Members of India's right-wing student group Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) march at Delhi University in New Delhi on Feb. 27. ABVP accuses left-wing student organization All India Students' Association (AISA) of supporting anti-India activities. (European Pressphoto Agency)

NEW DELHI — A college student and her social media posts have become the center of shrill debate about patriotism and free speech in India after students clashed on campus over a seminar on the nation’s conflict regions.

It began with protests by the powerful Hindu nationalist students group, the All India Students Council, against an event at a New Delhi college, which featured a speaker they described as “anti-India” — a term increasingly in favor of the country’s right wing.

The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), as the All India Students Council is known in India, has emerged as a vigilante force on Indian campuses, protesting anybody who questions the army or speaks against its human rights violations in conflict zones or campaigns against capital punishment for convicted terrorists. They say that such debates divide the country and harm patriotic sentiments.

The group has been increasingly assertive since Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. Activists say that ABVP’s activities are part of a larger trend in India stifling voices that question the government or Hindu majoritarian rhetoric.

Gurmehar Kaur, a 20-year-old student, decided to speak up against the ABVP in a Facebook post last week.

She posed her picture with a placard saying: “I am a student from Delhi University. I am not afraid of ABVP. I am not alone. Every student of India is with me.”

On the placard, she used the hashtag #studentsagainstABVP, while on Twitter, she began posting with the hashtag #FightBackDU.

Her posts went viral and she became a rallying point for many who support freedom to speak on any issue on campuses — including questioning the state — and set off a trend among students who changed their profile pictures and posed with similar placards.

With both sides now mounting rival demonstrations at Delhi University, Kaur has predictably become a target for trolling, including by a Bollywood film star, a cricket legend and even the country’s junior home minister.

“Who’s polluting this young girl’s mind?” tweeted Kiren Rijiju, the minister.

Kaur, however, is not new to online activism. Last year, she posted a video to support a campaign for peace between India and its archrival Pakistan. The campaign asked people to post selfies with the hashtag #ProfileForPeace.

Kaur posted herself with a series of placards saying she was just 2 years old when her father, an army captain, died in combat. One placard said she hated all Muslims and Pakistanis as a child. Another placard said: “Pakistan did not kill my dad. War killed him.”

On Sunday, retired cricket champion Virender Sehwag, recalling her year-old posts, chose to mock her by tweeting with a placard of his own:

A Bollywood star Randeep Hooda applauded Sehwag’s tweet and called her a “political pawn.” 

Kaur, meanwhile, has accused Twitter trolls of threatening her with rape.

Her grandfather Kanwaljeet Singh told India Today news channel that his daughter was being unfairly targeted.

“My heart is very sad.” he said. “My son was martyred after killing the enemies. Now look what they are saying about my granddaughter. All she said was there should be no fights on campus. She has not said anything against the country.”

Finally, on Tuesday, amid the storm of negative tweets and public attacks, Kaur withdrew from the campaign.

The protests on Delhi University campus, however, are expected to continue.