Tension over Kashmir resurfaced in the form of a cricket match, as 67 students were charged with sedition after cheering on a Pakistani team at their university in Meerut, India on March 2. The Kashmiri students, who were attending the College of Swami Vivekan and Subharti University in India’s Uttar Pradesh region, faced life sentences before widespread outcry from other students across the country.

Protesters argued the seriousness of the sedition charges, which many did not feel their actions warranted, eventually succeeding in getting them dropped to a misdemeanor disturbance of public harmony. Prior to the charges being dropped, the students’ defense claimed that they never threatened to bring down the government nor tried to hurt India’s national integrity.

The case quickly gained national attention after the Opposition Peoples Democratic Party publicly demanded leniency and an apology from the University and state officials for their acts of “fascism.” Also, active in demonstrations were the Kashmir University Students Union as well as several chief officials from the northeastern regions of Uttar Pradesh and Jammu. The Pakistani Government who has offered to welcome their own universities to the students at hand.

Many critics feel as though the charges were motivated by ethnic and political discrimination, since the students committed no actual illegal act outside of rooting for the wrong team. The contentious Kashmir region has been the subject of controversy since it was divided between India and Pakistan in the 1947 partition and has prompted two Indo-Pakistani wars in the decades since.

According to the Student Union, the scenario “is nothing new, but a testimony to the fact that we have been in a perpetual state of war with India for the past 67 years.”

Since 1989, popular insurgency has been fighting for either Kashmiri independence or a complete merge with Pakistan. Sentiments of nationalism resonated in the arrested students’ actions, which reports say consisted of cheers of “Long live Pakistan” and “We want freedom.”

Vice chancellor of their university, Manzoor Ahmed, holds the students responsible and supports the sedition accusations, stating “You cannot pass judgments against your own national team. Their behavior was not conducive to peace on campus. It creates bad blood with the local boys.”

However, the students themselves claim the cheers were not political at all, but rather inspired by loyalty to their cricket team alone. Cricket is the national pastime of India, and has enjoyed popularity in South Asia due to the lingering legacy of British colonial rule. Cricket events, like the Asia Cup in which the two national teams were competing at the time of the arrests, are valued as one of the only spaces for tolerance and friendship between India and Pakistan, who both share a love of the game.

– Stefanie Doucette

Sources: Al Jazeera America, Times of India, New York Times
Photo: The Star