Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, accused of sedition for shouting anti-India slogans, surrendered outside the institute’s gate on Tuesday night and were taken to South Campus RK Puram police station.
The duo came out of the university’s administrative block around 11.30pm and walked towards the main gate surrounded by hundreds of students, who formed a human chain and chanted “Comrade Kanhaiya, Lal Salam”.
Police waiting outside JNU didn’t enter the campus. The two students were put in a police van and driven around for some time, apparently to dodge mediapersons, after they surrendered.
A leader of the ultra-Leftist Democratic Students Union (DSU), Banojyotsna Lahiri, said they will return soon. “There is no need for anyone to be sad as the comrades will come back,” she said as DSU members stopped mediapersons from speaking to the Khalid and Bhattacharya.
The midnight drama unfolded after the Delhi high court refused to grant interim protection from arrest to Khalid and Bhattacharya, who had appealed for “safe passage” and a choice of place to surrender.
The court said it cannot allow them to surrender according to their “whims and fancies”. “There are procedures … which have to be followed,” Justice Pratibha Rani said.
Besides, the court directed Delhi Police to file a status report on arrested JNU student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar’s bail plea by Wednesday, the next date of hearing. The court, which advised the accused students to follow the rule of law, will also hear pleas of Khalid and Bhattacharya.
Kumar has been charged with sedition and arrested after TV news reported students making hate speeches and shouting anti-India slogans at a February 9 event on the campus to mark the anniversary of 2003 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru’s hanging.
Police opposed the bail plea of Kumar, who was arrested 11 days ago. “If he comes out on bail, he is bound to impact the investigation and influence witnesses. He is likely to indulge in activities that could break penal laws. That is why we have opposed his bail,” police chief BS Bassi said.
Khalid, a PhD scholar and former member of the ultra-radical DSU, was the organiser of the event. He, Bhattacharya, JNU student union general secretary Rama Naga, Ashutosh Kumar and Anant Prakash Narayan were accused by police of shouting seditious slogans.
They were hiding since Kumar’s arrest but resurfaced on the campus on Sunday night. They have not been arrested but police chief Bassi issued a warning. “If we feel that they are unlikely to abide by the law, we have options available and we will not shy away from using them,” he said.
Rama Naga, Ashutosh and Anant have agreed to cooperate with the police investigation.
When the court heard in the afternoon Khalid and Bhattacharya’s appeal for protection from arrest until their surrender, it asked the petitioners to secretly give details of the date, place and time where they will give in.
Their counsel, Kamini Jaiswal, told the court that her clients were facing “threat to life and limb”, constantly. She referred to media reports of some advocates threatening to kill the students.
Heavy security ringed the high court complex after violence at the Patiala House courts on February 15 and 17 when rogue lawyers assaulted Kumar, litigants as well as journalists.
Kumar, who will be in judicial custody till March 2, had moved his bail plea in the high court following a Supreme Court direction. He had approached the top court for bail citing threat to his life in Tihar jail.
He contended that he was falsely implicated and wrongly arrested on the basis of an FIR, which has no evidence that he had shouted anti-national slogans.
Delhi Police, in their latest report, cited evidence collected by the JNU internal inquiry committee that suggests eight students, including Kumar, allegedly shouted unconstitutional slogans.
But they failed to pinpoint anyone who eyewitnesses, including police personnel and JNU staff, had specifically claimed to have seen chanting anti-national slogans.
The report lists 29 slogans but doesn’t include “Pakistan Zindabad”, which was mentioned in the statement attached with the FIR, registered on the basis of a video clip obtained from Zee News.
The list of evidence against Kumar includes his presence in a group shouting slogans, attributed to eyewitnesses and the news channel’s footage.
The report mentions Khalid and Bhattacharya as the event organizers. But again, it does not specify whether the two were particularly spotted shouting anti-national slogans.