoed the principal on Wednesday evening. However, the principal told them that the case in connection with damage to property would not be withdrawn.

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