NEW DELHI: Dozens of lawyers, many with links to India’s ruling nationalist party, on Wednesday attacked protesters demanding the release of a student leader arrested under India’s colonial-era sedition laws.
The clashes began shortly before a court hearing for Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the students’ union at the country’s premier Jawaharlal Nehru University. Kumar has been in prison since Friday.
Soon afterward, a grimacing and cowering Kumar was escorted onto the court premises on foot by a few policemen. Several reports said that he was punched and kicked as he was taken inside the courtroom.
About a dozen lawyers threw rocks at reporters and protesters. One of them grabbed the camera strap of an Associated Press photographer, bruising his hand and breaking his lens. At least one reporter also said that the lawyers beat him and broke his cellphone while the police looked on.
The attacks and Kumar’s arrest highlighted allegations of increasing of intolerance in India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.
Kumar, a left-leaning campus leader, is accused of sedition for participating in events where slogans against India allegedly were shouted along with criticism of the 2013 secret hanging of a Kashmiri separatist convicted of an attack on Parliament. His arrest took place after a student faction linked to the BJP filed a police complaint.
The lawyers waved Indian flags and chanted slogans like “glory to Mother India” and “traitors leave India.” Many of the lawyers seen on television footage Wednesday had been involved in similar violence Monday when reporters and Kumar’s supporters were beaten outside the court premises.
The violence occurred despite the Supreme Court ordering the police to ensure security ahead of Wednesday’s hearing. Delhi Police chief B.S. Bassi has said that the police were trying to identifying those involved in the violence but have made no arrests despite several newspapers naming the lawyers and publishing their photographs prominently.
India’s sedition laws were drafted by its British colonial rulers to suppress the country’s freedom struggle and in recent years the country’s Supreme Court has said that those laws should be invoked only when there is actual evidence of incitement to violence.