We, the Graduate Employee Organization, the union of graduate student employees at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst believe that a University is a space for learning, debate, and discussion. It is only through the freedom of thought and expression that great ideas are produced that contribute to the progress of any country, and of knowledge in general. University spaces are vibrant, dynamic, and productive only when all kinds of opinions can be peacefully aired and discussed.
In this vein, we are extremely concerned about the violent and undemocratic crackdown on dissent on the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), one of the premier institutions in India.
- We strongly condemn the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, President of the JNU Students’ Union, on charges of sedition, criminal conspiracy, and unlawful assembly, and demand his immediate release.
- We strongly condemn the organized campaign to whip up public hysteria against students and teachers of JNU and other universities, create a climate of fear and oppression for the academic community, and stifle free speech. In particular, we condemn the targeting of and false accusations of being linked to terrorist groups against Umar Khalid, one of the organizers of a rally against state violence.
- We demand an immediate end to all outside police presence on campus, and that appropriate action be taken against the people who assaulted students and teachers at Kanhaiya Kumar’s court hearing.
The nexus between the media, the Delhi Police, the right wing RSS-BJP government and their student party ABVP, is clearly meant to delegitimize the student-led mass mobilization against the complicity of the state and its institutions in the recent suicide of Rohith Vemula at the University of Hyderabad, and undermine the powerful student protests funding cuts at public universities.
We believe that these actions by the Indian state and its associated institutions are part of a larger campaign to stifle dissenting voices in the country, especially on university campuses with a rich history of resisting patriarchal, capitalist, Brahminical, and Hindutva oppression by the ruling party and its affiliates. ‘Sedition’ is part of a vestigial colonial era law that was frequently used against leaders of the freedom movement, such as Gandhi and Nehru. It has no place in a democracy.
We firmly believe that student movements have historically played an important role at crucial junctures all over the world in fighting oppression: Tiananmen Square, or Tahrir Square; against the Vietnam War or the excesses of the Indian state during the Emergency. Stymieing this movement threatens the very basis of democracy.
We are extremely heartened by the zeal of the movement among the students and teachers of JNU and other universities across India, who are peacefully fighting the full force of the state machinery for the constitutional right to free speech, for the rights of women, Dalits, religious minorities, workers, and the poor and indigent.
-The GEO General Membership; unanimous vote of solidarity on March 3, 2016