India

What nationalism means to Indian 'sedition' students

Image copyright Ronny Sen
Image caption Umar Khalid is a PhD student of history

"My name is Umar Khalid and I am not a terrorist."

Mr Khalid is among five Indian students facing charges of sedition after organising a protest at Delhi's prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). He and another student handed themselves over to the police on Tuesday night. Photographer Ronny Sen had earlier spoken to them about what nationalism means to them.

"They are saying I am an anti-national. If we are anti-nationals, I would say anti-nationals of the world unite. Our love for the people, our struggles, know no boundaries or borders," says Mr Khalid, a PhD student of history.

A section of the media had accused him of links with a Pakistan-based Islamist militant group, although the government later denied the reports.

"They [the government] are testing whether we will get scared and are playing these mind games. We accept that challenge and we will not get scared. We will fight back. Every student on our campus should voice their opinion without any fear of intimidation."

The five students, who had gone missing after they were named by police, resurfaced on the campus on Sunday night.

Critics have condemned the charges as an assault on freedom of expression, but government ministers have refused to back down, vowing to punish what they describe as "anti-national elements".

Anirban Bhattacharya was arrested along with Umar Khalid late on Tuesday.

Image copyright Ronny Sen
Image caption Anirban Bhattacharya says the government wants students to stop thinking

"As a Marxist I don't believe in nationalism, I believe in internationalism," says Mr Bhattacharya, who is doing his doctoral dissertation on tea garden workers.

"If someone asks me if I am a nationalist then I would say I am not. If anyone asks me if I am an anti-national then I think that question is not valid.

"Our government and the state want the students to stop thinking. We are living in a time when the moment you think, you become an anti-national."

Image copyright Ronny Sen
Image caption Anant Prakash Narayan says the authorities are trying to kill diversity

Anant Prakash Narayan is a PhD student at the university's centre for law of governance.

"There is a debate throughout the world about what nationalism means. There are different definitions and viewpoints," he says.

"Some say a nation was formed first and then nationalism followed. Another view is that first there was nationalism and the nation was born from there.

"For some, nationalism is associated with symbols - you hoist a flag at the border and you are a nationalist. Most fascist governments tend to associate symbols with nationalism.

"Many nationalities co-exist in India. But [our] government is trying to unify everything and trying to kill the diversity.

"We want to move beyond the symbolism and a narrower idea of nationalism preached by many. I associate the idea of nationalism with the working class and their struggles, the fight of the oppressed and the Dalits [formerly known as untouchables] and other underprivileged people."

Image copyright Ronny Sen
Image caption Rama Naga: "At JNU we fight for all people, including the Dalits and Muslims."

Rama Naga is a student of political science and the general secretary of the university's students' union.

"I don't think we should only love the country, we should also love the people of this country. That is what I understand by nationalism. At JNU we fight for all people, including the Dalits, Muslims and all marginalised sections of the society.

"The problem is that anyone who doesn't fit the ideas of nationalism laid down by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and their ideological mentors, the RSS, is labelled as anti-national."

Image copyright Ronny Sen
Image caption Ashutosh Kumar says he wants a society where there are no boundaries

Ashutosh Kumar is a PhD student of international studies at JNU.

"As a student of Marxism we talk about the unity of workers from all across the world. When we say 'workers of the world unite', that's what I imagine when I imagine of nationalism," he says.

"We think of a society where there are no boundaries. Today we have a society where 1% of the people own and control everything and exploit the rest 99%.

"They are the ones who define the ideas of nationalism and force them on us. We are fighting against them. The BJP and the RSS believe that whoever is born in India and is Hindu by religion can be an Indian.

"We reject this idea of nationalism."