NEW DELHI (AP) — Shouting slogans and holding placards, thousands of students and teachers marched through the heart of the Indian capital Tuesday to protest the recent death of a student who faced caste discrimination and the arrest of a student leader on sedition charges.
The protesters from New Delhi's two main universities marched near the Indian parliament, demanding the student's immediate release and condemning violence by supporters of the ruling Hindu nationalist party.
Kanhaiya Kumar, president of Jawaharlal Nehru University's student union, was arrested earlier this month over his participation in events where anti-India slogans were allegedly shouted.
Opposition politicians who addressed the rally accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government and his Bharatiya Janata Party of suppressing freedom of expression and fanning communal tensions.
Hundreds of policemen stood silently as the students, joined by thousands of teachers, journalists and ordinary citizens, shouted slogans and waved Indian flags.
"We will not tolerate attacks on freedom of speech," ''BJP government come to your senses," and "Down with the BJP government" the protesters shouted as they marched to the accompaniment of drums.
The turmoil that has gripped JNU has led to criticism that the Modi government is attacking freedom of expression and dissent, with the academic community condemning the ultra-nationalism promoted by Hindu nationalist groups.
"This is the result of the BJP's concerted attacks on students. The BJP has a single-point agenda to wipe out all opposition," said Shehla Rashid, a JNU student.
A New Delhi court has remanded Kumar in custody until March 2. Five other students who face similar allegations are expected to surrender to police later.
In Srinagar, the main city of Indian-controlled Kashmir, dozens of students in the University of Kashmir marched in the campus in solidarity with protesting JNU students.
Kashmir University students also demanded the release of Delhi University lecturer, S.A.R. Geelani, arrested last week on sedition charges for organizing an event in Indian capital where anti-India slogans were allegedly shouted along with criticism against the 2013 secret hanging of a Kashmiri separatist convicted of attacking the Indian Parliament.
The protesters are also demanding justice for Rohith Vemula, a student of Hyderabad University, who police say committed suicide after being subjected to sustained discrimination on account of his caste.
The protesters accused Hyderabad University's vice chancellor of unfairly demanding punishment for five lower-caste students, including Vemula, after they clashed last year with student supporters of the BJP.
Although caste discrimination was outlawed soon after India's independence from Britain in 1947, it remains influential. The government sets quotas at universities and in jobs to reverse the discrimination.