Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir have arrested seven students under a stringent terror law for allegedly celebrating India’s defeat in the cricket World Cup finals earlier this month, drawing severe criticism.
The students of Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST) have been booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), a law deemed draconian by several rights groups.
The law, which makes securing bail almost impossible, has largely been used by India’s Hindu nationalist government against political dissenters and Muslim activists.
A senior police officer in Indian-administered Kashmir told Al Jazeera there was a face-off between the accused and some non-local students on November 19 as they watched a TV broadcast of India playing against Australia at the Narendra Modi Stadium in the western state of Gujarat.
Australia beat India by six wickets to win a record-extending sixth men’s ICC Cricket World Cup, dashing India’s hopes of a third win after 1983 and 2011.
“A non-local student submitted a written complaint naming the seven Kashmiri students for abusing and threatening him and raising pro-Pakistan slogans. On the basis of the complaint, the case has been registered under the UAPA,” he said.
The non-local students at SKUAST’s Shuhama campus in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district allege the seven Kashmiri students raised anti-India and pro-Pakistan slogans after India lost the game.
“After finishing the match they [students] started abusing me and targeting me for being a supporter of our country,” read the complaint by the 20-year-old student, who has not been identified by the police.
The seven students have been charged with Section 13 of UAPA which deals with advocating, abetting, or inciting the commission of any unlawful activity, and Sections 505 and 506 of the Indian Penal Code which deals with intent to incite offence against any other class or community and criminal intimidation.
As the move to invoke terror charges in a case related to sport was criticised, police on Tuesday issued a statement, defending their action.
“It is not about dissent or freedom of expression. It is about terrorising others who may be nourishing pro-India feelings or anti-Pakistan feelings,” said the statement.
A SKUAST official, on condition of anonymity since he was not authorised to speak to the media, told Al Jazeera the non-local students did not complain to the university administration and went directly to the police.
“If the students would have approached us, we could have sorted the matter out internally. The complaint did not reach us,” he said.
The official said the arrested students are in their early 20s and are studying fourth-year Bachelor of Veterinary Science.
“Even if our children made a mistake out of emotional foolishness, the harsh charges on them should be dropped. This will ruin their lives. We are requesting the government to save their future,” a relative of one of the students told Al Jazeera.
Fearing reprisals from the government, the relative did not want to be named.
It’s not the first time Kashmiri students have been charged in a case linked to cricket, a game extremely popular in the subcontinent. India and Pakistan, which both claim the Himalayan region of Kashmir in its entirety but rule over parts of it, are also arch-cricketing rivals.
In October 2021, police in Indian-administered Kashmir filed criminal cases under the same UAPA law against some students of two medical colleges for allegedly celebrating Pakistan’s victory against India in the Twenty20 World Cup. The charges were later dropped.
In another incident during the 2014 Asia Cup tournament, nearly 60 Kashmiri students were suspended by a college in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh after they allegedly celebrated Pakistan’s win over India.
Anti-India sentiments in the Indian-administered Kashmir have turned more intense since 2019 when New Delhi unilaterally scrapped its partial autonomy and brought the region under its direct control.
In a statement, the Jammu and Kashmir Students Association, a local student body, said the students booked under the UAPA belong to poor families. It demanded the dropping of the charges against them.
“The UAPA charges should be withdrawn as this punishment could ruin their future,” the association said.
Mehbooba Mufti, the last elected chief minister of the region, said the case against the students was “disconcerting and shocking”.
“Normalising slapping of laws like UAPA on journalists, activists and now students reveals the ruthless mindset of the establishment towards youngsters in [Kashmir],” she wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.