Some 60 students from Indian-administered Kashmir may face sedition charges for cheering Pakistan’s victory over India in a recent cricket match, police said on Thursday.
Police were investigating the students following a complaint from university officials in the northern city of Meerut over celebrations following Pakistan’s win on Sunday in an Asia Cup clash.
The students, all enrolled at the Swami Vivekanand Subharti University (SVSU), have been suspended and were escorted from campus following the match due to concerns about violence with other Indian students, university sources said.
“The SVSU administration on Wednesday submitted a written complaint against unknown persons for indulging in anti-national activities and creating a ruckus on the university campus,” Meerut police chief Omkar Singh said.
“We have registered a case and the probe is on,” Singh explained.
“If evidence is established against the accused, there is a set legal procedure to be followed in such cases. The law will take its own course,” he said, adding that any charges would be ones of sedition.
Muslim-majority Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan but each claims it in full. They have fought two wars since 1947 over the northern Himalayan territory.
Since 1989 Indian forces have been fighting militant groups seeking independence or the merger of the territory with Pakistan, with repressive policing and human rights abuses feeding into local anti-India resentment.
Many Kashmiris associate more with Pakistan, a Muslim-majority Islamic republic, than with Hindu-majority India which is officially secular.
Indian Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah said any sedition charges would be “unacceptably harsh”.
“Sedition charge against Kashmiri students is an unacceptably harsh punishment that will ruin their futures and will further alienate them,” Abdullah said on Twitter.
“I believe what the students did was wrong and misguided but they certainly didn’t deserve to have charges of sedition slapped against them.”
Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman said sedition charges against the students would be “very unfortunate”.
“If the Kashmiri students want to come and pursue their education in Pakistan, our hearts and academic institutions are open to them,” Tasnim Aslam told reporters in Islamabad.
The trouble began when the students were watching the headline clash on television in the university’s community hall.
Some of the students were accused of chanting “Pakistan Zindabad (hail Pakistan)” and damaging university property during celebrations after Pakistan won, a university official said on condition of anonymity.
In 2012, an anti-government cartoonist was arrested in another sedition case, raising concerns about limits on freedom of speech.
Prosecutors later dropped the charge against the cartoonist whose online drawings included the national parliament depicted as a huge toilet bowel in a comment against corruption.