NEW DELHI — Cricket is serious business in India. Even more so if you dare cheer for Pakistan.
A group of students was kicked out of a private university and briefly charged with sedition this week for cheering for Pakistan in Sunday's nail-biting Asia Cup match between the two rival nations.
Pakistan won. India lost. And the cheering students, from the troubled province of Kashmir, were booted out of school.
The students from Swami Vivekanand Subharti University in the northern Indian city of Meerut had celebrated in the university dorm and chanted pro-Pakistan slogans after watching the Pakistani win on TV, Vice Chancellor Manzoor Ahmad told the local media. This got other student groups angry.
Police said 67 students were arrested and charged with sedition, mischief and promoting enmity between two groups.
"The case has been registered for being against own country and supporting the other," said Onkar Singh, a police officer, told Indian television reporters Wednesday.
Criticism of the charges mounted on social media — and then the government of Uttar Pradesh, where Meerut is located, withdrew the sedition charges. Other charges remain.
Ridiculous to charge students with sedition. As is said — suspend them, rape em, kill em, n expect them to say, v love u India. Wake up guys
— shammy baweja (@shammybaweja) March 6, 2014
On Wednesday, some Kashmiri students disputed the official version of events. Some said they were provoked and ridiculed by local students after the match.
"We were enjoying the match, suddenly India lost and they started shouting at us and abusing us," one Kashmiri student told the Kashmir Monitor newspaper. "We went back to our hostel. Hundreds of students came and started pushing us and throwing stones at our rooms."
India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir, a majority-Muslim state where a struggle for independence has raged for over two decades. India accuses Pakistan of aiding and training Kashmiri militant groups, a charge that Islamabad denies.
Their rivalry often plays out on the cricket field, with millions in both countries riveted to matches.
Indians are especially sensitive to the popular anti-India sentiment in Kashmir. Yet the sedition charges shocked many.
From Kashmir's chief minister:
Sedition charge against Kashmiri students is an unacceptably harsh punishment that will ruin their futures & will further alienate them 1/n
— Omar Abdullah (@abdullah_omar) March 6, 2014
In recent years, the Indian state has looked upon dissent rather harshly. Anti-corruption cartoonists, anti-nuclear activists and human rights advocates have been charged with the colonial-era sedition law. Human Rights Watch has demanded that the law be repealed.
A Pakistan official reacted Wednesday to the sedition charges.
"If the Kashmiri students want to come and pursue their education in Pakistan, our hearts and academic institutions are open to them," Pakistan's foreign office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam told reporters in Islamabad.