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Subin Dennis, PhD student at India’s largest University (JNU), says the students are jubilantly celebrating his release but will not rest until all the students in custody are released and their demands are met

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. The Indian government, led by the BJP Prime Minister Modi, is invoking sedition laws formulated by India’s colonial rulers. On February 12, they ordered Delhi police to enter the JNU campus in New Delhi and unlawfully arrest the president of the student union, Mr. Kanhaiya Kumar, on charges of [enticing] violence and sedition. After holding him in custody for almost 20 days, they’re poised to release him tomorrow, March 3. Joining us now to talk about all of this from New Delhi is Subin Dennis. He’s a Ph.D. scholar at the Center for Economic Studies and Planning at JNU. He was also former Delhi State vice president of the Student Federation of India. Subin, thank you so much for joining us today. SUBIN DENNIS: Thanks for having me. PERIES: So, Subin, there’s jubilation on campus as I speak to you this evening. It’s very late there. And the president of the student union is about to be released tomorrow morning. Tell us exactly what happened, and the sentiments on campus at the moment. DENNIS: Today evening, the Delhi high court granted interim bail to Kanhaiya Kumar for six months. So he will be released from custody tomorrow, because all these formalities with regard to the legal process have to be taken care of. So he will be released tomorrow. He is expected to be in campus sometime during the day tomorrow. And in the evening or late at night we will be taking a massive march of students and teachers and other sections of the university community. The mood in the campus is jubilant at the moment. There is also determination, that our struggle is not done yet. There are several other demands of our movement which are yet to be fulfilled, because not only Kanhaiya Kumar, two more students are still in jail – Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya – they have also been charged with sedition. And we are demanding that all charges on them also be dropped, they also be released. And also the academic suspension of eight students who have been suspended by the university without any inquiry. So those suspensions also should be revoked. We are also demanding that, I mean at the moment, the struggles in Hyderabad Central University and Jawaharlal Nehru University also have converged. So we are also demanding that those who are responsible for the death, for the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit research scholar in Hyderabad Central University should be punished. And those include two union ministers, Bandaru Dattatreya and Smriti Irani. We are demanding that they should be removed from their posts. We are also demanding legislation which is to be passed [maybe] in parliament, to prevent caste discrimination in higher educational institutions. So all these demands are still there. But at the moment we are celebrating this partial victory. PERIES: Subin, take us back to what exactly happened when the president of the student union, Kanhaiya Kumar, was arrested on February 12. DENNIS: Well, his arrest followed some events on February 9. A group of individual students had organized a [program] in memory of two people: Afzal Guru, who was a surrendered militant in Kashmir, and who was convicted for the attacks on the Indian parliament in the year 2001. He was hanged in 2013. He was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court, in its own words, to satisfy the collective conscience of the society, and not because there was evidence to justify his hanging. Therefore there are many people who consider him as a martyr. There are, of course, differences of opinion with regard to that. But it is clear that there was injustice with regard to his hanging. And the other person is Maqbool Bhat, who was also a separatist leader in Kashmir. He was hanged in 1984. So there was a program on February 9 organized by a group of students in memory of these two people, against the judicial killing, in their own words, against the judicial killing of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat. So it was alleged that there were so-called anti-national slogans raised during this program, and for which the [right wing] in India, which is ruling India currently, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, and its parent organization called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, RSS… So the RSS, the BJP, and the student wing –Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, ABVP, along with their allies in the media, they orchestrated a massive campaign all across India demanding there be a crackdown in JNU, against the anti-national activities going on in JNU. And following that, there was a police crackdown. So the allegation was that Kanhaiya Kumar was among those who led the anti-national sloganeering. Now, the problem with these arguments was that in the first place there was not a shred of evidence that Kanhaiya Kumar or any other JNU student who was accused in this case had raised any so-called anti-national slogan. And even if they did, those didn’t fall under the colonial, draconian law for sedition, because the sedition law has been interpreted by the Supreme Court in a very specific sense, that it will apply only if there is incitement to violence. In fact, even after these events there was no violence in campus. There was no law and order problem. So it was illogical that this law was applied in this case. But obviously the point that the RSS, the BJP and the ABVP were trying to make, is that JNU is something that is detrimental to the larger interests of society, as per their own conception of society, obviously. So for a long time, places like JNU have been on their radar, for a crackdown. In fact, way back in 2002, some leaders of the RSS, in fact the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which is also part of the larger family of organizations affiliated to the RSS, they had demanded that JNU should be closed down. Once again, following the incidents of February 9 there was a call to shut down JNU. In fact for two-three days the top trending topic in both Facebook and Twitter in India was “ShutDownJNU”. So following this call, the police [reached] the campus gates. They went into a negotiation with the JNU administration. And JNU has a new vice chancellor who was appointed only one week before February 9, and he is known to be close to the RSS. And along with the Registrar who is also known to be close to the RSS, he gave a blanket permission for the Delhi police to enter campus, pick up as many students as they want, and stay in the campus on the February 12. And he [Kanhaiya] was arrested, he was in judicial custody, he was in jail for 20 days. He has been granted bail today. He is expected to be released tomorrow. PERIES: And what is the situation of the other students that were arrested? Do you expect that they will be released as well? DENNIS: We are hoping that they will be released. As I said, there is not a shred of evidence that they raised these slogans. In fact, many of the videos that have been going around have been proven to be fake and doctored. And of course, there is no evidence that they raised these slogans. In fact, it is true that there were some sectarian, divisive slogans raised during the event. But there is no evidence that the jailed students – Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya – raised those slogans. That is there. But given what has been going on in this country, we are expecting that it will be a tough battle, but we are hoping that they will also be released. In fact, if we follow the due process of law as per the Indian constitution, and the Indian legal system, we are absolutely certain that they will be released. PERIES: All right, Subin. We thank you so much for joining us today, and we’ll be following the story along with you and hope you join us again very soon. DENNIS: Thank you. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Subin Dennis is a PhD scholar at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning in JNU, New Delhi. He is also a former Delhi State Vice-President of the Students' Federation of India (SFI).