NEW DELHI, Feb 23, (Agencies): 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 fl ags. 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.
In Srinagar, the main city of Indiancontrolled 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 fi ve 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 infl uential. The government sets quotas at universities and in jobs to reverse the discrimination.
A political ally of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was shouted down on Tuesday by a crowd angered by rioting in a northern state that destroyed businesses, paralysed transport and cut water supplies to metropolitan Delhi. The chief minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar was heckled by local people in the town of Rohtak, northwest of the capital, after they objected to his comments promising that they would receive compensation. More than a week of unrest involving the Jat rural caste has challenged the authority of Modi, who was elected in 2014 with the largest majority in three decades but has publicly ignored the outburst of anger over a lack of jobs.
Although Jat leaders reached a deal late on Monday to end more than a week of protests that killed 19 people and injured 170, anger was still boiling among the victims whose livelihoods had been ruined. Live TV pictures showed Khattar giving up his attempt to address angry people on the street. After retreating indoors to give an impromptu news conference, he repeated his promise of compensation only to be shouted down again. Soon after Modi won national power, Khattar led his nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to power in Haryana, a state of 25 million people, for the fi rst time.
There was a trail of destruction through the town, one of several to be hit by Jat agitation to demand more government jobs and college places, with one Hyundai dealership gutted. Traders who staged an earlier sit-down protest said they had lost everything. “I had two showrooms on the road both were fi rst looted and then set on fi re. I have nothing left now,” Anil Kumar told Reuters Television. Kumar appealed to Modi and to chief minister Khattar for compensation: “Are we not humans? Don’t our votes count? Why did they not have any mercy on us? Don’t we pay our taxes?”
A water crisis in India’s capital will take up to two weeks to fi x, authorities warned Tuesday, as taps ran dry, days after protesters sabotaged a crucial waterway to press a demand for better treatment for their caste.
The Jat caste called off their protests on Monday after the government in the northern state of Haryana accepted their demands following days of riots, arson and looting that saw thousands of troops deployed. But New Delhi’s water board was still racing to restore full supplies to the city of 17 million people that relies heavily on a canal running through Haryana, which encircles the city on all but its east side.
Senior water board offi cial Neeraj Semwal said just four of the city’s nine water treatment plants were operating, forcing rationing of supplies to many areas. “We are hoping to restore partial services in the next two to three days and 100 percent supply within next 15 days,” Semwal told AFP. “North, west and south Delhi districts were severely affected by the water shortage with thousands of households not getting regular water supplies.” Delhi water minister Kapil Mishra tweeted that the crisis was “not over yet” and urged residents to conserve water.