On March 22, 2016, protests by students and professors at Hyderabad Central University (HCU) reportedly led to destruction of campus property, as well as violence by both protesters and police, including reports of physical and sexual abuse by the latter.
Hundreds of students and staff gathered outside the university residence of vice-chancellor Appa Rao Podile—who was returning to campus after a voluntary, two-month leave—to demand his removal. The protesters alleged that Vice-chancellor Podile bore responsibility for the January 2016 suicide of Rohith Vemula, a PhD student who was suspended in 2015.
While most students and scholars demonstrated outside, a large number of them reportedly broke into and vandalized the vice-chancellor’s residence. As the protest grew, police clashed violently with protestors, with some reports indicating that officers molested and threatened student-protestors with rape.
Police ultimately arrested 25 students and two scholars on charges including vandalism and attacking police. Students who were arrested later reported that while in transit to police stations for processing, police officers reportedly beat and threatened them. On March 28, the students and faculty were released from Cherlapally Jail on bail. The charges remain pending as of this report.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about reports of violence and destruction of property on campus. While authorities have a legitimate interest in maintaining order and protecting property, they must do so in ways that are proportional to the situation, minimize the risk of physical injury, and otherwise respect institutional autonomy, academic freedom, and other applicable human rights standards. Use of excessive force in response to campus unrest unnecessarily increases risks of physical harm to individuals and undermines academic freedom and institutional autonomy. Likewise, while students have the right to free expression, that right does not extend to violence or the destruction of property; on-campus expression must be undertaken in a manner that is consistent with university values including social responsibility. Student violence against persons or property also creates unnecessary risks of physical harm to individuals and undermines academic freedom and institutional autonomy.