Delhi University professor SAR Geelani, booked for sedition for allegedly organising an event at the Press Club of India to mark the death anniversary of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, was detained by police on Monday evening.
The detention came on a day political tensions over alleged anti-India protests at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) spilled over to a Delhi court where a mob of lawyers thrashed reporters before a hearing in a sedition case against student leader Kanhaiya Kumar.
“Geelani has been detained and he is being questioned at the Parliament Street police station,” a senior police official said following suo motu action based on media clips of the alleged incident.
At the Patiala House court, lawyers were seen forcibly throwing out faculty members and students belonging to the university, shouting “Long live India, down with JNU”. Kumar, the JNU student union president, has been charged with sedition and criminal conspiracy for an allegedly seditious speech last week to mark the anniversary of Guru’s execution.
The court violence came a day after home minister Rajnath Singh said the “anti-India” event at JNU was supported by Hafiz Saeed, who New Delhi alleges was the brain behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, following a series of tweets by the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief under a hashtag supporting JNU.
But the account may have been fake, leading to Saeed taking potshots at the Indian government and calling it a “prime example of how the Indian government fools its own people”.
Many have called Kumar’s arrest an attempt to muzzle free speech at one of India’s best universities but the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the organisation that first filed the complaint, said it was merely defending the country’s honour against “anti-national” elements.
Asked about the court violence, home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi said: “Law would take its own course. Anyone violating it will be dealt accordingly.”
The Delhi high court is scheduled to hear a plea seeking a National Investigation Agency investigation into sedition charges on Tuesday while the police appeared confident of its probe in the case. Kumar was sent to two days of police custody.
“There is irrefutable proof against Kanhaiya Kumar . The police are looking into various tweets that are blasphemous and objectionable,” Delhi police commissioner BS Bassi told HT.
Thousands of students continued to paralyse JNU for a fourth day on Monday, erecting barricades and shouting slogans demanding Kumar’s release. The university teachers said they would boycott classes on Tuesday in support of the striking students.
The university’s vice-chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar distanced himself from the controversy, saying he was bound by the “law of land”.
“I never invited the police to enter the campus and pick our students. We only provided whatever cooperation was needed as per the law of the land. We were bound to do so,” he said.
Controversial Hindu leader Sadhvi Prachi also visited JNU on Monday as teachers of 40 central universities backed the demonstrations.
This is the latest in a series of rows on university campuses that have involved the ruling party. The BJP was the target of a months-long stir at Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India against the appointment of actor Gajendra Chauhan as chairperson.
At University of Hyderabad last month, thousands of students gathered to demonstrate against the Centre after the death of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula, following revelations that Union minister Bandaru Dattatreya wrote a letter that led to the PhD student’s suspension.