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Granted bail, faces of JNU sedition row move on

india Updated: Aug 29, 2016 10:58 IST
Heena Kausar
Heena Kausar
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Kanhaiya Kumar, Shehla Rashid celebrate the release of Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya from jail with other JNU students in New Delhi on March 18, 2016. (HT file photo)

Over six months after 21 Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students landed in trouble in the wake of the February 9 event to commemorate Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, a Delhi court has now granted regular bail to JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar and his colleagues-- Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya.

On Friday, Delhi Police told the court that Kanhaiya and the two other students did not misuse interim bail conditions and cooperated with the probe in the sedition case.

Last month, the university on July 18 issued a notice blocking their registration for the next semester. However, four days later on July 22 it allowed the students to register themselves.

A look at how five of these students, who grabbed national headlines in the wake of the event six months back, are faring now:

Kanhaiya Kumar

JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar (HT file photo)

Course: PhD in African studies at the School of International Studies.

He was arrested on February 12 and was granted bail on March 2 after which he gave a much celebrated speech in which he said that they want “Azaadi” (Independence) within India and not from India.

Kanhaiya Kumar was elected two months ago as a member of the national executive of All India Students’ Federation (AISF), the student body of Communist Party of India (CPI).

In the final year of his PhD, Kanhaiya spends most of his time working on his thesis and issues concerning students.

The JNU student’s union president has been shuttling between Delhi and cities such as Pune, Patna, Begusarai, Mumbai and Hyderabad. He has been visiting different cities to address AISF local units and address students at various universities.

He recently attended a mega rally against atrocities on Dalits in Una.

With the admissions starting in JNU, Kumar is busy helping the new students with the process.

Umar Khalid

Umar Khalid (in red shirt) during the protest against Jharkhand government at JNU Campus in New Delhi on March 21, 2016. (HT file photo)

Course: PhD on condition of tribal communities in Jharkhand at the Centre for Historical Studies.

He is a former member of Democratic Students’ Union (DSU).

Khalid is in the last year of his PhD course and may get an extension for another year if he is able to finish 70% of his thesis. Khalid, a former member of Democratic Students’ Union, is mostly busy with student activism and working on his thesis.

“I need to finish 70% of my thesis work to get a 9B, an extension of one year to work on my PhD and I am hoping to get it. Of course, the last few months have been very difficult but I need to work hard,” he said.

Khalid, who mostly stays on the campus, said he spends time studying and raising issues that concern students. “We are politically active on the campus and do what we used to do before. Taking out rallies and making posters,” he said.

Anirban Bhattacharya

Anirban Bhattacharya in JNU. (HT file photo)

Course: PhD on history of tea garden workers in Jalpaiguri at the Centre for Historical Studies.

He is a former member of Democratic Students Union (DSU).

Bhattacharya, who was in the final semester of his PhD when he was arrested, recently submitted his thesis. Bhattacharya is now looking for a job in journalism, research and writing.

After coming out of jail, Bhattacharya had said that Kanhaiya Kumar had advised him to finish his thesis when they briefly met in jail.

Though he feels getting a job won’t be easy now, he is hopeful. “Finishing my PhD was almost like a collective responsibility after all that we went through. I realise that not all jobs will be open for me but I am applying for jobs as a reporter,” he said.

He just returned to Delhi after meeting his family in West Bengal.

Rama Naga

Course: MPhil on agrarian relations and the role of the corporate sector in Odhisha at the Centre for Political Studies.

He is a member of the Left-backed All India Students’ Association.

The 24-year-old is in second year of his MPhil. Naga, who was elected general secretary of JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) last year, has submitted his dissertation.

“It has been around six months and in these months we have faced a lot but it only motivates me to work harder,” he said.

Naga has visited some campuses, including Hyderabad Central University, to interact with students. Naga in one of his recent trips to Hyderabad met Radhika, the mother of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula, who allegedly committed suicide.

He said he mostly busy with issues concerning students in the campus.

Rama Naga (left) along with JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar (third from left) and the union vice-president Shehla Rashid (second from left) on the JNU campus in New Delhi (PTI file photo)

Saurabh Sharma

Course: PhD in Computational Neuroscience at the School of Computational and Integrative Science

Sharma, who belongs to Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, was elected as the JNUSU’s joint secretary last year. He is the only ABVP member in JNUSU.

Sharma was the main complainant in the February 9 incident. The JNU high-level inquiry committee imposed a fine on Sharma for blocking traffic. “I was the person who complained against the anti-national activities on the campus yet I was punished,” he said.

The ensuing months since February have been very hectic for him and he is now trying to spend more time on studies. “There is no doubt that my studies were affected and now I am spending more time on studies,” he said. He said he is now busy with campus activism and raising issues concerning students.

What invited trouble for students

An event was organised on February 9 to commemorate 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru in JNU. Anti-national slogans were allegedly raised at the duo.

This led to the arrest of three students against whom sedition charges were slapped.

JNU Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya were arrested and later released on bail.

Protests in JNU when Kanhaiya and his friends where in jail on sedition charges. (HT file photo)

Following the arrests, the university rose in protest, which brought Left-leaning students, teachers, alumni, academicians and activists together.

The ‘Stand with JNU’ protest went on for months. Classes were boycotted, teachers conducted open air classes on ‘nationalism’ at the administrative block that has since come to be known as ‘Freedom Square’.

A counter protest was organized by RSS-backed ABVP, which was the main complainant against the organizers of the controversial event. Alleging that anti-national slogans were raised at the event, ABVP’s Saurabh Sharma and others organized a parallel lecture series on ‘nationalism’.

A High-Level Inquiry Committee (HLEC) appointed by JNU found 21 students guilty of indiscipline and imposed punishments ranging from fine to rustication.

Some students challenged the punishments in the High Court after which the V-C appointed a four member appellate committee to hear appeals of students found guilty of indiscipline by the HLEC. The appellate committee recently decreased the financial punishments for most students but kept it same for Bhattacharya and Khalid.