mayank's photo from march

Thousands of Flower-Wielding Protestors March in Delhi for The Right to Dissent

This is an update on the current student movement for the right to dissent in India. For the complete background story, see Feministing’s previous coverage, here.

The saga at Jawaharlal Nehru University — and the fight for the right to dissent in India — continues.


Kanhaiya Kumar, president of the JNU student union who was arrested on charges of sedition, appeared before court once again to request bail, which he was denied. Journalists were again beaten in full sight of inactive police at the courtroom; Delhi police commissioner B.S. Bassi dismissed the beating as a “minor incident,” to much (and often very funny) criticism. Right wing groups continued to protest at the JNU campus gates.

At JNU’s administrative complex, where the protest is centered, professors began a lecture series on nationalism. This is exactly what is so incredible about the free exchange of ideas in general: When right-wing groups physically attack JNU students and professors for not being nationalist enough, our answer is to put on a protest lecture series questioning what nationalism is.

Here’s a video of the first speaker, Professor Gopal Guru.


There was a hugely successful march in Delhi which more than 12,000 people attended — including students, professors, intellectuals, academics, lawyers, and other Delhi people from all walks of life. While the JNU Vice Chancellor issued a statement in the morning telling JNU students they shouldn’t protest due to concerns for their safety, 14 or 15 busloads of students arrived in central Delhi from JNU alone, in what many were saying was the biggest turnout since the 2012 Nirbhaya protests.

In response to concerns about potential violence from right-wing groups or use of police force against protesters, protesters armed themselves with roses. The Delhi streets became a sea of colorful signs and flowers as thousands of protesters expressed their solidarity against the state’s politically-motivated action against free speech. The protest was completely peaceful.

mayank's photo from march

Photo credit: Mayank Jain

Protestors’ slogans included the chant “JNU! JNU!” and “Release Comrade Kanhaiya!” and two of my favorite Hindi leftist protest slogans, included below [translations my own]:

Qadam qadam pe ladhe hai tumse

qadam qadam pe ladhenge —

dam hai kitna daman mein tere

dekh liya hai, dekhenge.

Jaga hai kitna jail mein tere

dekh liya hain, dekhenge.


Step by step we have fought you

we’ll fight step by step til the end —

How much force there is in your oppression

We’ve seen it, and we’ll see it again.

How much space there is in your jails

we’ve seen, and we’ll see it again.


Ladho padhai karne ko

Padho samaj badalne ko


Fight for the right to study;

Study to change the world.

One important development at the protest was the number of signs in support not only of Kunhaiya Kumar, our student union president, but of Umar Khalid, another JNU student activist who has been charged with sedition. Umar, an organizer of the protest and cultural night on the 9th where the “anti-national” slogans were supposedly shouted, is a far-left student activist who has been the focus of a dangerous right-wing media witch hunt. His life has been threatened, his family — including his twelve year old sister — has been threatened, and right wing media units have been spreading the rumor that he has alleged Islamic extremist ties. Khalid, on the other hand, is a communist and a devoted atheist who seems as likely to be a jihadi as I am to be a Russian spy (read: very, very unlikely), and many feel that this link is a discriminatory one based entirely on his Muslim name. Read more about the threats to Umar here.

You can check out more coverage of the protest here.


Support continues to pour in from all the over the world, as letters of solidarity come from groups including academics across the UK, writers and activists in Nepal, and the Democratic Students’ Alliance in Pakistan.  

Today’s nationalism lecture was given by Professor Vivek Kumar.

Today on the campus, among other programs — including another teach-in on nationalism and one on rural poverty and farmer suicide — was a dastan-e-sedition, or a dastangoi about sedition. Dastangoi is a form of Urdu storytelling.

As we all stood at the end of the story to applaud the performers in the newly humid Delhi air, the sense of community was palpable.

I’ll end with the words of revolutionary Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz — words that have been quoted a lot in the past week, words which JNU students painted onto the red stone outside of the administration building to mark the ground where, for the last week, so many free words have been spoken.

Bol, ke lab azaad hai tere:

Bol, zabaan ab tak teri hai,

Tera sutwan jism hai tera –

Bol, ke jaan ab tak teri hai…

Jism o zabaan ki maut se pahle;

Bol, ye thora waqt bahut hai,

Bol, ke sach zinda hai ab tak –

Bol, jo kuchh kahna hai kah-le!


Speak, for your lips are still free

Speak: Language is still yours

Your upright body is yours

Speak, for life is still yours…

Speak — this little time is enough

Before the death of body and tongue

Speak, for the truth is still alive.

Say what you have to say: Speak!

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing her masters.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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