India

Student revolt: Inside India's volatile JNU campus

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Media captionStudents have been protesting the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar on sedition charges

The BBC's Vikas Pandey spends a day inside India's prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi amidst the highly charged debate over the arrest of a student leader on sedition charges.

The area near the main administrative block of JNU is filled with passionate students.

They cheer loudly as a speaker climbs on to a stage.

Slogans like "free Kanhaiya Kumar" and "long live revolution" fill the air as hundreds of visibly agitated students pour into the area.

Those gathered here believe that Mr Kumar, the leader of the university's student union, is innocent of the sedition charges levelled against him, and are shocked by the fact that police entered the university to arrest him on Saturday.

Police have alleged he organised an event commemorating the hanging of 2001 Parliament attacks convict Afzal Guru, where "anti-India slogans" were raised.

Image caption The Delhi police has been guarding the entrance of the university since the weekend, when Mr Kumar was arrested
Image caption The JNU student union has denied the allegation that Kanhaiya Kumar supported "anti-India" slogans
Image caption Several students blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi for Mr Kumar's arrest and spoke of growing "intolerance"

The students here passionately defend Mr Kumar when I ask them what actually happened at the event.

"We are not terrorists. We are just students and we also condemn anti-India slogans. Our president had nothing to do with those slogans at the event," a student tells me.

But she refuses to speak on camera.

"I don't want to be seen on camera. I am worried about my safety," she says.

Student activist Shreya Ghosh speaks of the fear prevailing inside the university.

"We have been sleeping in different rooms every night to avoid arrest," she says.

Image caption Shreya Ghosh says "police raids in the university have struck a sense of fear among most of us"
Image caption After the speeches ended, former JNU student and artist Maya Rao gave a provoking solo theatre performance

Another student activist Deepshita claims that ideological politics lies at the heart of Mr Kumar's arrest.

"Right-wing students want to increase their foothold in the university and that is why they got him [Mr Kumar] arrested. They feel bolstered because the right-wing BJP party is in power at the centre," she says.

Professor Rajarshi Dasgupta agrees.

Image caption Professor Rajarshi Dasgupta said: "It appears to me that the the BJP government is trying to impose its ideology in India's top universities."

It's 3pm and speakers are becoming more ferocious in their attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP party.

Among the speakers is Prof Ajith Kanna.

"If Kanhaiya is anti-national, then I am also anti-national," he tells the cheering crowd.

But he pleads with his students to remain peaceful and not pay attention to rumours.

And rumours are not in short supply, flying across the tension filled campus. Among them are that more than 100 armed right-wing activists have entered the campus.

Image caption Saurabh Kumar rejects allegations that the ABVP got Mr Kumar arrested to fuel "Left versus Right politics" in JNU
Image caption PhD student Ish Narayan also strongly criticises Kanhaiya Kumar for "insulting JNU with his anti-India" slogans

I meet right-wing student group Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) member Saurabh Kumar a few blocks away from the protest site.

"The law will decide whether he [Kanhaiya Kumar] is guilty or not but we won't tolerate anti-India activities inside this campus," he says.

But not everyone is protesting.

At one of the student housing facilities, I meet PhD students Bibas Sewa and Bijay Thapa.

The two condemn the arrest of Mr Kumar, but agree that the protests have disrupted their studies.

Even at a time when politics has gripped JNU, there are some students who just want to get on with their work.

Image caption Bijay Thapa urged the warring sides to indulge in dialogue to end the strike in the university
Image caption Bibas Sewa says the arrest and subsequent protests have led people to believe that JNU is anti-national

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