AN Indian court on Wednesday (March 2) granted bail to a student leader whose arrest on a controversial sedition charge last month sparked major protests and a nationwide debate over free speech.
Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on February 12 over a rally at Delhi’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) at which anti-India slogans were chanted. He has been in judicial custody in the capital’s Tihar jail since February 17.
On Wednesday the Delhi High Court granted Kumar six months’ interim bail while the police conduct an investigation into the case, ordering him to furnish a personal bond of Rs10,000 ($148).
The court also asked a JNU faculty member or a relative to put up the same amount as surety.
“Today the court granted interim bail for six months to the accused, subject to (the) outcome of the investigation,” a lawyer for the Delhi police, Shailendra Babbar, told reporters after the hearing.
“The court has taken a balanced view to ensure that the investigation is not affected and also making sure his (Kumar’s) liberty is not curtailed,” he added.
He is expected to be released from jail tomorrow evening, Vrinda Grover, a lawyer for Kumar, said.
“We welcome this order because clearly Kanhaiya has no role to play in any of this,” Grover added.
The student union leader denies he was among those chanting anti-India slogans at a rally to mark the 2013 hanging of Kashmiri separatist Mohammed Afzal Guru over a deadly 2001 attack on the Indian parliament.
Television footage on Wednesday showed students, who had been protesting against Kumar’s arrest in New Delhi earlier in the day, celebrating the news of his bail.
In his home village in the impoverished state of Bihar, his family and well-wishers were seen jubilantly smearing each other’s faces with coloured powder, setting off firecrackers and handing out sweets.
“I am feeling very relieved now… I have complete faith in the judiciary and our law and order. My son is not a traitor from any angle,” his father, Jaishankar Singh, told NDTV television network.
Kumar’s arrest sparked a major row over freedom of expression in India, bringing thousands of students, teachers and activists onto the streets.
Two other students are also accused of being among the organisers of the JNU event and have been arrested on the same sedition charge as Kumar.
Some rights campaigners say the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is using the British-era sedition law to clamp down on dissent.
Sedition carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment although convictions are rare.