Crackdowns on scholars and students protesting national human rights abuses and heightened concerns for the Kashmiri higher education community figured prominently in a submission to the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by Scholars at Risk (SAR), in collaboration with McGill University’s Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism.
As highlighted in the submission (see further below), SAR documented over 130 instances of violence, detention, prosecution, and other legal action aimed at punishing or restricting the academic and expressive activity of scholars and students in India since May 2017. Roughly a third of those incidents targeted students and scholars protesting the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which excludes Muslims from certain immigration benefits. Anti-CAA protests were a frequent occurrence on campuses across India, and protesters repeatedly faced disproportionate force from Indian police—including beatings, rubber bullets, stun grenades, and tear gas—as well as violence and vandalism from opposition groups. Indian authorities also sought to silence anti-CAA protesters and other dissenting voices in the academic community under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), which grants the Indian government sweeping powers to criminalize expressive activity and forgo its due process obligations. As a result, multiple students and scholars have faced UAPA charges over the past five years and one received a life sentence.
“The sharp increase in violent and coercive attacks on higher education throughout India in recent years is part and parcel of the country’s growing authoritarianism. Academic expression and the free exchange of ideas represent a threat to an increasingly hard-line government orthodoxy, so universities, scholars, and students become primary targets,” stated SAR Senior Advocacy Officer Jesse Levine. Between 2011 and 2021, India’s ranking in the Academic Freedom Index (AFi)—a tool jointly developed by the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi), the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), the V-Dem Institute, and SAR—dropped from the 70th percentile to the 30th percentile, constituting one of the four worst declines out of 175 countries the AFi assesses.
The review period also saw flagrant violations of academic freedom in the disputed territories of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) following the 2019 repeal of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which had provided for limited autonomy within the territories. The Indian government temporarily closed most higher education institutions in Kashmir, which were then reportedly occupied by the Indian military and police. Indian authorities also shut down all internet services in J&K until at least early 2021, despite a January 2021 Supreme Court ruling that the shutdown was illegal. These restrictions severely hampered student and faculty engagement in academic activity and exchange, especially due to the increased need for internet access during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The deterioration of academic freedom in Jammu and Kashmir has been particularly disturbing, and yet even further restrictions have been announced since we submitted our report. At the end of April, Indian authorities stated that degrees from Pakistani institutions will no longer be recognized—a measure that will negatively impact the educational and professional opportunities of roughly 500 student members of the Kashmiri community,” said Levine. “Indian authorities should reverse this decision and ensure protection for academic freedom and access to education in J&K and across India.”
Ahead of the review, scheduled for November 2022, SAR urges UN member states to call on India to (1) refrain from, investigate, and hold perpetrators accountable for violations of academic freedom and attacks on the higher education community, (2) publicly recommit to the promotion and protection of academic freedom, (3) guarantee the freedom of expression, association, and assembly for all members of Indian society, including scholars, students, and other academic actors, (4) reform the UAPA so that it does not criminalize the exercise of such freedoms, and (5) refrain from interfering with the peaceful exercise of academic freedom, free inquiry, and expression in J&K.
About SAR: Scholars at Risk (SAR) is an international network of over 600 higher education institutions and thousands of individuals in more than 42 countries that is leading the charge in protecting and offering sanctuary to threatened scholars and students. SAR’s mission is to protect higher education communities and their members from violent and coercive attacks, and by doing so to expand the space in society for reason and evidence-based approaches to resolving conflicts and solving problems. SAR meets this mission through direct protection of individuals, advocacy aimed at preventing attacks and increasing accountability, and research and learning initiatives that promote academic freedom and related values. SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project identifies and reports attacks on higher education to protect vulnerable scholars and students, hold perpetrators accountable, and prevent future violations. Press inquiries for SAR may be directed to Jesse Levine, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Download or read the submission below.