NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A group of Kashmiri university students who cheered for Pakistan during a cricket match against India have been charged with disturbing communal harmony, police in India’s Uttar Pradesh state said on Thursday.
Cricket games between rivals India and Pakistan tend to be high-voltage events, played out in a charged atmosphere with millions of people watching on television.
Tensions rose as students gathered in the hostel of private university in the Uttar Pradesh town of Meerut to watch Pakistan beat India in a close game in the final stages of the Asia Cup match in Bangladesh on Sunday.
While one set of students supported the Indian national team, another group from Kashmir - a border state wracked by an armed revolt against Indian rule that has led to a brittle peace - was rooting for the Pakistani team.
“As soon as the match ended, the Indian students chased us. We hid in our rooms. They abused us and threw and stones at our rooms and broke our laptops. They said Kashmiris and Pakistanis should leave,” one of the students, Ghulzar Ahmad, said.
The next day dozens of Kashmiri students tried to protest on the campus of the Swami Vivekanand Bharti University but the authorities suspended them and told them to go home.
Meerut’s deputy inspector general of police, K.Satyanarayana, said police had charged 67 of them with disturbing communal harmony and damage to public property.
Police initially planned to also charge the students with the more serious crime of sedition, which can earn a life term, but that was dropped after protests from Kashmir leaders including the state’s chief minister.
“Sedition charge against Kashmiri students is an unacceptably harsh punishment that will ruin their futures & will further alienate them,” Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said in a post on Twitter.
The reports of their treatment drew protests from Pakistan.
“We witnessed wonderful cricket. We know that Kashmiris celebrated Pakistan’s victory,” a Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said.
“If these Kashmiri students want to come and pursue their studies in Pakistan, our hearts and our academic institutions are open to them.”
Additional reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in SRINAGAR and Eissa Saeed in Islamabad; Editing by Angus MacSwan