On October 19, 2016, students at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) reportedly barricaded JNU’s Vice Chancellor and several other senior officials in an administrative building as part of a protest demanding JNU officials to take action over a missing classmate Najeeb Ahmad.
Mr. Ahmad reportedly went missing on October 15, within 12 hours of a physical altercation with members of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a student organization affiliated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (see report here). A police investigation into what they have labeled a “kidnapping” and a search for Mr. Ahmad are ongoing as of this report.
In the days following Mr. Ahmad’s disappearance, the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) led protests alleging that ABVP students were responsible for his disappearance and that the police were not taking sufficient action, and demanding university officials to investigate ABVP and the student’s disappearance.
On October 19, at approximately 2:30 PM, students led by JNUSU reportedly blockaded the entrances of an administrative building on campus, effectively locking in JNU’s Vice Chancellor Jagdish Kumar and several other senior officials inside. According to JNUSU’s president, the blockade was ordered in response to the “insensitive way of handling the matter of Najeeb Ahmed – the violence against him by ABVP which led to him missing from the campus for over five days now and the JNU administration trying to shield the culprits while refusing to lodge [a first information report].” That night, Vice Chancellor Kumar reportedly appealed to the students to end the blockade, citing health concerns of his colleagues, including blood pressure and diabetes. On October 20, at 2:20 PM, the students ended the nearly 24-hour blockade following the Vice Chancellor’s warning that he would call in police support.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the blockading of university administrators by student protesters. While students have the right to free expression, that right does not extend to the use of acts of violence against higher education community members or other individuals. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such acts threaten to damage the legitimacy of student expression and association on campus generally. Students have a responsibility to carry out demonstrations and other forms of expressive activities in a peaceful manner.