Students in India took to the streets by the thousands on Thursday to protest what they say is government censorship at universities, especially after the arrest of a student leader on sedition charges.
The movement began at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, one of India’s top colleges, after politicians from the hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party said they thought discussions about nationalism at the school are “anti-national” and aimed at “dissolving” India.
In recent months, high-profile Indians have said that under the BJP, lead by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is becoming less tolerant of debate and criticism of government policies. Students say they’re demonstrating to protect their freedom of speech.
“We are not protesting just to save Kanhaiya Kumar. The battle is bigger than that,” Seemi Zafar, a PhD student at JNU studying social medicine, told the Washington Post. “I am marching to save the university culture that encourages you to raise difficult questions about nationhood, discrimination and injustice. That does not make students anti-national traitors. We want universities where we can freely discuss everything.”
A group of international academics and university leaders wrote an open letter earlier this week in support of the students. “We have learnt of the shameful act of the Indian government which, invoking sedition laws formulated by India’s colonial rulers, ordered the police to enter the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus and unlawfully arrest a student leader,” the letter began, going on to say they are concerned about the future of Indian universities.
Students at other universities around the country have said they will join the protests in solidarity with JNU in the coming week.